Several of the Romney supporters who read OpEdge have pointed out how much more money the Romneys gave away to charity in 2011 than the Obamas. While the Obamas are well off—certainly part of or close to the notorious 1%–the Romneys are the much wealthier of the two families. But even on a percentage of income basis, Romney gave more: a little more than 29% for Ann & Mitt compared to a little less than 22% for Michelle & Barack.
Both families should be applauded for their generosity. Traditionally when people consider the appropriate percentage of income to give to charity, what comes to mind is “tithing,” which means giving away 10% of your income. Both candidates gave a much greater percentage of their income away last year.
Some have chided the Romneys for only declaring about $2.25 million of their income, suggesting that their motive was to make the amount of federal income tax they pay as a percentage of income not look so paltry. That’s really petty thinking, because not declaring some of the charitable contributions did result in Ann & Mitt paying more in taxes, which is what they would be doing if we had a more equitable tax system. I’ve learned that it’s best to judge people on what they do and say and not what they’re thinking, so bravo to the Romneys for deciding to pay more in taxes, at least in 2011.
But what do these numbers really mean?
Absolutely nothing, as far as I can tell.
First of all, the wealthier you are, the higher percentage of your income you can afford to give away and the more you are expected to give away. The Romneys can afford to be more generous than the Obamas, just as the Obamas can afford to be more generous than the average middle class family. The social norm in virtually every society throughout millennia that I have studied has always been that the more you have, the more you give.
More important, though, is the simple fact that what one gives to charities has nothing at all to do with one’s competence to be president of the United States or to serve in any other position or job, either in public service or the private sector. While generosity is a positive characteristic in all humans, we judge presidents on their political views and their competence. That the Romneys gave more does not change my evaluation of Romney’s positions as mainly benefiting the wealthy nor of his lack of competence in the foreign policy arena.
So thanks, Ann & Mitt, for the extra money into our depleted federal coffers. But let’s hope that by next year the Bush II temporary tax cuts for those earning $250,000 or more will have ended and you pay even more. And let’s also hope that Congress ends the cap on income that can be taxed for Social Security purposes and thereby secures the future of perhaps our most successful and certainly our most important social service program. Most of all, let’s hope that Ann & Mitt write the check from one of their many homes (perhaps the one with the elevator for cars), and not from the White House.