Will Rogers was wrong. The legendary humorist, speaking of the responsibilities each of us has as a citizen of this nation, once observed, “America is a great country, but you can’t live in it for nothing.” Unless, it turns out, you’re Eduardo Saverin, the 30-year-old co-founder of Facebook, who just before that company launched its initial public offering, which would make him a multibillionaire, renounced his American citizenship and moved to Singapore.
To be fair, according to Tom Goodman, Saverin’s New York-based spokesman, “Eduardo recently found it to be more practical to become a resident of Singapore since he plans to live there for an indefinite period of time.” That is, take your choice — bull, baloney or bunkum.
Today’s capital gains tax rate in the United States — which is one-half of what it was when conservative icon Ronald Reagan was president — is just 15 percent. But compared with Singapore’s zero capital gains tax rate, it must look irresistible to those who put profits over patriotism.
Some conservatives who seem to hate taxes more than they love America even praise expatriate Saverin for renouncing his U.S. citizenship. Forbes’ John Tamny, who covers “the intersection of economics and politics,” writes that “wise minds could very credibly proclaim him (Saverin) an American hero for doing what he did.”
Let us review the story up to now. Fleeing kidnapping threats against his wealthy family, Saverin, at age 13, came to the United States from Brazil, his country of birth. He became a U.S. citizen and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he met the two other co-founders of Facebook.
Among the rights the United States provided to her adopted son, Saverin, was security from personal danger, the freedom to become whatever his talents and hard work would permit him to be, copyright and patent laws to protect his invention, and a court system to guarantee those protections.
You can call Saverin a genius, an extraordinary entrepreneur and a capitalist success. What you cannot call Saverin is a patriot. Ungrateful to the country that gave him safe harbor and a new life, Saverin put a price tag on patriotism and, rather than pay the taxes due on his unfathomable fortune, chose to get himself a change-of-address card for Singapore.
This is the thanks he gives to the people and their government that welcomed him and guaranteed that the air he would breathe and the water he would drink were clean, that the food he ate and medicine he took were healthful, and that he and his family were protected by the world’s best military.
It is beyond kind to call someone who greedily grabs all that his new U.S. citizenship gives him and then refuses to give back what he owes a freeloader. No, this loathsome behavior is instead parasitic.
Fifty years ago, a young American president told the world that “to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” he and his fellow countrymen “will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship.” Today, for Saverin and his apologists in the tax-avoidance club, to be a citizen is all about your rights and nothing about your responsibilities. And if you don’t like any law, you can just do what to the rest of us is truly unimaginable — and renounce your American citizenship.
— Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.