Yesterday, in response to months of requests for him to release many more years of tax returns, Mitt Romney dismissed this topic as “small-minded” and said he had never paid less than a 13% tax rate.
If this information was designed to make those who want to see Romney’s tax returns feel like fools for asking, it didn’t.
Rather, it caused lots of jaws to drop.
Well, first because Romney confirmed what most people have long assumed, which is that he pays an extraordinarily low tax rate for someone who makes so much money.
Second, because the tax rate that Romney seemed proud to have paid was a lower tax rate than more than half of Americans pay–all of those who make more than ~$30,000 per year.
David Simon, a journalist and screenwriter who wrote “The Wire” and other series, summed up this reaction on his web site. As Simon himself notes, he has been a member of several different income brackets in his career–first, as a reporter, a low income bracket, and later, as a successful screenwriter, in a high one.
Unlike those who argue that Romney’s money is Romney’s money and that every dime that he is forced to pay in taxes is a dime that is effectively stolen or “confiscated” from him, Simon recognizes that his financial success is in part due to the economic environment in which he lives and works:
Can we stand back and pause a short minute to take in the spectacle of a man who wants to be President of The United States, who wants us to seriously regard him as a paragon of the American civic ideal, declaiming proudly and in public that he has paid his taxes at a third of the rate normally associated with gentlemen of his economic benefit?…
Thirteen percent. The last time I paid taxes at that rate, I believe I might still have been in college. If not, it was my first couple years as a newspaper reporter. Since then, the paychecks have been just fine, thanks, and I don’t see any reason not to pay at the rate appropriate to my earnings, given that I’m writing the check to the same government that provided the economic environment that allowed for such incomes.
The tax debate is extraordinarily divisive in this country, in part because many Americans have different philosophies about how big a role the government should play in our lives.
There’s no “right” answer to that question, just as there’s no “right” answer to who should bear the additional tax burden as the country begins to confront its yawning budget deficit.
But one other important philosophical difference between Americans is that they fall into two basic camps:
- Those who believe that their success or failure is due entirely to their own personal efforts (or lack thereof), and
- Those who believe that their success or failure is due not just to their own efforts but also to the economic, legal, and civic environment in which all Americans are fortunate enough to live
I would respectfully suggest that there is a right answer to this one.