Back when Romney released a single tax return (2010, but not various disclosure forms or gift returns or other related documents that would be of interest, given his assets abroad and assets moved into trusts for children) and parts of an estimated return (2011--still not released in full), various people pored over the returns to glean what could be understood about this wealthiest presidential candidate's assets and tax ethos from such scant information.
The item that hit most people as revealing was the rate of tax paid on Romney's "taxable" income: a mere 13.9 percent, due in large part to the preferential treatment that rich people's income gets in our tax code since the repeal a few years after the Reagan 1986 reform of the capital gains reform that eliminated the difference in rates between the ordinary income rate on wages and the preferential rate on capital gains. Romney claims he is proud of paying a lot in taxes, but of course all is relative. $3 million on $21.7 million of mostly unearned income is most definitely not "a lot" when compared to the percentage of their income most people in the middle class pay (about double that percentage).
Matt Taibbi pointed out recently on his blog that what we know even from only one incomplete return tells us a lot about Romney's tax record. As he puts it, "there's enough information already for Barack Obama to tell a powerful stsory about wealth and privilege to most ordinary Americans." Taibbi, Obama, Not Reid, Should Be Taking on Mitt Romney's Tax Record, Taibblog (Aug. 9, 2012) (Hat tip to Yves Smith over at Naked Capitalism). Taibbi thinks nobody--GOP or Dem--is telling that story so that ordinary folk can understand it because "politicians are still afraid to explain to the American people how exactly it is that many Wall Street firms make their money, because they're afraid to lose access to the crumbs those firms sometimes toss their way." Id.
Here's the story Taibbi thinks Obama should be more forthright (and courageous) in telling.
The Romney tax returns are a prime example of our increasingly two-tiered bureaucratic system, in which there is one set of rules for poor and middle-class people, and another set of rules for people like Mitt Romney. . . . In Mitt's case, the money you and I make to support ourselves is called income and is taxed up to 35 percent, but the money Mitt makes raiding companies with borrowed money and extracting draconian management fees from captive companies that have no choice but to pay them is called "Carried Interest" and taxed at a top rate of 15%. The ostensible excuse for this outrageous difference is based upon a built-in cultural value judgment, which says that the work Mitt Romney does raiding companies with borrowed money is more valuable than the work ordinary people do laying asphalt or teaching autistic children. ...In fact, the takeover method espoused by Bain and many private equity firms is a lot closer to the Tony Soprano-takes-over-Davey-Scatino's-sporting-goods-store "Bust Out" model ... than it is to anything like legitimate consulting. Id. (formatting changed)
Is it so surprising, then, that people of Romney's ilk--born with a silver spoon in their mouths and granted every advantage and opportunity that wealth and access to influential connections from bankers to politicos to business "movers and shakers" can provide--think that they have achieved everything due to their own merit, and hence are rightfully "entitled" to tax breaks, "entitled" to lead, but that ordinary folk shouldn't feel "entitled" to a decent safety net that guarantees them even a minimum of opportunity in the dog-eat-dog world that the plutocrats dominate? Here's what this week's New Yorker had to say about Romney's sense of privileged entitlement:
[Romney] believes, with shining certainty, in his own success, and , more broadly, in the American Gospel of Wealth that lies behind it: the idea that rich people got rich by being good, that the riches are a sign of their virtue, and that they should therefore be allowed to rule. Adam Gopnik, "I, Nephi," August 13 & 20 2012 The New Yorker 78, at 86.
Can someone with this sense of entitlement and the kind of wealth that makes it practically impossible to identify with the majority of ordinary Americans' struggles and lack of opportunities, possibly lead this country to adopt the necessary reforms to the Reaganomics/Friedmania program of excessive military expenditures, ridiculous privatization efforts, overzealous deregulatory efforts, or the privilege-reinforcing Bush tax cuts? Not likely. Romney's tax plan and other programs promise an even heftier dose of the very poisons that set us off on the 2007 financial crisis and resulting Great Recession. Doubling down on the GOP "cures" will make our economy truly ill.