I don’t resent the rich. I resent the young. I resent the good-looking and the extremely fit and the undeservedly well-cubicled. My cubicle is roughly the size of a wheelbarrow. There’s no view of the outdoors, and so I have to write weather stories by checking the Internet and eavesdropping on colleagues who have been outside or for some bizarre reason have been rewarded with a cubicle near a window.
Workspace-wise, I have issues.
But rich people, and the attainment of money, and even the extravagant flaunting of wealth, doesn’t bother me in the slightest, since I’ll be rich one day after I get a bigger cubicle and a parking space, and I’ll write best-selling books and sign movie deals and fly first class and have membership in the Admirals Club with abundant electrical sockets for my laptop (no more squatting in the dusty corner of the concourse trying to power up before a flight!), and my big challenge will be the management of my philanthropies. How does one give it away in an orderly fashion?
That said: I’m having a momentary Mitt Romney problem. Not resentment! Not envy! Just confusion. He says his tax rate is close to 15 percent. That’s really, really low. Next we will discover that Romney has applied for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Is it class warfare for people to think that, at the very least, the rich shouldn’t pay a lower tax rate than the middle-class? Where’s that “progressive” tax rate I keep hearing about? Why are some kinds of income different from other kinds of income?
I know, I know, there are reasons for this. In fact, the entire tax code is an elaborate system to ensure that all income won’t be treated as equal. There are favored income streams; there are deductions galore, and shelters. Romney gets his money mostly from investments, and capital gains are taxed at a15 percent rate, because if you taxed “unearned income” at the same rate as salaries and wages you might, who knows, create some kind of “bubble” economy that collapses into a prolonged recesssion with a slow and pitiful recovery marred by persistently high unemployment. The screaming of the lobbyists on K Street would be loud enough to sterilize the entire Chesapeake watershed.
Romney also said he’s made money from speaker fees, “but not very much.” Last year, “not very much” was $374,000. Which raises the question of what “very much” is. I look at that number and I think: Wow, that would pay my college tuition bill for several semesters.
It will be interesting in the months ahead to see how Romney navigates the obvious divide between his own experience and those of 99.99 percent of Americans. Romney is an accomplished person, but he grew up privileged and has somehow found a way to leverage his business skill into a personal fortune worth several hundred million dollars. He has multiple homes, including a vacation home in New Hampshire (complete with tennis court and boat house) and one in La Jolla that he has decided needs to quadruple in size, to 11,000 square feet.
Romney should probably drop any attempt to pose as Everyman. He flirted with that when I saw him in Rochester, NH earlier this month. He said he knew what it was like to fear getting a pink slip (really??), and then offered this about his presidential aspirations:
“This is a very strange and unusual thing to be in the middle of. I mean I was just a high school kid like everybody else with skinny legs... I imagined I’d be in business all my career and somehow I backed into the chance to do this.”
Right, a kid like everyone else — except his father ran for president in 1968.