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« Forward into the Past | Main | Shootings and searches (prasad) »

August 10, 2012


Romney's a despicable person, no doubt, but this corporate personhood stuff is a red herring. He's all the more despicable for resorting to it as he did last year, albeit with his fingers crossed behind his back. Still, from the transcript of the interview it looks to me like he was simply calling out the bad analogy of the interviewer's example: A prospective investor in a business explores the history of the company finances before deciding its value and viability. The finances and tax returns of a presidential candidate serve no similar function.

McCain, the maverick that didn't bark...nice.

I get corporate personhood in the narrow legal sense. Our gripe ought to be with corporations per se as entities set up to shield numbskull risk-takers from liability for their entrepreneurial derring-do. Yeah, yeah, those little mom 'n' pop joints'll suffer if they can't protect themselves from slip-and-fall suits and all, but if you're gonna operate a kitchen and you're heat averse...

Romney is really good at giving his opponents talking points. His original 'corporations are people' point wasn't about personhood at all, but about tax incidence. He was saying in his typically ham-handed way that corporate taxes ultimately come out of the pockets of people (in some sense that's at root an -anti- corporate personhood observation, not pro). And I don't think that in itself is a partisan observation. The economists who oppose corporate taxes aren't on one side of the spectrum, and their argument is pretty simple - it's really hard to figure out who ultimately pays for a tax on XYZ Inc once you note that dividends and wages and prices are all affected. We don't even know for sure if fundamentally it's a progressive or regressive tax, let alone what we're encouraging or discouraging. It's a very "messy" way of raising money.

On to the 'I'm-not-a-business' side of things, I'm actually getting -quite- curious about these tax returns of his right now. I don't think it's just 'OMG, Romney only paid 15%' since I'd assume he can weather that. In fact in that case he'd say he obeyed the law, go from talking about his tax rate to talking about absolute dollar value sent in (which would sound quite large) and then accuse critics of waging class warfare. The fact that he's not doing that suggests to me that it's a bigger story, maybe evasion as Reid says. At least it'd have to be pretty damaging for him to be willing to take this much flak for not releasing them. Even his side can't really support lack of transparency on personal finances full-throatedly.

The finances and tax returns of a presidential candidate serve no similar function.

They do though. How about a candidate who wants to cut taxes for the wealthy, slash benefits for the poor and has benefited financially from corporate tax loopholes and low rates of capital gains taxes? What about mouthing platitudes about nationalistic economic measures (punish China) while outsourcing jobs and parking one's own money in tax havens abroad? What if there are criminal financial dealings with "terrorist" nations or money laundering? Shouldn't we know before we hand over the "business" of the running the nation into his or her hands? I too am becoming more convinced that Romney's tax record contains something more damaging than mere loopholes for the wealthy and he has decided that it is less of a risk for him to leave things to the voters' imagination than revealing them.

Who knows what the very wealthy do with their excess wealth? But we have a right to know if they want our votes. Romney definitely seems to never let a financial opportunity go by untested. New York Times reported last night about this real estate deal which happens to have taken place in the Houston suburb where I live. I haven't read the story carefully yet, so I am not sure if Mittens made or lost money in my neighborhood.

The Washington Post is reporting that Jon Huntsman Sr. has called upon Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. And I was wrong about the animosity between the two (may be it is Junior who doesn't like Romney). Huntsman Sr. was an admirer of George Romney and seems to have an avuncular affection for Romney Jr.

Poor Mitt, he's begging Obama that business and taxes be off-limits, just like family.

I wonder whether he will last till the RNC, at this rate.

No, they don't. A doctor's report of Romney's health is the better analog of the financials of a company. Romney's cocky response to Bloomberg relies on the essential factor for choosing a prospective investment being its potential for financial growth. The tax returns likely will shed light, as you suggest, on the scope of Romney's hypocrisy and self-interest, on the unseemly aspects of his dealings. These are moral assessments that some voters might not particularly care about. (An unseemly, hypocritical, self-interested president? Never!) Conversely, you'll never find a prospective investor who doesn't care about the viability of the company, but who only wants to own a piece of a collapsing shoelace conglomerate.

Still, the voters may have a "right" in some moral or political sense to know more about a candidate's finances, although one hopes the IRS would have taken steps by now had the returns evinced criminal wrongdoing. Rather, voters have a right to demand disclosure, but also, alas, a right to vote anyway for the stonewalling candidate.

"A prospective investor in a business explores the history of the company finances before deciding its value and viability. The finances and tax returns of a presidential candidate serve no similar function."

Presidential candidate tax returns play no role in deciding his "viability"? I'm startled, tbh. I've never seen that argued -for-, before. What exactly did you mean? Say I'm exhorting people not to vote for the guy because he has a shady financial past. What's the argument that I'm doing Mitt a wrong and urging people to weigh irrelevancies? Hiding your tax returns is not exactly like hiding your preference for, I dunno, dressage over basketball.

In an attempt to "get" Romney, the interviewer posed an irrelevant analogy, and Romney called him out. We examine X [a company's financials] to determine A [its financial health, in terms of profit/loss, cash flow, liabilities, etc.]. We examine Y [a presidential candidate's tax returns] to determine B [the shadiness of his financial past, conflicts of interest, etc.]. The interviewer implicitly posited X:A::Y:B, which is true because X and Y provide reliable evidence of A and B, respectively. But the interviewer's point--meant to expose Romney's hypocrisy--was that an astute investor such as Romney, qua investor, would never neglect to pursue A; and that X being very similar to Y (both providing historical financial data of a sort), it follows that Romney, qua voter, should favor the disclosure of B. That doesn't hold. To drive the point home, Romney sets up his own implicit analogy. For the means/end relationship (disclosure of documents produces good information) that governs the interviewer's analogy, he substitutes duty/discharge (production of records satisfies the respective legal requirement). Strictly speaking, even that analogy fails, because privately held companies are under no obligation to reveal publicly their financials, but a prospective investor's unwillingness to invest without viewing such records is the counterpart to law.

Nothing I've said defends Romney's refusal to produce the older tax returns. To the contrary, voters should regard his refusal not merely as missing data, and therefore as a lacuna in our profile of Romney the candidate; instead, the refusal itself is good, positive information about his character and the likelihood that he has uncomfortably challenged or violated important rules. I mean "viability" in a narrow sense. Nothing in his tax returns is likely to indicate he wouldn't survive a term of two in the White House.

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