Phil Mickelson, Government Competition and the Magna Carta
Phil Mickelson is one of the finest professional golfers in history. Until this week he always ranked higher on the “best ever” list than on my list of favorites, but that was then.
A few weeks ago he expressed some relatively tame views about what was happening politically and suggested he might move from San Diego, California to a more friendly tax environment. He soared in my estimation and I forgave him for a subsequent apology.
His critics suggest that his $60 million annual income including endorsements, even if taxed at 50%, would leave him with $30 million, which ought to be enough. Though true, Mickelson’s PR team overreacted by making him apologize.
There is no reason that athletes should be required to avoid political involvement. On June 5, 1968, when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, he was accompanied by Rosey Grier, a professional football player, Rafer Johnson, an Olympic gold medal decathlete and George Plimpton, who was the consummate amateur at pretty much everything. Candidate Kennedy was presumably pleased to have their support in his run for the presidency, and their efforts to save his life were certainly not criticized at the time.
As far as we know, Mickelson is merely considering a move to a more tax-friendly state (California leads the league in the highest-taxes-on-the-rich category). In Europe, where they have the same level of personal mobility as we do in this country, professional athletes have been shopping for favorable tax jurisdictions for decades. Monaco would win a lot of international competitions if the teams were divided by current tax locale instead of birthplace.
Fans are perfectly happy to ask their favorite athletes to endorse their shoes, their clothing and their sports equipment. Why is it unreasonable to ask them to endorse government policies that are far more important to us than Nike or Adidas?
In June 1215, the barons stuck it to King John and made him sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede. The barons were more or less forced into it because their assets – land and the fruits therefrom — were less portable than Mickelson’s. King John could do what he liked until the barons ganged up on him, and the barons ganged up on him because they could not roll up their farms and move them to France.
Phil Mickelson can also do what he likes, including move to another country, as did Eduardo Saverin, the Facebook founder who decamped for Singapore. With the risk of war quite low, thus devaluing the benefit of a huge Defense Department, the risk of living elsewhere is sharply reduced.
Instead of criticizing him for being too rich or not paying his “fair share,” national, state and local officials should be seeking Mickelson’s endorsement of their governance efforts by choosing to live there. He has to compete with a golf course and 150 other players every week. Why should it differ for government officials?
We are almost 800 years into the idea that governments serve people not the other way around. Good luck next week Phil.