Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Tells Us More About a Person? ... Paying Taxes Owed or Giving Away Unowed Money?

Most of us pay the taxes we owe. That's our lawful obligation.

Some taxpayers also make charitable contributions and donations, both small and large. That's something we're not legally obligated to do.

We're free to do as much or as little as we choose to do with respect to our own money that the government doesn't take from us in the form of taxes. For example, we're free to engage or not to engage in charitable activities and donations. That's part of belonging to a free society.

So there's a big difference, at least to me, in doing something to stay out of jail and doing something with the altruistic intention of simply helping our fellow man.

That leads me to today's discussion.

Why do we so enjoy kicking fat cats around like Mitt Romney for paying the taxes he owes while ignoring the charitable contributions he makes? Doesn't that say more about us than it reveals about him? I think it does.

In the taxes paid case, Romney has complied with the law, and with respect to his altruism, he's acted according to conscience. The tax payment was a legal obligation and the acts of charity resulted from free choice.

Gifts to Charity Far Above Average reveals the combined story of taxes and charitable contributions paid by Mr. Romney compared to taxpayers generally, and President Obama specifically:

"Mitt Romney's tax returns show he pays a relatively low tax rate and gives a relatively high percentage of his income to charity. President Barack Obama pays a far higher tax rate, but gives less.

The numbers will be fuel for a debate over how much wealthier Americans should contribute in taxes. Conservatives argue taxpayers should be allowed to keep more of their money, which they in turn can distribute as they see fit. Liberals see the government as a more effective guarantor of the social safety net, and would prefer wealthier Americans bear the burden of supporting it.

The experiences of the president and the man vying to face him provide fodder for both sides.

Mr. Romney's tax-return data showed that he and his wife, Ann, gave about $2.9 million to charity in 2010, and more than $4 million in 2011. That worked out to 13.8% of total income in 2010 and more than 19% in 2011. Those are the only years of returns Mr. Romney's campaign made available.

Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, gave about 13.6% of their income to charity in 2010, the latest year available. That was up from 5.8% in 2009. The Obamas gave between 4.6% and 6.2% of their income to charity between 2005 and 2008. Between 2000 and 2004, before the president rose to national prominence, the Obamas gave between 0.4 and 1.4%.

The Obamas have typically paid a significantly higher tax rate than the Romneys: 25.2% in 2010 and 31.8% in 2009. That compares with the Romneys' rate of about 14% for 2010 and just over 15% for 2011.

Combining total federal income tax and charitable giving puts the two men on a close-to-equal footing. The Romneys paid 27.6% of their income to the government or to charity in 2010 and 34.6% in 2011. The Obamas paid 31.8% in 2009 and 38.8% in 2010.

Internal Revenue Service data show the average taxpayer with adjusted gross income of more than $10 million gave about 6% to charity in 2009. The average contribution from such taxpayers, who include some very-high-income individuals, was $1.75 million. The average charitable contribution for all households with itemized deductions—45.7 million households in all—was 3.8%."

So Romney pays what he owes to the government and then contributes to charity another huge sum of money. When compared to the president or other taxpayers, Mr. Romney is a great deal more charitable with his money, both in dollars and as a percentage of income.

When considered in combination, the total of what the government takes in taxes and what is donated to charity, the wealthy "fat cat" Romneys pay as a percentage of income as much as the Obamas do. They also pay a great deal more than almost all other taxpayers. So what's the problem, Mr. President and my fellow Americans?

In my view, Romney's only but very real problem is that he's rich, having been too successful in the private sector.

And unfortunately, that success has brought about the envy of too many of our fellow citizens, including far too many Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.

To fit people's preconceived views about the inherently evil nature of greedy fat cats, lots of people choose to see only what fits their neat little prepackaged narrative of what they already "know" about the wealthy.

As a result, the motives of the rich are automatically deemed selfish, evil and they are not to be trusted.

We too often act like our government is there to protect us from the wealthy among us. Now I ask you. How nuts is that?

All this reminds me of the old story when one man says to another, "I don't have any enemies; I've never done anything nice for anybody." Or the saying that no good deed goes unpunished. Or others of a similar nature. You get the message.

Based on the South Carolina Republican primary results (Gingrich won big) as well as the President's anti-rich populist State of the Union Address, it's obvious that too many Democrats, Republicans and Indpendents don't want to face up to the reality of who pays what, and why. And it seems like most journalists and pundits feel that way, too.

Too many of we the people would apparently rather have a fed at the public trough "public servant professional" in office like Obama or Gingrich than a benevolent private sector jobs creating "evil" fat cat like Mitt Romney.

Romney simply makes too many of us uncomfortable by actually having lived the American dream.

To add insult to injury, he did so while extending a helping hand to some of his less fortunate and in need fellow citizens along the way.

Oh well, we'll get the government we deserve. Count on it.

How sad it all is shaping up to be. And how revealing, too.

Thanks. Bob.

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