27
Jan
12

A single year

A single year’s tax return information for Romney exceeds 500 pages.  Which is not surprising given the complexities of his assets and the income they generate.  Yet, again, he seems oblivious to the idea that this underscores the difference between the Romneys and regular folks.  You know, the people who have to make decisions about how to budget a finite amount of money every year, or month, or week. For many, those decisions are hard ones, because there isn’t enough of that finite money to cover everything. For many, the tricky part of their bank account is keeping enough money in it to avoid overdraft penalties while actually paying all or most of their bills.

Yet the Romney family had Swiss bank account in his wife’s name from 2003 until 2010.  It would seem that among the Romney’s tricky challenges of bank accounts was repatriating the funds before it was politically awkward.  Too late; many of us are old enough to remember when a “Swiss bank account” was the hallmark of the ultra wealthy, mainly because the Caribbean tax havens hadn’t been created yet.  Of course another tricky part could have been repatriating those Swiss funds before things got awkward legally – the timing is suspicious in that regard.

Worth emphasis, again, is that the public discomfort with this isn’t envy, it’s about the inequity. Or, as Elizabeth Warren put it plainly:

Mitt Romney pays fourteen percent of income in taxes, and people who get out there and work for a living pay twenty five, twenty eight, thirty, thirty three percent. I get it. Mitt Romney gets a better deal than any of the rest of us, because he manages to earn his income in a way that has been specially protected for rich folks. I think that’s wrong.1

It’s not about envy – it’s about equity.  This isn’t hard stuff.   And it really isn’t fair that the system is rigged to favor the people with that kind of money.  But as more information is uncovered from the (completely inadequate) tax record release, it could get more interesting.

 

1 Quotation can be found here

 

 

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24
Jan
12

Speaking of inequity

Speaking of inequity, in a nutshell:

 [Mitt Romney]makes as much in 12 hours as a median American family makes in a year and he pays a lower tax rate to boot. how does he make all that? By employing shitty loopholes in the tax code and stashing his money in overseas accounts, money he made by buying up and bankrupting American businesses and liquidating American jobs. 1

Again, it’s not envy – it’s the inequity. People don’t envy Romney his wealth, but they damned sure resent the way he’s come by most of it – at their expense.  And that’s an appropriate resentment.  There are people struggling to pay an average month’s bills, and they struggle because funds like that run by Romney at Bain eliminated hundreds of thousands of jobs so that the fund partners could make obscene amounts of money.   That’s not envy – it’s an acknowledgement of inequity.  And he just doesn’t seem to get it.  Romney – and his advisors – can’t hear how offensive it is to say that $374,327.62 is “not very much” money when entire families live for 10 years on that – and struggle to do so.

And once again, I can’t say it better:[A]nd this is the guy the GOP wants to run for president in a year defined by OWS and such visceral across-the-board disdain of the 1%. he might as well drive up to the debates in a solid gold car. 1  Or, as Josh Marshall notes succinctly:

 The problem Romney faces is that he’s a living breathing example of what many people see as the problem. And by his stated positions, he doesn’t think it’s a problem. 2

 None of this is news, and my observations certainly aren’t original (not that I’m going to let that stop me from making them).  I’m puzzled, however, as to why more people aren’t talking about this.  Perhaps they’re all in quiet rooms.

1 Thoughts provided by chopper at Balloon Juice – here

2 TPM, January 23, 2012

24
Jan
12

It’s not envy

Let’s revisit the concept of envy, and look at another part of the NBC interview, which preceded the “quiet rooms” section:

Matt Lauer: When you said that we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy, I’m curious about the word envy. Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or fairness?

    ROMNEY: You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. The American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it.

An astute comment to “quiet rooms” above puts it succinctly: It’s not about envy, it’s about equity. Worth repeating – It’s not about envy, it’s about equity.  That’s what Romney simply fails to understand.  A majority of people (many of whom vote, by the way) believe that the system is rigged heavily in favor of the very wealthy. 1   They are not wrong.  And that is the crux of the displeasure.  People do not begrudge Romney his success or his wealth; what’s annoying is the inequity of the situation.

Again I wonder whether he’s actually been paying attention.  Does he not get that Occupy Wall Street focuses on the inequity of the difference as opposed to the existence of the difference.2  That’s not envy – it’s an observation.  The 1% -or top 10% – would still have a huge amount of wealth if the average CEO pay were 30 times that of the average worker, instead of 243 times that of the average worker.3  This is what has people upset.  It’s not about envy; it’s about inequity.  They are not the same thing.  Indeed Mother Jones provided an excellent set of charts and commentary in the March/April 2011 issue.4  More on this topic when the released tax information (what little there will be) is analyzed.

1 Many – probably most – people get this intuitively this without a full understanding of the precise mechanisms of the complex systems by which it occurs.  I certainly can’t articulate the intricacies of them myself.  But the inequity is obvious nevertheless, and the inability to describe the mechanics of the inequity doesn’t negate its existence.  People know this.

2 Worth noting is that when surveyed, people underestimated the amount of inequality: see a chart here.

3 Economic Policy Institute, November 9, 2011 CEOs distance themselves from the average worker: text and graph here

4 It’s the Inequality, Stupid

19
Jan
12

Quiet rooms

When you look at “not very much” in the context of a series of statements, it begins to appear that someone is not paying attention.  The comment came less than a week after the NBC interview that featured this gem:

    Matt Lauer: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

     Mitt Romney: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.

So in the view of a man who calls $374,327.62 “not very much,”  it’s only appropriate to discuss income inequality in quiet rooms.  He is kidding, isn’t he? Was he on another planet during Occupy Wall Street and its aftermath? People have noticed that there are enormous differences of financial class in this country, and they are not especially happy about it.  Which is not to say that it’s accurate to characterize that sentiment as envy.

 Merriam Webster:
Envy (noun)
: painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage 1

The top Google result for the search “envy definition”:
Envy
Noun:
A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.2

Even more interesting is the more complex (as would be expected) entry for envy in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Envy is a complex and puzzling emotion. It is, notoriously, one of the seven deadly sins. It is very commonly charged with being (either typically or universally) unreasonable, irrational, imprudent, vicious, or wrong to feel. With very few exceptions, the ample philosophical literature defending the rationality and evaluative importance of emotions explicitly excludes envy and a few other nasty emotions as irredeemable. Indeed, some authors who are prepared to defend even jealousy insist that envy is beyond the pale. Yet there is considerable controversy over what precisely envy is, and the cogency of various specific criticisms of envy depends on what view of that subject is adopted.3  (emphasis added)

People are increasingly worried, not just about the future and whether they can retire comfortably, but about how to pay the bills due this month,  and how they will manage to pay rent or make a mortgage payment when the cost of such luxuries as food, clothing and medical care rise, as they always do.  Yet there is a presidential candidate who thinks $374,327.62 is “not very much.”  Who thinks that people are resentful of this rather stark contrast?  I’ll submit that the 99% do not have time for resentment – rather time is dedicated to managing finances in a time of rising costs and flat income.

I find it offensive that he characterizes an acknowledgement of income disparity as envy.  And that the disparity is not to be part of public conversation but should only be talked about in “quiet rooms.”  I don’t envy the 1% their wealth, while many of them got it the old fashioned way – they inherited it – many more took advantage of loosely regulated capitalism and made their own fortunes.  Often to the great detriment of the 99% (see, e.g., collaterized mortgage obligations and credit default swaps among the largest banks.)  I would, however, like the 1% to acknowledge the distinction between those for whom $374,327.62 is “not very much” and those for whom that amount would both clear all debt and provide a sum with which to move forward without daily worries.  I’m pretty sure my view is rather common, and more prevalent than actual envy.

18
Jan
12

Not very much – really?

Income inequality is a hot topic lately.  If you’re running for President, the conventional wisdom is that it’s a good idea to stay on top of the trends. I’m not sure that worked so well for candidate Mitt Romney when he was talking about income:

My last 10 years, I’ve — my income comes overwhelmingly from some investments made in the past, whether ordinary income or earned annually. I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away. And then I get speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much.

What does “not very much” actually total? $374,327.62 1  Worth noting is that the “not very much” amount, as a stand alone annual income, is more than the annual household income 98% of the US population. 7

The US median family income was S49,445 2 in 2010, according to the US Census Bureau.  Thus “not very much” is 7.57 times the average median income in this country.

For American Indians, “not very much” is an even more striking contrast, since the household income is lower among that population group. What Romney earned in speaking fees alone over a year is over 10 times the average household income of $37,348.3  And that’s for the average – the median family income for American Indian and Alaska Natives is $33,627.26.6 Thus “not very much” is actually 11 times the median.

“Not very much” is 7.10 times the cost of a year at Harvard for undergraduate work ($52,652 for tuition, room, board and fees combined). 4 The fact that the cost a year at Harvard is greater than the median US family income is striking in itself, and the subject of a related, but different discussion.

In addition, “not very much” is 1.7 times the median new home price in the United states in 2010 5 Clearly, “not very much” is a relative concept.  I’ll admit that Romney’s idea “not very much” could affect my life in some appreciable ways, and I suspect that’s true for many of us.  My idea of “not very much” is an amount I’m willing to spend on a whim, or that I’m comfortable losing if I found myself in a competitive poker game.  And it’s way less than $374,327.62.  By a couple of orders of magnitude.  What’s “not very much” to you?