What would you do with Romney’s income?

Published 10:06 am Friday, April 27, 2012

Column: Notes from Home

In the Year of Our Lord, 2010, Mitt and Ann Romney made a little over $21 million. The following year, their income was a little under $21 million.

Pointing this fact out does not constitute class warfare. It’s not even about envy. What’s most important about those numbers is that they represent more money than I am capable of comprehending.

Email newsletter signup

Maybe there are people in Minnesota or even in this community who can comprehend what that means, what that much money looks like or feels like, what it can buy. I cannot. I have to break that number down into smaller, more manageable sums.

If we start by spreading $21 million over 12 months, it makes $1.75 million per month. That number is still beyond me. However, spreading it over 52 weeks makes $404,000 per week, a number I understand (even if that amount of money has never been part of my life). The breakdown per day — $58,000 — is still a lot more than I make annually as a college professor, but it’s almost normal (unless you think about it as a day’s worth of income).

To make their income even more comprehensible, I tried a thought experiment: What if, for some unexplainable reason, the Romneys gave my family one week’s worth of their income to spend? What could, would or should we do with that much money?

Well, following their example, the first 10 percent would be our tithe to church, Bible camp and other groups that help people in the community. And we would pay our taxes, computed at the same rate the Romneys use for taxes on the whole annual amount.

After that, we could pay off our mortgage, repay all my student debts from grad school, the amount we still owe on our cars, and any other outstanding debts, including the ones to family members. With that done, we could be more greedy and carry out all the renovations and repairs to our home that we’ve ever dreamed of.

On the down side, this sudden influx of wealth would probably mean less financial aid for our college-bound son, so we would have to pay most of next year’s tuition bill up front, too.

Once all of those donations, debts, payments and costs are totaled up, we would still have about $57,000 to spend or invest or give away. Even after spending money on just about everything I need to and a lot of what I want to, a week’s worth of their income feels more like fantasy than reality. What’s left over is still more money than I normally make in a year.

Do the Romneys have a huge amount of income left after they pay their bills? Probably. What do they do with it? I’d like to think they set it aside to help the workers who get laid off when the companies Mitt and Ann control reduce their workforce to increase their profits. I’d like to think they help out with medical expenses and child care and grocery bills for those families. I’d like to think that.

Some readers may not like this “thought experiment” because going on and on about all that money does sound a lot like envy. Trust me, I do not envy the Romney’s income. I do not want that kind of responsibility. Anyway, he worked hard to earn it. Along the way, I’m sure there were evenings or weekends when Ann had to be a single parent, when Mitt missed school events.

Other readers might be squirming because of how this discussion highlights the chasm between those at the top and the rest of us. However, the chasm is not fictional or fantasy; there really are Americans who have the access to power that money brings, access the rest of us will never have. It’s healthy to shine light on that reality.

Still another group of readers might also be squirming when the power of the wealthy comes up, the ones who hope to be up there with the Romneys someday, possessing wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. Where would they get it? A few probably have a path worked out, but most probably haven’t a clue or a plan. Whatever the means or probability, it’s still a powerful dream.

So, is this “thought experiment” an attempt at “class” warfare? Nope. Just a bunch of numbers. Readers can draw whatever conclusions from them that they think appropriate.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.