My second-grade daughter is very inquisitive, which is, of course, refreshing for her parents. She likes to read the morning’s newspapers with her mother, when they have breakfast, and has an ear open to the radio news reports. This listening continues sometimes in the car, on our way to school. She does not really understand American politics. Then, again, who does really? But, she often latches onto the sound bites and tries to ask intelligent questions.
So, no real surprise that she should have questions about the Republican candidates race.
We heard a news report that the former Governor was due to release his tax returns later today. The commentator began to mention that he was a billionaire (or at least a millionaire). “What kind of ‘aires’ are we?” came the question from the back seat. During the recession, a good question. We had to answer. “Well, we could be any kind of -aires,” I said. “If it’s about our money, then we would at least be ‘dollar-aires’; we usually have at least that much money,” I chirped. I then explained what the suffix -aire signifies. My wife, explained about assets and wealth: she was on her way to a day of dealing with that on the scale of mega billions, as befits the world of a major financial institution. “So how much did how our house cost? What is it worth?”, came the next salvo of questions. I could see money bags in her eyes (and the thought of being called Lady Fauntleroy). She was getting the idea quickly.
What sparked her to then ask “Why do countries have different currencies?” is not clear. Did she have a plan forming to sell our assets and salt them away in the Caymans? My wife gave her a good explanation of that too and what it meant to have foreign exchange. “So, when Daddy is trading do we get piles of real money?” I explained briefly how a trading account works, and that I transfer into my bank account periodically any money I make, so that I can pay bills, lend to other people, and other good stuff like that. No piles of cash were stashed in the basement. “Oh, now I understand the thing about USD and EUR I see on his computer screen.” I had to smile. The conversation on this subject ended when we got to her mother’s bus stop.
The American electorate–at least, the media would have us believe–is fascinated to know more about the financial state of affairs of the candidates. In truth, I suspect the interest is in the wealth and tax affairs of those who are very wealthy, and those who have gained wealth by offering their political services to other. The Republican race has both: you have the ‘filthy’ rich, and the Ging-rich.Former Governor Romney made what I would call another political gaffe last week when, during debates in South Carolina, he did not see the urgent need to release his tax records. (That was rather odd and a bit of betrayal of family values It was his father, George Romney, who introduced in the late 1960s the idea of presidential candidates releasing details of their tax affairs.)
Well, it is no surprise that candidate-seeking Romney earned a lot of money. People will no doubt react as they wish to that and to the fact that he paid taxes on his earnings at a rate much lower than most (PAYE) tax payers do. But, that’s one of the benefits of being a man who thinks like a corporation, and has the means and knowledge to give the tax man as little as possible: something most people would love to do.
But, the financial-propriety issues for the potential candidate are complicated–as are his and his family’s financial affairs. This has sparked much discussion about Romney’s wealth and how he ‘protects’ it, including through what people would see as ‘exotic’ means such as Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island investments–money located (or stashed away, if you want to be pejorative) in places associated in many people’s minds with banking secrecy.
But, I have a feeling that if the American electorate is as inquisitive as my daughter, Mr. Romney and his tax records might have opened up the way for a set of inquisitions that may be quite probing and go deeper, if he is running for president.