Seemingly coming out of nowhere was the song “Rich Men North of Richmond,” by singer-songwriter Oliver Anthony. Overnight, the laments of one man from Appalachia over the state of the American economy and government spread like wildfire.
In “Rich Men North of Richmond” Anthony decries the declining value of the US dollar, the lack of accountability for those on Jeffrey Epstein’s client list, and the use of taxpayer dollars to fund obesity through food stamps amidst high taxation. Whilst one could deconstruct the individual issues pointed at by Anthony, it can best be understood by the song title and the chorus:
Livin’ in the new world
With an old soul
These rich men north of Richmond
Lord knows they all just wanna have total control
Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do
And they don’t think you know, but I know that you do
‘Cause your dollar ain’t shit and it’s taxed to no end
‘Cause of rich men north of Richmond
The song is a lament about the poor state of America at the hands of these “rich men north of Richmond.” These men, of course, are none other than the politicians and bureaucrats of Washington, DC. Any libertarian worth their salt can both empathize and sympathize with the message. Government bureaucrats and politicians have racked up $32 trillion of debt (not including unfunded liabilities), have become involved in at least seven foreign wars since September 11, 2001, and devalued the dollar by more than 90 percent since 1913. It has hardly been easy to be in the working class since the advent of progressivism.
The explosion of Anthony’s song is a fitting time to discuss libertarian class theory, which provides insight into the very problems of these “rich men” and how they have led to the plundering of productive citizenry.
The first proper articulation of libertarian class theory is in Murray Rothbard’s book For a New Liberty, where he applies the theory of John C. Calhoun. This theory is that of the most basic conflict because of government: between those who are net “taxpayers” and those who are net “tax receivers.” The net taxpayers are, of course, those who are expropriated through taxation. They are the productive ranks of society, who fall victim to the contradictorily named “progressive income tax.” They are those who receive less in benefit than they pay into the system.
The other side to this class distinction are the net “tax receivers” or “tax recipients.” These are those who generate their income from the state taxation apparatus: the politicians, the bureaucrats, government contractors, and propaganda class. These are the corporations that not only build and maintain the road apparatus but also the dreaded military-industrial complex and other various industries.
The university system, feeding off subsidies through federal student loans, would be another such industry. These industries survive not through a marketplace of free exchange but through government handouts. Politicians might be the most easily identifiable member of this class, taking not only a salary but also other benefits that come with controlling the monopoly on violence.
The tax recipient class is not the product of voluntary exchange nor is it providing value to consumers; it is the parasite on the productive class of society. What the productive class provides to the average man, the parasitic class takes through violence. It does not need to provide value to the average man nor is it receptive to the market price system—it is accountable only to the voting populace after years of its parasitism. This parasitic class provides no value, only extracting it from the better members of society.
Anthony’s “rich men” are this parasitic class. The parasitic class taxes every dollar Americans spend, receive, and save. The parasitic class has overseen the dollar’s collapse in value. The parasitic class has expanded in its control of American life. The parasitic class does what every parasite does to its host: it drains it closer and closer to death. The struggles of Americans can be laid at the foot of Washington, DC. It has drained every productive force of society and has done so through taxation, borrowing, and inflation.
Even when no longer in office, the parasite class continues to feed the politicians. Thus enters the sect of the parasite class dubbed by Rothbard as “intellectuals,” though one could hardly claim many of them possess true intelligence. One section of Rothbard’s Anatomy of the State, titled “How the State Preserves Itself,” describes the intellectual sect:
For this essential acceptance, the majority must be persuaded by ideology that their government is good, wise and, at least, inevitable, and certainly better than other conceivable alternatives. Promoting this ideology among the people is the vital social task of the “intellectuals.” For the masses of men do not create their own ideas, or indeed think through these ideas independently; they follow passively the ideas adopted and disseminated by the body of intellectuals. The intellectuals are, therefore, the “opinion-molders” in society. And since it is precisely a molding of opinion that the State most desperately needs, the basis for age-old alliance between the State and the intellectuals becomes clear.
One institution of these so-called intellectuals are DC think tanks. These institutions pass themselves off as policymaking prescribers. They claim to adhere to certain principles that guide their prescriptions. But universities and think tanks often act as revolving doors for the political class. Look only to the failures of Anthony Fauci, who was offered a teaching position at Georgetown, or Lori Lightfoot, who became employed by Harvard University. Joe Biden, the current president, was gifted a center at the University of Pennsylvania and a salary of $900,000 per year. Biden did not teach nor assist as faculty; his only utility was association with the university. Even the greatest failures and most despotic of policymakers are fed by the system when they leave the policymaking life.
Out of the fifteen richest counties in the United States, five of them are in Virginia or Maryland surrounding DC. These are not counties that produce large amounts of consumer or higher-ordered goods. These are counties stuffed full of political elites, think tanks, bureaucrats, and military-industrial complex CEOs. These are not productive areas; they are areas that house parasites who feed off average Americans.
Americans lost $10 trillion of wealth during the 2008 financial crisis, which was the fault of the Federal Reserve. To the average American, things are not seeming to get better. Even today, inflation still rages at the official reading of 3.7 percent, making the cost of living higher than ever. The money of the CARES Act didn’t go only to Americans—it went to large corporations that needed to be bailed out.
The United States government sits as the perfect example of the Rothbardian-Calhoun class theory. The political “elites” that sit “north of Richmond” have taken the value created by Americans to line their own pockets. Through every mean, whether that be inflation or blatant taxation, the parasitic class has benefited to the detriment of all Americans.
Oliver Anthony is correct. The “rich men north of Richmond” are indeed hurting the common man. And Godspeed to his message of waking up many Americans to that fact.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.