So Maria Bartiroma and Christian Heinze have taken to scolding the press, the Obama campaign and by extension the all rest of us for our continuing “obsession” with Willard “Mitt” Romney’s personal taxes (http://gop12.thehill.com/2012/09/maria-bartiromo-hammers-media-over.html). It is all beside the point, they say, simply voyeuristic and in any case none of our damn business. But if I could sit down with Maria and Chris, I would like to pose for their evaluation (and by extension, all the rest of us as well) the following. (note: please excuse that I use a university setting in the scenario–it’s what I know–please feel free to substitute whatever institution makes most sense to you. DL)
Let us imagine that it is the strongly established custom at my university that a certain percentage of the salaries earned by all those working here are given back annually as a gift to the university in support for the university’s general operations. Let us further imagine that one of the most highly paid professors on campus routinely goes through all kinds of machinations and accounting tricks to keep his “salary” as low as possible, moving this over here and that over there, explicitly to keep his “contribution” to financial support of the university as absolutely low as possible. As a result, on the whole he routinely pays in a significantly lower percentage of his total compensation package in give-back support than any of the custodians, office workers and maintenance people, even though his total compensation package is 100s, even 1,000s of times greater than theirs.
What are the rest of us who work at this university to think of this person? Well, many of us recognize that on a much smaller scale we are doing the same kind of thing ourselves, the main difference being that given his level of compensation he has access to many more machinations and accounting tricks that would simply not be cost effective for us to try to access. We therefore perhaps a little grudgingly tolerate the man’s financial mores and figure that as long as he isn’t breaking the law, well, no harm no foul.
But would we then support him in becoming president of the university? Would we buy the view that it is exactly his deft employment of machinations and accounting tricks that qualify him to be president of our university? Were we to find ourselves on the presidential hiring committee reviewing his application, would we think it “none of our business” to expect a full inspection of his compensation and giving record at our university?
You, Maria and Chris (and by extension all the rest of us) can answer these questions in whatever way seems right to you. I know what my answer is.