105. Is Robin Hood a Hero or Socialist Villain?

The story of Robin Hood is a classic story many families know. Today, Connor and Brittany talk about this story in depth and explain why Robin Hood’s ” Rob the rich to feed the poor” mantra often gets him unfairly pegged as a socialist when he is, in fact, an individualist hero.


Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: Hey, Connor.

Connor: You know, I was a kid, many, many moons ago, I, really loved watching Disney’s, Robinhood movie, their, kind of treatment of that story. And we watched it growing up. It’s, you know, it’s still one of my favorite stories. We love talking about it. We all know the story. So I thought today we could talk about the story of Robinhood and how it connects to a lot of the principles that we’ve talked about in past episodes. That’s where I think a lot of this stuff is fun when we can kind of connect stories we’re all familiar with and analyze it through our economic way of thinking and, try and understand how these things apply. So, for the, you know, one or two people out there who are unfamiliar with the story of Robinhood, right? It’s a story of how this outlaw, in other words, someone who is, violating the law, they’ve committed a crime by government standards, and, he’s famous for, you know, the quote about Robinhood is he robbed from the rich to give to the poor, and to listeners, you know, to some people, this may sound like, communism or socialism, right? You’re, you’re stealing from the rich to give to the poor, these isms, communism, socialism, we, we’ve talked about these isms and past episodes. We’re not gonna dive into this quite yet, but we wanna address why the Robinhood story isn’t quite the same as communism. But, but back to the story. He and his gang of merry men, they’re also outlaws as well. You know, they’ve left society, they’ve, they’ve gone off the grid, you might say, and, and they’ve started their own community in the forest, but they’re constantly being pursued by the government. And, you know, there’s a lot to unpack here. Let me first pause, Bring get your thoughts. So tell me your thoughts on the Robinhood story. Brittany.

Brittany: I’m a big fan of it. Like you, I grew up with the cartoon with the Fox. I think he’s a fox, right? Isn’t that what he’s Yeah, yeah. and the guy that’s essentially blue from Jungle Book, but just like a different color. Like it’s the same character. I’ve never understood that. but when I was a kid was when the Kevin Coster one came out. And I know some of the parents will remember that, because one, I loved the soundtrack because it was that, was it Brian Adams? Is that his name? Brian Adams was really big back in the day. Oh, you know, you, everything I do, I do it for you. Remember that song?

Connor: Oh, yeah,

Brittany: Yeah. It was everywhere. Yeah. so I loved that. I watched the VHS of that version all the time. There was also Robinhood Mennonites, which was like satirical. It was like a, like a joke movie of the, the Robinhood one. But, a big fan of the story. Cause I love like, underdogs and civil disobedience, and I feel like this story kind of has both those things in there, because you have Robinhood and his, his gang up. I always wanna call them Lost Boys, but I think they were called the Merryman, you know, kind of escaping the government, going off and starting their own thing. so yeah. But let’s go back to the whole Rob from the Rich to give to the poor mantra. what is that part of the story, Connor, if you can explain that in a little bit more detail?

Connor: You know, so, Robinhood, like, the easy way to think about it, the story that everyone says is he’s stealing from the rich to give to the poor. and the interesting thing about this is that little catchphrase that’s popular isn’t quite, you know, accurate. That’s not the main characteristic in, especially in the modern adaptations of, Robinhood. It’s like a myth within the myth. And, so, you know, if you look back at the original story, the Sir Walter Scott’s, you know, Ivanhoe published in 1820, that’s where we get kinda the story of Robinhood.

Brittany: And I didn’t realize that that’s interesting.

Connor: Yeah. When you look at these early influences, the Robinhood, in Ivan host sets up this like we said earlier, right? This self-governed band of Merry men, and they’re not fighting rich people. It’s not stealing from the rich. they’re fighting the tyrannical political establishment, right? And he’s not just handing out money to people, he’s actually distributing it to his Merry men according to their, you know, rank and their merit. And, you know, and so he, he loves, you know, especially in the movie, the cartoon Disney and everything, they’re, they’re always kind of poking fun at the people in power, and they’re playing pranks on them, and they’re kind of getting at them. But, the whole idea here, the problem with, Robinhood is he’s fighting illegitimate authority. So in the 19th century, Howard Pile, he wrote and illustrated the merry adventures of Robinhood. And this explains that the band of men came to Sherwood to escape wrong and oppression. They vowed, and I’m quoting here, they vowed that even as they had been despoiled, they would despoil their oppressors, whether Barron, which is like a king kind of thing, a governor, whether Barron, Abbott Knight or Squire. And so these guys, their whole aim is rebellion. And their secondary aim is, you know, redistribution of the wealth that they confiscate. The underlying goal in Robinhood is not to steal money from rich people and give it to the poor. The goal is to fight back against oppressors. And the view is for the merry men and Robinhood, is that the money that these guys have is not theirs. That they took it, they stole it, they you know, appropriated it to use a really fancy term. That they took it from other people. In, in effect, Robinhood and the Merry men are taking money from the oppressors who took it from other people. And then finding ways to kind of, you know, give the money back to the people. Of course, it’s impossible to know exactly who gets how much money and how much was. So it’s not like it’s this perfect way of returning the money to each person. But the principle is that Robinhood is not some kind of like, you know, thief that’s stealing money from wealthy people who legitimately earned the money themselves. He and the merry man are fighting back against oppressors and making sure, that, you know, their primary goal is to kind of tear down these institutions of power and say, you know, you’re wrong. I mean, again, the quote from the merry adventures of Robinhood, right? Their goal was to quote Escape Wrong and oppression and vowed that even as they had been despoiled or rather,  robbed, from that they would despoil their oppressors. And so that to me is the true story of Robinhood, right or wrong, you know, you can argue that, well, is that right? To, you know, try and steal from the government who stole from other people? There’s some interesting debates to be had there, but the kind of popularized version that, Robinhood is stealing from the rich to give to the poor is not at all accurate. And in fact, it’s quite inaccurate in terms of what the Robinhood story is actually about.

Brittany: I think the cartoon did a good job of this, because in the cartoon, obviously there’s only like 10 characters that they can’t, they’re not gonna draw, but they’re not gonna see again. But you actually see them having to pay, like give up their last, you know, shilling or whatever it is for taxes, and then you see them rob the, the government and give it right back. So that’s kind of cool cuz you see it like right away, go back to the right person instead of this like, redistribution thing. But that is in the cartoon, every story’s a little bit different. And there’s another aspect about, that kind of ties into what we talk about on the show a lot, and that is the Merry men themselves. And again, every version is a little different. So the version that I know is the one with Kevin Costner from the nineties. So that’s the story I’m gonna go off of. But one thing I loved about this is they had this really intricate little village, like in the trees of, well, Sherwood Forest, right? Isn’t that what they call it? Yep. Yeah, Sherwood Forest. but it was like they were practicing self-governance. Like it was a voluntary community, which you and I have talked about a lot on this show, and we’ve given a few different examples, but it was a voluntary community where everyone kind of kept, you know, kept their key or their part, but not, in like a weird communism way. And ultimately they were just trying to stay away from government. They were just trying to be left alone. And again, we’ve talked about that on, several shows that you should have the right to be left alone. so that part has always struck me because whenever I think of like what, this libertarian ideal society would look like, I think back to the nineties version of the movie where they had all these cool treehouses.

Connor: Especially for a kid growing up, that sounds like an amazing way to live And, you know, it’s interesting to me here, to me, one of the lessons from this story is that you know, that game telephone, Britney, right? Yes. Where someone comes up with something, they repeat it to the next person, who then secretly repeats it to the next person and you, go on and on, maybe 5, 10, 20 people. And by the end, the message has changed because especially if it’s a longer message or a complicated message, right? like if, you just repeat the word, you know, hello, then, that’s not gonna change. Everyone can remember and then repeat. Hello. But if, you’re playing the game of telephone and you say, you know, political corruption needs to be dismantled because individuals should be able to keep their own money that they worked hard to get, pass it on and then the person listening, like, ahh.

Brittany: You’d be the coolest kid at the party.

Connor: Yeah. And so then they’re repeating it and what are they gonna repeat? Not that whole thing. Maybe they’re gonna say, political corruption is bad and people should be able to keep their money, right? And then maybe the next person still struggles with that, and then they just be like, political corruption tries to take people’s money, right? Because that’s all they can remember. And pretty soon by the end, you have a message that’s quite different. and so to me, the interesting thing here with the Robinhood story, right, is, and we see countless examples like this where there’s meaning in this story, there’s substance, there’s interesting insights, and yet each time the story is repeated or it’s retold, right? By a new company making another movie, adding their twist on it. And now that movie, like for you, right? the Kevin Costner one that is like cemented in your mind about the Robinhood story. And, then pretty soon people have never even read anything about Robinhood. They just watched, maybe not even the whole movie, maybe they saw a clip on YouTube. And to them, all they know about Robinhood is that simple little catchphrase. Like in the telephone game right now, Robin Hood’s story has boiled down to Rob from the Rich to get to the poor. And people equate the story of Robinhood, right? with that phrase, much like, you know, even Ezer Scrooge, right? Like he, the boiled down version and the game of telephone is that he’s a scrooge, we have a name for it now, and not that maybe there’s some interesting economic, ideas to come to his defense. So, to me, the frustration here is like, you know, it, it’s like reading an original work. This is why, you know, for the older kids, especially when you can go back and read the source of something when you can read original documents, right? Imagine.

Brittany: They call that? Like primary source or primary documents, right? Absolutely. Is what they call them in academian.

Connor: Absolutely. You go to primary sources, not secondary, which is someone else kind of summarizing it, right? That’s like the CliffNotes version, right?

Brittany: Or a textbook that would be like the textbook and then you’d go, the primary document would be like the footnote in the textbook.

Connor: Absolutely. So like, imagine reading the Constitution as an example. That would be your primary source, your primary document, and a secondary one to your point, could be a textbook about it, could be a summary, it could be an article, someone who tries to kind of retell and, explain what’s in the constitution. And especially for younger kids, right? This is helpful cuz reading longer, complicated primary sources, especially if they were written centuries ago, could sometimes be hard to understand. And so we benefit from other people who simplify it for us and who summarize it. The danger is that when the story gets retold by someone else, they get to inject their own perspectives. They might omit the fact that Robinhood was a rebel, fighting tyrannical power, and simply say, oh yeah, he was stealing from rich people. Well, it just so happens that those rich people were in the government and they stole their money from other people through taxes. you left out an important detail. And so to me that, the lesson, one of the lessons here, Britney, that I take away from this story is it’s so, much more interesting to always go to kind of the original source and try and fully understand what’s happening rather than relying on other people, teachers, textbooks, internet websites, whatever, to kind of tell you what something means. It’s always good to try and go to the source and understand it ourselves.

Brittany: Not only is it good, it’s really interesting. One part, one primary document or source that I like to rely on is letters, especially the founders have letters that they wrote back and forth to each other. not to get on a side tangent about the founders, but it’s really fun to one, see how people spoke in conversation with each other, back in the day because it changes from different eras that’s always, maybe I’m a nerd, but that’s always been really interesting to me. And also, I just think you get a lot out of correspondence. You reading correspondence is another word for like, letters, people communicating with each other. So, yeah, if you get the chance and whatever you’re looking at has letters, highly recommend it. It’s very entertaining.

Connor: Yeah. And there’s so much insight here. I mean, sticking with the Robinhood story, like if you can go back and read some of the earlier versions and try and glean, from them their original meaning, you know, it, changes the dynamic. Suddenly you understand what the, you know, the original idea was about suddenly when you’re watching Robinhood, like there’s an opportunity to learn and, there’s, there’s conversations that can come from that, like we said earlier, right? Should you, try and steal from the government that stole from other people

Brittany: Or is it good bad, right? Is that, should that be a crime? It’s all these, discussions,

Connor: Right? Is that a moral, you know, certainly it’s a illegal cuz the government doesn’t want you to make money that they took, but, is it immoral? maybe not. That’s an interesting discussion, you know, to have. or if someone steals your bike, right? Can you go steal it back? Well, it’s not theirs, it doesn’t belong to them, right? but what about if someone steals, you know, Bobby’s bike down the road, can you go steal it? And, if you know it’s Bobby’s, you should give it back to Bobby. But what if you know that, some gangster stole a bike and you, you know, that it’s not his. Can you steal that even? But then can you keep it right? Like, is that any better?

Brittany: Where’s the line drawn? Yeah, that’s better.

Connor: Yeah. These are interesting questions and, again, when we understand what’s really happening in the story, these are fun questions that we can talk about to try and understand like what’s right, what’s wrong, rather than just like, clearly if you’re stealing from people, whether they’re rich or poor, that’s wrong. And so the story that Robinhood was stealing from the poor immediately casts him in a bad light. He’s a thief and he’s distributing his ill-gotten goods to other people who shouldn’t have it. That’s all wrong, but that’s boring. I mean, cuz we all watch that story or that movie or that presentation and we know it’s wrong. Whereas if we understand the true Robinhood story, it introduces these questions and suddenly it becomes interesting. And maybe there is no right and wrong answer. Maybe it’s open to debate and we can have a conversation about that and then it becomes much more interesting. So we are gonna link, to an interesting article about this on the show notes page. So head to Tuttlewins.com/podcast, and we’ll link you to that article, which is, really interesting to learn about some of these earlier instances of Robinhood and how the message has kind of changed. So head to the show notes page. Thanks as always for subscribing you guys. And until next time, Brittany, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later


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