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Nothing to Learn From Romney Releasing More Taxes

08/09/2012 05:07 pm ET | Updated Oct 09, 2012
  • Howard Steven Friedman Statistician and health economist for the United Nations; Teacher, Columbia University

The media is having a grand old time discussing Mitt Romney's tax returns. Will he release more years of returns? Should he? Does Harry Reid have some special knowledge or is he just making noise?

Since I have a number of friends who profess to be undecided or independent, I decided to do a highly unscientific poll by surveying 15 friends with the following questions:
(1) Is it important to you that Mitt Romney release more tax returns?
(2) Would you consider changing your vote based on information in his tax returns?
(3) Please explain why or why not?

The results of my poll were somewhat entertaining. Not a single respondent said it was important to them that Mitt released more returns and none indicated that they would consider changing their vote based on information in those returns. Now, of course, this is not a scientific survey either in its design, implementation or sample size. There are probably some voters that would be influenced but I would venture to say that the vast majority of undecided or independent voters really don't care.

Why don't they care? The consistent answer I received was that "there is absolutely nothing new I would learn from his tax returns." Let's expand on this since it is important. We already know that Mitt Romney came from a wealthy, politically connected family and that he himself is a successful businessman and former governor of Massachusetts. We already know that he is well educated, made a lot of money in the business world and has done an excellent job at keeping that money. We already know that he paid impressively low tax rates on his substantial earnings for the years that were already reported. The last part regarding his low tax rate means that he (and his accountant) has done an excellent job of using the current tax laws to minimize his tax payments. Does anyone believe that if we saw more tax returns it would possibly change anything I have written above?

So what tax questions should we be focusing on instead what Mitt Romney paid? We should have the candidates discussing items like what are the issues with the current tax laws? What tax policies do they endorse? What changes do they want to make to the tax laws?

More specifically, do they envision changes to the capital gains tax rates and if so what changes? What tax rates do they envision for income taxes and what impact will those changes have on the federal revenue? Do they endorse changes to the payroll tax rate or cap? Do they plan to have changes implemented to current tax expenditure laws and if so which expenditures? What changes do they envision for the corporate taxes so that America stops incentivizing companies to invest outside the United States and shield their profits from taxation?

In order to move political dialog past these games of distraction and onto substantive topics, the public has to demand an end to the side-shows and for the politicians to state clearly what their plans are for the government and, more broadly, America. Using real facts, examples and details they need to state their plans clearly.

Americans should have the opportunity to vote for substance over style, content over rhetoric and facts over rumors. Elections matter, but unfortunately, so far there hasn't been anything offered by either party to help inform voters except clichés, negative advertising and rumor-mongering.

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