In the past decade or three, the United States has seen massive growth in organizations with “family” in the name. Generally speaking, these groups frequently emphasize the need to protect “the Family”, which is spoken of as if it were a delicate platonic ideal subject to shattering if even modestly questioned. While it’s obvious that I disagree with their working definition for which people constitute families and which don’t, it seems like we should all be able to agree that support for families, platonic or otherwise, is a social good.
It would seem that way, sure, but there’s a point where that sort of logic becomes an apologetic for nepotism (or as some have called it along with associated behaviors, “amoral familialism“). The culture in the US certainly seems to favor family in an abstract sense but there’s some indications that this valuing of family reaches a pathological level that threatens the larger social safety net. No one exemplifies this more than Republican Candidate for President Willard “Mitt” Romney. Our inability to notice this specific flaw in him is a worrisome indicator of our capacity to address the need to balance a valuing of family with protecting and investing in society as a whole.
(Mitt Romney, his wife Ann Romney, their three sons and their wives, and 15 grandchildren – originally from here.)
Most reporting on Romney’s seemingly infinite tax scandal has focused on his personal power of deception (in refusing to release the normal number of returns) or the web of professional relationships surrounding his likely lies (namely the role of his lawyers and other legal associates in tightly containing and selectively releasing the information). The few reports on his finances that look at how he seems to have both legally and “extra-legally” accrued massive funds to pass on to his children typically focus on the technical details. The driving concerns are what financial methods he’s used and what their legal statuses are. In the one thorough explanation of his use of family-oriented tax deductions and loopholes that I’ve found, it was noted:
“Romney’s individual retirement account, which he said in a financial statement filed in June is worth between $18.1 million and $87.4 million, may be used to benefit his children […] When beneficiaries inherit an IRA, they are required to take distributions based on IRS tables that use life expectancies. The younger the beneficiary, the less they have to withdraw each year from the account. That can benefit children or grandchildren because assets in the IRA can continue to grow tax-deferred […] Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, proposed in February to require younger beneficiaries who inherit IRAs to pay taxes over five years instead of spreading them over their lifetime, which would raise an estimated $4.6 billion for the Treasury over the next decade. The plan didn’t advance.“
If not legally questionable, this practice is at least ethically questionable. As a candidate Romney has equated paying income taxes with social responsibility. Sheltering what is for all intents and purposes his income, so that his children and grandchildren can live in luxury, regardless of the larger social cost, fails his own moral test. It’s a clear sign that just as he has been accused of proposing government by his socio-economic class for his socio-economic class, he prioritizes “people like him” over others. In this case, he wants to shield generations of his family from the “burden” of contributing to the entire rest of the United States in the form of modest taxation.
Tellingly, this is not one of the loopholes that Romney has specified wanting to eliminate to make his proposed tax cuts revenue neutral. Undeniably, Romney is a man who values “the Family”, but when that’s a value placed above all else, there are clear social costs that we need to realize.