I’m having a busy day, so this will be a quickie.
There are a lot of people up in arms about the revelation that Mitt Romney’s effective federal income tax rate in 2010 was just shy of 14 percent. The perception seems to be that it’s a little too little, though there’s room to look at that stat from a few different angles. The New York Times’ Caucus blog says Romney’s rate is around in line with what a household making $80,000 would pay — a bit higher than most households, but not much. The Tax Foundation says the average American actually pays something more like 11 percent.
But let’s buy into the perception for a moment. Is it really clear Romney should pay a much higher rate than the typical non-bazillionaire?
At a just a bit shy of 14 percent, Romney paid in $3 million toward government services. He also gave about $3 million to charity (though a big part of that was to an, ugh, religious institution, which strikes me as a lot of good money after bad) — which is part of what kept the tax rate low.
When was the last time you contributed $3 million to help the government do its thing?
Now sure, you probably simply can’t — nor can I. And Romney still gets to live a life of luxury, if he so chooses — being left with fewer millions of dollars of income in a given year doesn’t sound all that bad. Fair enough.
But $3 million. That’s 60 $50,000 workers. That’s 3,000 $1,000 computers for a public school. That’s 120 one-year scholarships to a $20,000 college. All by himself.
Do your tax dollars, all by themselves, make that sort of service possible? Mine don’t.
I’m not an expert on the tax code. I don’t know if every clause and allowance Romney used is one I’d call fair. And I don’t have the wherewithal today to make a more complete argument for or against progressive taxation (and I don’t think the point I’m making here necessarily undercuts the idea of progressive taxation — if it’s a bad idea, there are better reasons why, much like there are far better reasons for voting against Mitt Romney than this.).
But I just can’t get behind beating up on the rich for paying more or less, proportionately, what I and my friends do (meaning, in real dollars, way the hell more than we do), even if they could afford far more and still have lots left over. That’s kinda what being rich is. And I imagine it’s nice work, if you can get it.
Take it away, Sam:
Henry, last fall, every time your boss got on the stump and said, “It’s time for the rich to pay their fair share,” I hid under a couch and changed my name. I left Gage Whitney making $400,000 a year, which means I paid 27 times the national average in income tax. I paid my fair share, and the fair share of 26 other people. And I’m happy to, ‘cause that’s the only way it’s gonna work. And it’s in my best interest that everybody be able to go to schools and drive on roads. But I don’t get 27 votes on Election Day. The fire department doesn’t come to my house 27 times faster and the water doesn’t come out of my faucet 27 times hotter. The top one percent of wage earners in this country pay for 22 percent of this country. Let’s not call them names while they’re doing it, is all I’m saying.