Why Mitt Romney’s Taxes Matter
CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo lashes out at demands that Mitt Romney follow in the footsteps of nearly every major party presidential candidate in modern history, including his father, and release his taxes:
“Do you think Americans will then care about Mitt Romney’s or any politician’s tax returns? No, most will not even remember this moment. […] We must come back to the facts and the issues that matter to the country. No matter how much the media pushes through these petty issues surrounding any candidate, if it doesn’t improve the needle on improving people’s life it will likely not be an issue, at all, in the ballot booth come November.”
Christian Heinze agrees: “Does anyone seriously think that Romney’s tax returns would have any bearing on the relative rise or fall of the economy during his potential first term?”
Several years ago, I would have agreed with Bartiromo and Heinze. I have a stubborn belief that even presidential candidates deserve their privacy, and that absent compelling evidence of corruption, it’s better to judge candidates by their policy preferences than their finances or other personal qualities. But back in January — long before Harry Reid made it fashionable — I raised the possibility that there was at least one year in which Romney paid no income taxes, and ever since, I’ve relentlessly insisted that Romney release histaxes. So why the shift? Because I’ve concluded that there is evidence of corruption that requires the disclosure of tax documents by elected officials and those who seek office.
The typical member of Congress is ten times wealthier than the average person he represents — and that gap has been growing. From 1984 to 2009, the net worth of the typical member of Congress more than doubled in inflation-adjusted terms; meanwhile, the media American family’s net worth decreased. Meanwhile, tax and economic policy — policy set, remember, by politicians who are far wealthier than their constituents — increasingly favors the rich at the expense of the rest of us. Top marginal tax rates and capital gains tax rates have been slashed, exacerbating the growing income gap between the rich and everyone else. And this isn’t an accident: Politicians who justified cutting the capital gains tax in the past by arguing it would primarily benefit the middle class have seen the data proving that it primarily benefits the rich, and want to cut it some more. Meanwhile, the governing class’s favorite solutions to the budget shortfalls that result from their eagerness to make sure billionaires pay as little in taxes as possible are all things that would hurt the middle class and poor, while the rich would never notice — “entitlement reform,” raising the retirement age, etc. And we’re just scratching the surface: We haven’t even gotten to things like policymakers’ preferences for low inflation and high unemployment, which rig the economy in favor of the already-wealthy.
So we have a governing elite that is far wealthier than the people it supposedly represents, and that continually enacts policies that favor the wealthy at the expense of the rest of the country. This governing elite gains and maintains office largely through the financial support of other people and corporations who are far wealthier than the rest of the country. It gets its news from media elites that are far wealthier than the rest of the country, and it relies on policy briefings from think tanks funded by big oil companies and tax-hating billionaires. Its statements are policed by “fact-checkers” who think the rich are the only taxpayers who matter. Without impugning the conscious motives of any individual policymaker, it’s clear that this is a corrupt system.