Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

UC Law Prof Retires From Blogging After Tax Post Spawns 'Electronic Lynch Mob,' Threatening His Family

Forbes, ‘Super Rich’ Law Professor Retires From Blogging After ‘Electronic Lynch Mob’ Attacks His Position on Taxes, by Kashmir Hill:

A law professor at the University of Chicago saw his post, We Are The Super Rich, on the corporate law blog “Truth on the Market” go viral last week. In it, Todd Henderson objected to proposed taxes on the “super rich,” saying that “super rich” in Washington rhetoric is anyone who makes over $250,000.

“That makes me super rich and subject to a big tax hike if the president has his way,” wrote Henderson. “I’m the president’s neighbor in Chicago, but we’ve never met. I wish we could, because I would introduce him to my family and our lifestyle, one he believes is capable of financing the vast expansion of government he is planning. A quick look at our family budget, which I will happily share with the White House, will show him that like many Americans, we are just getting by despite seeming to be rich. We aren’t.” ... Henderson went on to detail his family’s budget and expenditures ...

The highly personal post inspired lots of reactions around the Web. The Washington Independent, economist Brad DeLong, and Michael O’Hare argued he had far too many luxury goods on his list of necessities. The post got over 430 comments (cached) — many of them critical, angry, and vicious. ...

Henderson deleted the post yesterday, noting that he still stood by his arguments but that he feared for his family’s privacy:

The reason I took the very unusual step of deleting them is because my wife, who did not approve of my original post and disagrees vehemently with my opinion, did not consent to the publication of personal details about our family. In retrospect, it was a highly effective but incredibly stupid thing to do. The electronic lynch mob that has attacked and harassed me — you should see the emails sent to me personally! — has made my family feel threatened and insecure. We recently had a very early preemie, and this was a quite inopportune time to bring this on my family. For the record, I still think the planned tax increases will negatively impact my family and my country, but that is basically all I should have said. To my wife, my three children, and to anyone who was offended by my remarks, please accept my apologies. To those with pitchforks trying to attack me instead of my message, I feel sorry for you. You have caused untold damage to me personally. I may be wrong, even stupid, but I don’t think I deserved that.

Todd Henderson, Time to Go:

This episode has had a profoundly negative impact on me. To be sure, I deserved and even welcomed criticism of my remarks. But the firestorm this created was completely unanticipated. Lies and misinformation, like that our family earns $450,000, spread uncontrollably. One of the perpetrators, Henry Blodget, has graciously agreed to correct this mistake. (Thank you, Henry.) I cannot begin to undo the problems this has caused. So I will stop and let the fire burn out. I don’t want or need pity from anyone. As bad as things are in this for me, many have it far worse. A wise and dear friend sent me a Yiddish saying: for a worm in horseradish, the whole world is horseradish. This worm is caught in a horseradish, but I can see beyond it.

The reason for this note is because I’ve decided to hang up my blogging hat. I was a fool, and I didn’t anticipate how this kind of thing could happen. As many of our readers and my students know, I’m opinionated and willing to push boundaries. This is what I think is the role of a professor, and blogging allowed me to do it in an informal and diverse manner. But I misunderstood the technology, and the consequences are devastating for me personally. I wish I had just stuck to blogging about corporate law and such, but I couldn’t help myself. Self restraint would have been the better course. Perhaps someday I will return and limit my commentary to my academic areas of interest. For now though, I have to say good bye. I’ve enjoyed the experience and the interactions I’ve had with readers and, of course, my co-bloggers. I am sad to leave, but my family has to come first, and my blogging has caused them incalculable damage.

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The comments here read like abject lunacy. An asylum of hopeless, fevered minds trying desperately to blame something for their problems, real or perceived. Those minds overwhelmingly blame "leftists" or "liberals" no matter what the reality may be. Facts don't faze them at all, they're a closed book, never to be reopened. It would be sad if it wasn't so deeply troubling.

Those that are so concerned with being controlled by a "leftist" government are completely intoxicated by right-wing ideologues and have lost the ability to see reason. This country is in serious trouble.

Posted by: Just wow | Sep 29, 2010 5:11:55 PM

Yeah, the "goons" who forced him to write an inaccurate piece (is 400k just a smidgen above 250k) regarding his salary. The goons who forced him to state that maxing out on his retirement was "non-discretionary spend". I mean congrats for being fiscally responsible but don't pretend that throwing over 30k into your retirement is non-discretionary. I guess it was the goons who forced him to write a tone-deaf piece while people are struggling to make ends meet.

The goons who forced him to buy a 4,700 square foot home at the peak of the marketplace. Ummm, it's funny. If a poor person bought over his means at the peak of the housing bubble, you'd be calling Henderson a financially irresponsible idiot.

Oh yeah, I guess it was the goons who got us into two wars while cutting taxes. Blame the goons (or whatever minority you feel responsible).

I guess you forgot that "goons" also have a 1st Amendment right to argue against stupidity.

Posted by: StanfordLaw | Sep 28, 2010 7:05:58 PM

@Towering Barbarian: I've been a registered Red State Republican since 1978, and I *still* think you're full of crap. Republicans game the government system, too, just in different ways. Indeed, they get a whole lot more money out of it than Dems and generally with far fewer consequences. If $10 billion in cash had gone missing in Iraq under a Democratic president, that president would have beeen impeached.

Posted by: Lex | Sep 27, 2010 9:45:32 AM

Sorry I'm late to this party, but it needs to be said: someone needs to send the good professor a copy of Atlas Shrugged stat.

Posted by: Seerak | Sep 26, 2010 1:16:08 AM

These people are obama supporters. Intimidation is a very potent weapon, isn't it? Actually, they remind me of the muslims who sent a Seattle cartoonist into hiding. Same type of people. We must rid our country and our government of these parasites.

Posted by: Mean Granny | Sep 24, 2010 5:33:15 PM

And you have my respect for that as well! ^_^

But it is one thing to take it in the shorts on your own behalf and another thing entirely when it's your loved ones who are the ones being threatened. I will not blame anyone for backing down in that circumstance since family is the most important thing that is of this world. And the secret of Freedom of Speech is that one should be able to speak one's mind without being afraid of threats to one's family or self! n_n

So I would go back to saying that it is the people who went after Mr. Henderson to silence him who are both the cowards and the morons! I wonder how many of them were actually angry with him *not* because they disagreed with him but merely because they secretly thought the same thing and did not dare be found out? :P

Posted by: Towering Barbarian | Sep 24, 2010 4:04:40 PM

its good that a cowardly moron is not blogging anymore !

one who doesnt have courage of his convictions, ive been terminated from positions for standing up for mine.

Posted by: nick | Sep 24, 2010 1:22:44 PM

Clemens is indeed correct. Into every life a few typos must creep and this becomes especially true when you're posting after 3AM. ^o^

If you expect reporting threats to the police when it's a Dummycrat who does the threatening to work then you clearly don't know Chicago! :P

However I will agree that we have been allowing too many "rich people" like Al Gore, Richard Daley, Mike Madigan, Barrack Hussein Obama and John Kerry to game America for too long. Isn't it interesting that people like Jay Rockefeller and Caroline Kennedy are always the ones who end up being of the Left? That's because the Democrats are the party of inherited wealth or wealth gained from government money while the Republicans are the party of those who earn what they get. That's why you are indeed correct to say that Mr. Obama and his toadies will not do well to act "whiny and butthurt" when their bs gets called. ^_^

But they'll do it anyway because that's what being of the Left is really all about. ^_~

Posted by: Towering Barbarian | Sep 24, 2010 1:04:21 PM

mega lulz @ sam "mark twain" adams.
mega lulz @ "free speech" == "no one is allowed to make fun of you for the dumb things you say"

rock over london, rock on chicago.

Posted by: units | Sep 24, 2010 8:05:26 AM

Sam "Mark Twain" Adams... pen name?


Clemons maybe

Posted by: quasimodo | Sep 24, 2010 7:41:14 AM

Y'all are full of it.

What "threats" did he receive? He doesn't say. Did he report them to law enforcement? He doesn't say.

If he did receive actual threats, he needs to report them to law enforcement, and I hope and trust the perps will be prosecuted.

But beyond that, all I can think of to say is, "Dude, welcome to the Internet." You say something stupid -- and what you said was very, very stupid, and saying it was particularly stupid after your wife specifically asked you not to -- and not only are some people going to point out the stupidity of what you said, but some of them are going to call you stupid personally. Wish it weren't so, but that's the way it is. I've been living online, under my own name, for more than 20 years (and blogging since '97) so maybe I've just gotten a little blase about it, but, c'mon. The fact of the matter is, these folks live better than all but a very few Americans, and his wife, at least, appears to understand that.

The bigger issue is that the rich in America have been gaming the system innumerable ways, particularly during the past 30 years or so, and as the Internet makes more of this gaming public and more and more people who AREN'T rich go longer and longer without jobs, anger builds.

Meanwhile, the rich are getting all whiny and butthurt because people are pointing out the unfairness of the situation and daring to call them on their BS. Geez. If you're so sure you're right, either sack up or shut up.

Posted by: Lex | Sep 24, 2010 7:12:54 AM

It looks like the response to his post got the desired effect. Intimidation works. Now is he going to publish the email addresses of those that harrassed him?

Posted by: James W | Sep 24, 2010 6:55:49 AM

I wish he would have published the e-mail addresses of all those who sent a vicious e-mail.

Posted by: almiller | Sep 24, 2010 6:02:34 AM

Is it just me, or does Henderson's wife seem like she sided with the goons?

Posted by: Allison | Sep 24, 2010 5:29:24 AM

And this, boys and girls, is why it is both useful and prudent to follow in the literary footsteps of both Sam "Mark Twain" Adams and Alexander "Publius" Hamilton by making use of a pen name when you blog! This sort of disdain for Free Speech has long been the norm in Chicago so the use of such a precaution serves to keep a lot of the riffraff from your door.

That said, all dishonor to the Machine Hacks who have driven Mr. Henderson into silence. And even greater dishonor to the servile bootlickers who post to condone what those gutless bullies have done. They serve to illustrate the essential cowardice of any who serve the Parking Ticket Fixer in Chief and his fellow liberal cronies. :P

Posted by: Towering Barbarian | Sep 24, 2010 12:06:58 AM

I think the lack of sympathy for people like Henderson arises because many don't understand that everyone has the equivalent of structural cost built into their budget and they can't change those structural cost as fast as the government can raise taxes.

People have to borrow money for college and they have to pay it back on a fairly fixed schedule. That schedule does not vary just because taxes went up. People buy houses and their mortgage payments don't go down just because their taxes went up. People have business or professional expenses that don't go down just because their taxes went up. People have kids in schools whose tuition does not decrease just because taxes went up. People have investments they can't liquidate just because their taxes went up.

I think most leftists here someone earns $250,000 a year and the intuitively think that therefore they must end up with $150,000+ a year is loose cash just lying around. Well, they don't. At best they have savings that they could dip into to pay for sudden increases in taxation.

Now of course, the Hendersons didn't have to borrow to go to college in which case they wouldn't have generated the wealth to tax in the first place. They didn't have to buy a house and generate construction jobs and generate property taxes. They didn't have to offer their professional skills. They don't have to try to give their children superior educations so they can be highly productive members of society when they grow up. They don't have to save or invest any of the surplus wealth they create.

The Hendersons did choose to make the investments of time and money to become highly productive members of society. It says a lot about modern leftists that this makes them objects of hatred to be looted than individuals to be admired.

Posted by: Shannon Love | Sep 23, 2010 10:58:42 PM

The saddest thing I see is that somehow Henderson seems to be blaming himself.

Maybe he should have better anticipated the response; if that is what he's saying, fair enough. He placed himself and his family at unintended risk.

But while he may have done something unwise from the perspective of his family's privacy and safety, he didn't do anything WRONG.

Typical of the left, screaming about how the right or the Tea Parties or the GOP are a threat, while all the violence and almost all the hatred comes from the left.

At least Henderson didn't wind up like Ken Gladney in St. Louis.

Maybe this is pushing it a bit far, but this is a bit like Salman Rushdie after The Satanic Verses, or the Danish cartoonists drawing Muhammad, or the recent blogger who has had to go undercover after suggesting a Draw Muhammad Day. They placed themselves at risk not because what they did was wrong, but because the other side is crazy or worse.

Posted by: Marty | Sep 23, 2010 10:27:38 PM

@ Jon Fembup. I think I understand your point about not wanting to offend those around you with less. But I hardly think the professor is guilty of "poor judgment" or "callous disregard" in his initial comments. Remember, these did not take place in some sort of pity-seeking vacuum; they were occasioned by the fact that certain public demagogues want to rile up class warfare through misleading caricatures of those who make just over $250,000 as the idle rich exploiting the working poor by gaming the financial system. I don't think he was out of line is explaining that to maintain his relatively expensive and luxurious lifestyle, he and his wife did have to work hard and incur significant risks and costs.

Now, one can certainly make the argument that even with all that the professor's life is much better and easier than that of, say, a legal immigrant Indian who must drive a cab here even though he his a licensed surgeon in India. But the professor wasn't trying to make that comparison. He was merely pointing out that his situation was not as carefree as current rhetoric might lead one to believe.

Posted by: Richard | Sep 23, 2010 10:08:16 PM

Very disturbing. The best way I've found to deal with this is to be armed to the teeth. Nonetheless it is not pleasant to carry weapons because a real threat is in the air.

Posted by: Warson | Sep 23, 2010 9:07:08 PM

And of course this is all lunacy on stilts even aside from the nastiness. Even if he didn't manage to articulate it well, the actual point of what Henderson writes is that on the margin, no matter whether his taxes are raised a lot or a little, something has to give. And note that any fool can figure out that likely options include job destruction for recent immigrants he employs. This is simply the same thing writ on a smaller scale than what happens for the "fat cats".

But of course, the extra taxes he pays will more than make up for the lost jobs when it's spent as "stimulus", right? Riiiight??

But the nastiness has once again thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Just like intended. And we're stupid enough to fall for it.

Posted by: Bob | Sep 23, 2010 8:27:54 PM

The good Professor's critics are followers of the same ideologies that murdered over 100 million people in the 20th century. That is where their way always ends. So this is no surprise.

Posted by: DSmith | Sep 23, 2010 8:07:08 PM

Henry Blodget. I swear to God the guy's one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Posted by: Sterling | Sep 23, 2010 7:57:04 PM

A combination of insufficient brains and/or ambition prevent Leftists (many of whom are extremely smart and/or ambitious) from honestly earning all of the money they want to control. Not all the money the NEED, mind you, but all the money they want to get their hands on for whatever purposes. Questioning their right to overtax the productive is tantamount to cutting off their oxygen. They can't be expected to respond calmly or generously.

Posted by: Jonathan | Sep 23, 2010 7:49:06 PM

The Digital Brownshirts claim another victim. Is this 1939 Germany?

Posted by: David R. Block | Sep 23, 2010 7:46:42 PM

You never wage war on the ground of your enemy's choosing. That was the prof's real mistake. He negotiated. He implicitly allowed that, if he were "rich", the mob would be justified in taking his money by force. He then tried to convince them he wasn't rich. But, that is a subjective standard by which to judge, and if you allow it any validity, then you have put yourself at their mercy.

It doesn't matter how much money I have. If I earned it honestly and above board through voluntary transactions with others, then it is mine. And, if the government seeds policies which discourage hard work and advancement, then they will reap precisely what they have planted, and we will all be poorer for it.

Posted by: Bart | Sep 23, 2010 7:41:57 PM

John Fembup says "I'm just saying he displayed remarkably poor judgment in saying what he did, plus a callous disregard for people."

That might be what you are saying but what you really mean is that you disagree with him that his taxes shouldn't be raised. You then feel entitled to beat him with the stick of self-righteousness for having the temerity to defend a position that you disagree with.

Very nice.

Mr. Henderson disagrees with you and you think that it is therefore his fault that a bunch of vicious bastiges jump all over him instead of civilly discussing.

You stay classy.

Posted by: Feargal | Sep 23, 2010 7:39:52 PM

The thing that struck me about his lifestyle is that it was probably very similar to Barack and Michelle's lifestyle when he was a Senator and she was making, what, $300K a year. In fact, I remember Michelle complaining in one speech about how THEY were paying over $10K a year just for piano, dance, and other extracurricular activities for the girls. And, that didn't even include private school and summer camp. Ah, to be "rich"!

Posted by: sydney jane | Sep 23, 2010 7:07:56 PM

We had a similar group of people who were very active in the 1930s. People who disagreed with the "party line" were in danger

Posted by: Michael Kennedy | Sep 23, 2010 6:41:34 PM

"... but their "transforming of America" requires anger, threats, and vicious attacks."

Much as the transforming of Russia, China, Cuba resulted in the deaths of millions upon millions. Individual lives mean little to a hardened leftist, their Utopian ideology overrides all other considerations. Marx's problem was dystopia, as is the current lefts. Wanting everyone to not only pursue but imagine that their empty and valueless lives are for the common good. All for the collective. The collective for all, not so much. Orwell was a pretty smart guy.

Posted by: Luther | Sep 23, 2010 6:38:00 PM

Those attacking the prof are the same ones who fawn over the Obama worshipping movie stars/musicians who make millions upon millions, and their lifestyles show every cent of their earnings. Where is the call from the Kos kids and DU'ers for Hollywood et al to abandon their 10 bathroom mansions and 15 Bentleys and bling and give their riches to the government? Did I miss that? Don't think that I did. Any reason why Kanye West can't survive in a one-bedroom apartment? Two bedroom condo, even? You, too, Sean Penn - live one year like the average citizen in Castro's Cuba and tell me how awesome it is.

Those on the left can lecture us on giving our fair share when they start walking the walk. They are always greedy with their own money, but expect everyone else to sacrifice for the greater good. Hypocrites to the nth degree.

Posted by: tdpwells | Sep 23, 2010 6:37:07 PM

Good post, Prof. Caron. My sympathies and horror at what Todd Henderson experienced. I personally know the dark depths of the net. Enough said.

I agree with Henderson's position re taxes, btw, and think we're eating our own as the politics of (racial and) economic resentment undermine our appreciation for American opportunity and class mobility. Could be modest success gets more demonized than fantastical wealth because it highlights fellow middle class others' lackluster (for whatever reason) performance by comparison.

Seems that most of think we deserve a more than comfortable income, but are OK about not being a godlike Gates or Soros.

Posted by: anon, good nurse | Sep 23, 2010 6:19:25 PM

Before I retired I lived in NYC and was making over 250,000. I sometimes felt: "I'm not rich". I didn't feel rich, I didn't act rich, I didn't spend rich, and I didn't have a social circle that included rich people. I was two paychecks away from trouble if I lost my job. Keep in mind that in NYC, the rich are really rich, not just upper-middle class.

OK. Fine.

But then I thought, if I didn't feel rich - how do New Yorkers feel who earn less than me? And how would they judge my income? So I NEVER tried to make a case to anyone that with my income I was only another struggling worker. The truth was, I was a worker, but I wasn't struggling.

What does this have to do with beans? Just this: I think that law professor was wrong to blog as he did. He had a perfect right to say what he said. However, he showed a stunning lack of compassion and awareness for the condition of people around him. When I say "around him" I'm familiar with the neighborhoods around the University of Chicago; and I'm also familiar with the Chicago neighborhood where Mr. Obama lived while at the University.

I'm not saying the prof deserved the calumny he got - I'm just saying he displayed remarkably poor judgment in saying what he did, plus a callous disregard for people. Those are traits I observe more often in my left/liberal friends, not among my conservative friends.

Posted by: John Fembup | Sep 23, 2010 6:19:14 PM

I also have received threats for standing on corners with my flag and signs against government corruption and policy. The opposition to our views exhibit little tolerance.

Posted by: Al Reasin | Sep 23, 2010 6:18:57 PM

I think the ire was mostly because he was COMPLAINING, not because he had that income. And I admit that frosted me a bit, too, though not to the point of commenting.

Of course, Michelle Obama complained during the campaign that things were tight for their family and they were spending $10K on extras like ballet lessons, tutoring, etc. That frosted me as well. But oddly, there was was little reaction elsewhere.

Posted by: Nate Whilk | Sep 23, 2010 6:12:31 PM

I must stay that I find this story both troubling and a tad bizarre. It's troubling because it exposes the fascist-like tactics of the liberal-Left. It's also a tad bizarre because it would seem that his wife is a part of the liberal-Left lynch mob that forced him to shut down his blog. Finally, I must say that the man seems rather thin-skinned and weak.

Posted by: Allison | Sep 23, 2010 6:10:52 PM

Typical of "progressives" -- attack people personally rather than debate their positions honestly and logically. Threaten their jobs and families. Give them false labels like "racist."

Woddy says it best.

Posted by: Tipper | Sep 23, 2010 5:58:29 PM

Socialists always begin with lies, then move on to theft, enslavement when there is not enough to steal, torture when the slaves are not productive, and murder when the slaves try to escape. The next generation raised that lies, theft, torture and murder are forms of virtue, move on to perversion.

Posted by: DonM | Sep 23, 2010 5:57:55 PM

Henderson is far more contrite than he needs to be about this. I can see his point in saying he was wrong to post so many personal family details, but I find it very difficult to blame him for "[misunderstanding] the technology". Yes, it's true that the act of posting things on the internet can have negative unforeseen consequences, and yes, it's true that most people ought to know that certain types of inflammatory comments will invite all sorts of personal problems. But I find it hard to see how any reasonable person with a healthy respect for public disagreement can read Henderson's post and blame him for inciting personal threats and familial harassment. There is nothing in those posts that justifies that kind of behavior, if indeed anything ever does. Just saying, "hey, that's how the internet works," is no argument, least of all in what purports to be a civil society.

Posted by: Richard | Sep 23, 2010 5:55:27 PM

Not at all surprising. About the only thing worst than the leftist response to disagreement (although Libertarians come close when you mention social conservatism - no big tent then) is to mention a certain religious group negatively. In all three cases, I've had it turn immediately into personal threats. On most campus, those two basically control the discussion by fear, abuse, and threats.

Posted by: Denton | Sep 23, 2010 5:45:22 PM

I mean... we *want* people to borrow money to become doctors, right? Because we want people to be doctors.

Maybe not lawyers so much, but *doctors*, right?

At what point do we get pissy at them for having the *gall* to be in debt?

Posted by: Synova | Sep 23, 2010 5:44:24 PM

Wow. Just wow.

Posted by: Freddd | Sep 23, 2010 5:43:02 PM

I caught his post early on and the comments were *amazing*. One lady (I presume) chewed him out for choosing to have children in a bad economy. She, herself, chose not to have children. One person tore into him because no one "forced" his wife to borrow the money for medical school. The debt they held was entirely their own fault... they should have seen the future and not become a doctor or lawyer, not bought a house at the wrong time, not had children, not felt the need for private school instead of public.

For the first time in AGES I actually saw someone trot out the old "moral" argument that parents should be required to send their children to public school to be held hostage in that environment in order to force school reform. I haven't heard that since anti-homeschooling screeds from the 1990s.

Posted by: Synova | Sep 23, 2010 5:40:47 PM

Typical of "progressives" -- attack people personally rather than debate their positions honestly and logically. Threaten their jobs and families. Give them false labels like "racist."

I've experienced similar personal attacks and threats to the safety of my family, simply for my stating personal positions on government and taxes, and I'm a nobody.

The Left is deranged. Truth can withstand debate, but their "transforming of America" requires anger, threats, and vicious attacks. If their side has great solutions, put them out there for open debate rather than shut down those who want to discuss issues.

Posted by: Woody | Sep 22, 2010 3:12:39 PM