Just as capitalism is part of our democracy, Andrew Cotto writes, so is fairness.
I heard it on the news while I was getting ready for work. Mitt Romney had just released his taxes from 2010. The numbers were being parsed from a myriad of angles. Whatever. I was busy (and late), and not overly interested, but a few facts from Romney’s tax report hit me pretty hard:
First, on each single day of 2010, Mitt Romney roughly made what I made over the entire year. That was somewhat sobering. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not the “class envy” of which Mr. Romney speaks. I don’t envy his or anybody else’s wealth. I’m not of the ‘eat the rich’ mentality. This is America. Capitalism is a part of our freedom and part of our greatness. From my experiences with people of all social classes, there’s no correlation between character and income. People are people. And people are free to not only do what they chose for a living but also determine success by their own standards, and if success to them is defined by wealth, so be it. That’s not my choice. I’m a teacher. I have plenty of lucrative professional options, but I choose to be involved in education; therefore, I accept the long hours and the little pay. But, man, my annual teacher’s salary in one day? Something’s wrong with that.
The second fact bugged me even more. Mr. Year-a-Day-Income paid less than half the tax rate that I paid. The reason for this is that Mr. Romney’s income was generated through investments, and investments are taxed differently. I get the argument that the money used to invest had already been earned through other means that were subject to standard income taxes. But, come on. You don’t really work when you invest. You gamble, basically. In Romney’s case, he didn’t even pick the horses. He has a blind trust that does it for him (by the way, blind-trust-guy: nice work, and, call me). And this favorable tax situation doesn’t even factor in all the loopholes the wealthy are able to exploit; all the offshore nonsense that goes on in the Cayman Islands and other places where wealthy Americans hide their money. Now, there’s something seriously wrong with that.
What does this say about our country when the extremely wealthy get special treatment? Just as capitalism is part of our democracy, so is fairness. And there’s nothing fair about the affluent—and the corporations and hedge funds that sustain this affluence—playing by different rules. What does one do with all that money anyway? More investing, I guess. Imagine the difference it would make in America if loopholes were closed and tax rates on investments were equal to regular income. Consider directing these funds towards education and the difference it would make in the quality of students America produces (and the quality of life those students subsequently enjoy). Education as an engine of advancement could truly be available to all of our children. We could add resources and shrink class size. Enrichment programs and healthy meals and special services could be available in every district. And, we could attract more of our brightest and best towards careers that pay in accordance to the effort. Imagine that? I, in my (fair to say) incredibly important job as an educator, might make in a year what guys like Mitt Romney make in two days. That seems fair.