Romney’s Taxes

Dan Liechty | September 27, 2012

“Normal Dan” Dan Liechty

So  Maria Bartiroma and Christian Heinze have taken to scolding the press, the Obama campaign and by extension the all rest of us for our continuing “obsession” with Willard “Mitt” Romney’s personal taxes (http://gop12.thehill.com/2012/09/maria-bartiromo-hammers-media-over.html). It is all beside the point, they say, simply voyeuristic and in any case none of our damn business. But if I could sit down with Maria and Chris, I would like to pose for their evaluation (and by extension, all the rest of us as well) the following. (note: please excuse that I use a university setting in the scenario–it’s what I know–please feel free to substitute whatever institution makes most sense to you. DL)

Let us imagine that it is the strongly established custom at my university that a certain percentage of the salaries earned by all those working here are given back annually as a gift to the university in support for the university’s general operations. Let us further imagine that one of the most highly paid professors on campus routinely goes through all kinds of machinations and accounting tricks to keep his “salary” as low as possible, moving this over here and that over there, explicitly to keep his “contribution” to financial support of the university as absolutely low as possible. As a result, on the whole he routinely pays in a significantly lower percentage of his total compensation package in give-back support than any of the custodians, office workers and maintenance people, even though his total compensation package is 100s, even 1,000s of times greater than theirs.

What are the rest of us who work at this university to think of this person? Well, many of us recognize that on a much smaller scale we are doing the same kind of thing ourselves, the main difference being that given his level of compensation he has access to many more machinations and accounting tricks that would simply not be cost effective for us to try to access. We therefore perhaps a little grudgingly tolerate the man’s financial mores and figure that as long as he isn’t breaking the law, well, no harm no foul.

But would we then support him in becoming president of the university? Would we buy the view that it is exactly his deft employment of machinations and accounting tricks that qualify him to be president of our university? Were we to find ourselves on the presidential hiring committee reviewing his application, would we think it “none of our business” to expect a full inspection of his compensation and giving record at our university?

You, Maria and Chris (and by extension all the rest of us) can answer these questions in whatever way seems right to you. I know what my answer is.

9 Comments

  1. Excellent analogy, Normal Dan!
    Phil

  2. Its interesting the way the word ‘compensation’ has a new meaning. I read it alot in reference to the highly renumerated individuals who work in the financial services industry – “So and so, the former chief executive of the now state owned bank, claims that his compensation package is fair and justified”. Was he injured whilst playing high risk credit default swap hold ’em? or is the taxpayer the real loser in the rigged game where multi-million a year rewards are described as having been damaging to the individual who benefitted?

  3. It seems that your standards are very narrow. As long as contribution to the University is the measure, your standard for leadership doesn’t require much leadership.

    • Nowhere did it say that the “Presidential hiring committee” should, would, or, could use this as the only standard for potential leadership ability. On the other hand, NOT to use it as one of the pieces of information that “goes” to the character of the person in question would be absurdly irresponsible.

      • I was responding to you example. Abstracting the specific to the whole can raise larger issues than how someone works a system. Like maybe systems engage the base instincts of the otherwise gifted.

  4. No Chris. You began your statement by saying… “It seems your standards are very narrow.”

    Where did you get the idea that financial information made up the entire standard? It is a “part”, that’s all. Just like Mitt Romney’s tax returns, rather than being “none of our (the voters) business” is a “part” of the information that goes to assessing exactly what kind of a character this goober is. [as in]… What kind of a character would look down his nose at the 47% who make too little to pay taxes when it turns out that after making tens of millions of dollars himself… HE didn’t pay any either?

    I don’t particularly care about how gifted a person may or may not be in one area. In making the decision of who is to lead the most powerful nation on earth I want to know ALL I can about the person applying for the job. If that person tells me his financial history is “none of my business” my reply to him is…… NEXT.

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