Noam Chomsky: Money Grubbing Hypocrite?
Peter Schweizer reports in the National Post that anti-capitalist activist Noam Chomsky is putting his substantial personal wealth into capitalistic tax shelters.
One of the most persistent themes in Noam Chomsky’s work has been class warfare. The iconic MIT linguist and left-wing activist frequently has lashed out against the “massive use of tax havens to shift the burden to the general population and away from the rich,” and criticized the concentration of wealth in “trusts” by the wealthiest 1%. He says the U.S. tax code is rigged with “complicated devices for ensuring that the poor — like 80% of the population — pay off the rich.”
But trusts can’t be all bad. After all, Chomsky, with a net worth north of US$2-million, decided to create one for himself. A few years back he went to Boston’s venerable white-shoe law firm, Palmer and Dodge, and, with the help of a tax attorney specializing in “income-tax planning,” set up an irrevocable trust to protect his assets from Uncle Sam. He named his tax attorney (every socialist radical needs one!) and a daughter as trustees. To the Diane Chomsky Irrevocable Trust (named for another daughter) he has assigned the copyright of several of his books, including multiple international editions.
Chomsky favours massive income redistribution — just not the redistribution of his income. No reason to let radical politics get in the way of sound estate planning.
When I challenged Chomsky about his trust, he suddenly started to sound very bourgeois: “I don’t apologize for putting aside money for my children and grandchildren,” he wrote in one e-mail. Chomsky offered no explanation for why he condemns others who are equally proud of their provision for their children and who try to protect their assets from Uncle Sam. (However, Chomsky did say that his tax shelter is OK because he and his family are “trying to help suffering people.”)
Hat tip to Dean Esmay, who does not find this surprising. Nor do I.
Granting that I haven’t read much Chomsky lately, my take on him is that his is critical of capitalism as a system and tax shelters as government policy. His objections are moralistic, yes, but on a societal rather than an individual basis. Presuming my premise is correct, then Chomsky’s behavior as decribed by Schweizer is perfectly reasonable.
To take a silly example, I think the Designated Hitter is an abomination. Nonetheless, were I the owner or manager of an American League ballclub (or a National League club playing an interleague game), I would of course employ a DH. One plays the game by the rules as they exist even while working to change them.
To take a more relevant example, I would like to see the home mortgage interest deduction phased out (abolition would be unfair to those who made expensive economic decisions based on its existence). Given that the deduction is available, however, I not only claim it but make other financial decisions based on its existence.
I am, to say the least, no fan of Chomsky’s politics. This particular criticism, though, strikes me as unwarranted.