Friday, September 14, 2012

Mitt and the Childlike Economic Dreamcoat

Like most kids, I had a skewed view of money. I idolized million-dollar athletes and knew the MDA telethon made at least $50 million every year, so I figured I'd grow to earn $52 million a year as a pro baseball player. That seemed to be the boundary of wealth. I didn't want to replicate the financial struggles my parents and grandparents faced, making (as I assumed) a mere million a year.

One day I told my grandfather about my dream, probably asking him point-blank how much he'd made as an independent TV repairman. He said, "I've never made more than $100,000 in my entire life." In retrospect, I realize he never made anything close to that, but the exaggeration flew over my head at the time. To me, $100,000 seemed like a poverty wage. No wonder he sometimes received government peanut butter. That, combined with my parents' constant concerns about affording things, made me settle on the idea that I should be comfortable with $52 million a year.

Of course, I was 10 years old when in this frame of mind. I grew out of it. Mitt Romney never has.

BOSTON (AP) — Mitt Romney is promising to reduce taxes on middle-income Americans.

But how does he define “middle-income”? The Republican presidential nominee defined it as income of $200,000 to $250,000 a year.

Romney commented during an interview broadcast Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The Census Bureau reported this week that the median household income — the midpoint for the nation — is just over $50,000.

Well, of course middle class is $200,000 to $250,000 a year! No wonder it's shrinking — one raise or inflation bump and you're out of that narrow bracket!

It also explains the Republican argument that Obama has been hard on the middle class: the president vowed in 2009 to cut taxes on anyone making less than $250,000. That's mostly not the middle class! Those are poor welfare cheats! Isn't this fun?

For all the dismissal of the vast majority of Americans Mitt's distinction makes, it also raises another question — does this mean everyone making more than $250,000 is considered rich now? If so, that's a surprising revelation for the GOP. See, I've met very few people in my life of any income level who consider themselves wealthy, even if there's no doubt. It's an inversion of how people view their weight — they could always lose more weight and make more money. Few people ever say, "I make enough money" or, "I don't pay enough in taxes." When they do, they make the news. 

The Republican Party, with its mythos of anyone can be rich if they hustle a bit so to hell with the little people, is hesitant to define wealth. Doing so risks all sorts of rhetorical gymnastics later. This is why conservatives will so often preface economic arguments with, "Well, who are 'the rich?'" They want to quibble with your definition as a means to derail the conversation. So good on Romney for setting some parameters. Ridiculous, astoundingly out-of-touch parameters, sure, but parameters nonetheless.

I might have voted for Mitt Romney when I was 10. 

I'm sure my lack of photo ID wouldn't have been a problem.

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