May 24, 2006 -- Norway recently lost its wealthiest citizen. No, he didn't die. Rather, he left or, to be more accurate, was driven out of the country for the sin of wanting to remain wealthy.
John Fredriksen has made a fortune in shipping and aqua-business. But in past years he's spent less and less time in his homeland in order to avoid its confiscatory taxes. Recently the Norwegian government decreed that the only way to avoid those taxes was for citizens -- Fredriksen was the target -- to spend no more than 90 days a year in the country. In other words, "If you really love your country, the land of your birth and of the culture in which you grew up, the land of your family and ancestors, you can only stay here if you allow the government of the country to relieve you of your wealth." The technical term for this policy is extortion. It turns out Fredriksen loved the wealth he created better than the land of the government that wanted to take it, so he left Norway for good to become a citizen of Cyprus.
Fredriksen's fellow businessman Herbjorn Hansson explained his government's policy like this: "Norway is in a situation where it is attractive for those who are net consumers of social values [read recipients of government handouts] to move into the country. It is not attractive for those who are net contributors to social construction [read producers who have their wealth stolen] to remain in the country."
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is clear why he has no intention of changing the tax system: "It is exactly people like John Fredriksen that should pay."
Countering harmful tax policies requires a morality that recognizes the right of all individuals to every cent they earn.
In her 1976 talk on "The Moral Factor," Ayn Rand observed that Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and movie star Bibi Andersson had just left their Scandinavian homeland in part for the same reason that Fredriksen would leave three decade later. But Rand looked deeper. She showed that behind such tax policies is envy, that is, resentment against individuals not because of their vices but, rather, their virtues and achievements. The egalitarian perversion of justice sees those who stand out through their own efforts as deserving scorn rather than admiration from those who don't.
One of the heroes of Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged , Ragnar Danneskjold, was a Norwegian who took the solution of Bergman, Andersson and Fredriksen one step further. He took to the high seas as a pirate, not stealing from producers of wealth but, rather, from government foreign aid ships full of wealth taken from producers to be handed over to the governments that had ruined their own economies.
Today's purveyors of envy are well aware of the problem of Atlas shrugging. That's why the European Union, United Nations and various governments in recent years have pushed for so-called "tax harmonization" in order to prevent "unfair tax competition." In other words, if all governments would agree to maintain the same high rates instead of some countries maintaining "unfair" low ones, then producers would have nowhere to hide.
Rand was right about the envious and egalitarian motives of such policies. She was also right about what it will take to counter them: a morality that recognizes the right of all individuals -- be they janitors or company presidents -- to every cent that they earn, a morality that recognizes those who create wealth in pursuit of their own self-interest as benefactors who should be celebrated rather than punished. Only such a moral revolution can remove the barriers to creating a true Atlas society.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.