Yet as much as this young man without a country or moral compass may deserve condemnation — he does have some defenders — Saverin is emblematic of a bigger problem. I don’t mean the roughly 1,800 people who last year renounced their U.S. citizenship, although those numbers are on the rise. I mean the far greater number of Americans who, in deed and mind-set, are shedding obligations to their country: wealthy individuals who park income in offshore havens, U.S. corporations that use paper subsidiaries to book profits in foreign jurisdictions. All these forms of opting out feed a norm that says, in effect, America’s for suckers.

That norm is toxic for at least three reasons. First, it cheapens citizenship by commodifying it. What happens when choosing to be (or not to be) a citizen of the U.S. is just a matter of administrative convenience and net-benefit calculation, like an oil tanker deciding what flag to fly or a Wall Street bank opting to incorporate in Delaware? What happens when that choice seems available only to the moneyed? The social compact falls apart…

This brings us to the second danger of the opt-out ethic: the way it reinforces a warped conversation about taxes in which we are taxpayers but not tax getters.