Was William Shakespeare the First Libertarian?

I’ve never been a big Shakespeare fan, but that may need to change. It seems the Bard of Avon may be the world’s first libertarian.

Some of you are probably shaking your heads and saying that this is wrong, that Thomas Jefferson or Adam Smith are more deserving of this honor.

Others would argue we should go back earlier in time and give that title to John Locke.

But based on some new research reported in Tax-news.com, we need to travel back to the days of Shakespeare:

Uncertainty over the likely future success of his plays led William Shakespeare to do “all he could to avoid taxes,” new research by scholars at Aberystwyth University has claimed. The collaborative paper: “Reading with the Grain: Sustainability and the Literary Imagination,”…alleges that, in his “other” life as a major landowner, Shakespeare avoided paying his taxes, illegally hoarded food and sidelined in money lending. …According to Dr Jayne Archer, lead author and a lecturer in Renaissance literature at Aberystwyth: “There was another side to Shakespeare besides the brilliant playwright - a ruthless businessman who did all he could to avoid taxes, maximize profits at others’ expense and exploit the vulnerable - while also writing plays.”

In that short excerpt, we find three strong indications of Shakespeare’s libertarianism.

  1. What does it mean that Shakespeare did everything he could to avoid taxes? His actions obviously would have upset the United Kingdom’s current political elite, which views tax maximization as a religious sacrament, but it shows that Shakespeare believed in the right of private property. Check one box for libertarianism.
  2. What does it mean that the Bard “illegally hoarded food”? Well, such a law probably existed because government was interfering with the free market with something like price controls. Or there was a misguided hostility by the government against “speculation,” similar to what you would find from the deadbeats in today’s Occupy movement. In either event, Shakespeare was standing up for the principle of freedom of contract. Check another box for libertarianism.
  3. Last but not least, what does it mean that Shakespeare “sidelined in money lending”? Nations used to have statist “usury laws” that interfered with the ability to charge interest when lending money. Shakespeare apparently didn’t think “usury” was a bad thing, so he was standing up for the liberty of consenting adults to engage in voluntary exchange. Check another box for libertarianism.

To be sure, it appears that Shakespeare was more of an operational libertarian rather than a philosophical libertarian.

And now that I’m giving it more thought, perhaps that doesn’t qualify him for the honor of being the world’s first libertarian.

After all, does the former Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, deserve to be called a libertarian for evading taxes? Does the new Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, somehow become a libertarian simply because he utilized the Cayman Islands?

Or what about lawmakers such as John Kerry, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and others on the left who have utilized tax havens to boost their own personal finances? I very much doubt that any of them deserve to be called libertarian (though the burden of government shrank under Bill Clinton, so maybe we can consider him an unintentional libertarian).

But maybe with a bit of literary license, we can make Shakespeare a full-fledged libertarian.

     “O liberty, liberty! Wherefore art thou liberty?”

     “Double, double, statism and trouble;

     Taxes burn, and regulations bubble!”

Hmmm… perhaps instead of my budding second career as a movie star, I should become a playwright instead?