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Jerry Della Femina, the legendary advertizing visionary, restaurant owner, and alleged inspiration for the popular AMC television show, Mad Men, has shrugged. As he wrote recently in The Independent (East Hampton), in 2008 he “decided that this country was falling in love with an attractive, great-speechmaking hustler/socialist”, and due to the country’s further lurch towards statism, Della Femina has decided to drop out on the way to selling “my houses, my advertizing business, my newspaper and my restaurant.”
Ayn Rand purists will say Della Femina hasn’t exactly shrugged in the Atlas Shrugged sense given his plans to sell his holdings. In Rand’s essential novel, the heroic individuals of commerce simply disappeared, leaving their assets to worthless looters lacking business skills. But that’s nitpicking, and only in fiction would the productive give up all that’s rightfully theirs.
Della Femina has by any rational measure shrugged, and his decision to do so tells us what happens when society’s achievers are fleeced so that the activities of the failed and indolent can be subsidized. Some, as Della Femina plans to do, depart, and we’re all worse off as a result.
Though Della Femina has not said he’s leaving the U.S. altogether, it’s as though he is. This is one of the problems with excessive taxation on the successful.
Whereas light taxation ensures that the greatest number of achievers will participate in the marketplace with the greatest frequency, high levels of taxation mean that some, on the margin, disappear. Individuals with substantial wealth like Della Femina can continue to live in luxury, and they can do so without taking part in the economic activity that moves society forward.
So with Della Femina checking out due to an overbearing, greedy government, those who might want to work for a proven winner will no longer have that opportunity. For those eager to transact with a proven restaurant operator, that option is now closed. And for the companies interested in accessing Della Femina’s Midas touch when it comes to branding the products of others, he’s moving on.
In short, taxes on the rich as my Forbes colleague Charles Kadlec likes to point out, are nothing more than tariffs placed on the rest of us that make it more difficult to have dealings with outsized successes like Della Femina. Della Femina’s departure is all of our loss.