There have been many calls to tax the rich in order to feed the poor, in order to help reduce the span of the rich-poor divide. This is a dangerous perpetuation of the Robin Hood myth and we should be aware of it. The reason why myths prevail over clear-headed thinking is because they appeal to popular sentiment. Popular does not equal right. Very often, it is a manifestation of a vicious downward spiral.
I do not suggest that all rich entrepreneurs became rich simply by virtue of industry and good business sense. Nor do I suggest that all rich entrepreneurs actually bring great value to wherever they are based not only in the economic sense, but from a people development point of view. All of us know that this is not the case. We all do know, however, that there are enough of such good entrepreneurs to make us think twice about jumping onto the Robin Hood bandwagon.
In the “Top Stories” section of the 29 Feb 2012 issue of Business Times, MP Denise Phua is quoted as calling for a raise in top personal income taxes. One of the underlying thoughts is that “Big earners should fund rising social spending”. I categorically beg to differ. Governments were never meant to take charge of “social welfare”. That is the bailiwick of communities and families. Now, is that to say that we take drastic measures to cut spending in that sector? By no means! What is required is an equally strong, if not stronger, thrust in the direction of character and leadership development and long, arduous maintenance of that thrust. Making big earners who became big earners by virtue of industry and good business sense pay more would be punishing them for increasing value all round. Moreover, what if many such good entrepreneurs are already contributing to society-at-large in their own fashion? Would it not breed disgust with a system they are already contributing to? We would then be killing off the proverbial Goose that lays the proverbial golden eggs for us, would we not? Would we then be perpetuating our tired tradition of “one-size-fits-all”? Such policies point to a leadership cop-out and lack of will to tackle issues at the root level. Enforce already existing policies protecting the general populace from being exploited, and the span of the rich-poor divide would decrease proportionately. Develop our human capital and let entrepreneurship flourish instead of maintaining a workforce of compliant serfs who do not understand what true obedience is and are perpetually looking with covetous eyes at the trappings of luxury dangling beyond reach. When our people become strong in character, it will form the base for great enterprise, and our society cannot help but prosper all round because of that. Only then will we remain relevant to the rest of the world.