There is currently much debate over the fate of Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney’s tax returns. The Obama campaign has successfully shifted public discourse away from the economy and onto Romney’s taxes, and, consequently his campaign is now being hit from both sides: from friends as well as foes. The overwhelming argument seems to be that it has become convention for Presidential candidates to release eight to ten years of tax returns during the campaign (Romney has released one, which is all that is required by law) and Romney should stick with this convention. Some argue that Romney release his tax returns because “the people expect transparency”, and others (mainly his friends) argue that he should do so because continued obfuscation is “beginning to look bad”, and “as if he has something to hide”. But none of these are good reasons. The real reason Romney should release his tax returns is to back up his policy claims.
With the exception of tax policy, Romney and his team are remarkably unclear on what exactly his ideas are to boost America’s economy and decrease unemployment. Romney proudly declares that the tax rates that Bush slashed (and Obama continued) should be slashed some more, especially for the higher income levels. He is an advocate of Supply Side Economics, and declares that slashing taxes will free up capital in the market, as well as provide incentives for so called “job creators”. But what everyone (including Romney) fails to mention is that Romney is in a unique position to prove the case for Supply Side Economics and more tax cuts.
Being both a successful businessman, as well as a successful businessman in the field of venture capitalism, Romney’s tax returns can reveal how his business dealings were affected by tax policies. If Romney releases the 23 years worth of tax returns that he showed John McCain in 2008, we will have evidence of how his business dealings and “entrepreneurship” were affected in turn by two Democratic Presidents and two Republican Presidents. We will have a clear vision of how successive dalliances with Supply Side Economics and Keynesian Economics affected his decision-making and success. If Romney is correct, then during the periods of Republican control, during the periods of Supply Side Economics, his market involvement should have markedly increased along with his wealth. If Romney is correct, his tax returns should also show his market involvement (and consequently his wealth) being hampered under Democratic control and attempts at instituting Keynesian economic ideas. Romney’s personal tax records when partnered with those of Bain capital and public jobs numbers will go a long way to proving his case to the American people. Or not. Rather than pure rhetoric, we will have numbers.
Of course this argument is moot if, as many have suggested, the reason Romney refuses to disclose his tax returns is because there is something embarrassing in them. As many have pointed out, it is unlikely a campaign would allow so much damage to be wrought if the alternative was not more damaging. For example, if the speculation that Romney occasionally paid even less than 14% taxes (or occasionally paid zero taxes) is correct, it will be incredibly damaging to the argument that taxes should be cut further let alone his approval rating with the millions of Americans who do not have access to the same loopholes Romney does. However, assuming this is not the case and everything is above board, Romney should not reveal his taxes because it is convention or because it was what his Father did. Romney should reveal his tax returns because they will either prove or disprove his point. Romney should not reveal his tax returns because of some ridiculous notion of “transparency”, or because the sensationalism obsessed media want to boost their headlines with talk of Yacht’s and mansions. Romney should reveal his taxes because it will foster the real debate that this election is built upon. The single biggest issue of this debate is the economy, and, in America that means tax policy. If Romney is going to argue about taxes, he should show how taxes have affected him. Romney should show how tax policy affects those who control the venture capitalism industry. Romney should show how taxes affect the “job creators”.