Does This Man Deserve a Tax Break? Blog Triggers Bizarre Debate Over a Law Professor’s Finances Swirls

University of Chicago Professor Todd Henderson has found himself in the curious position of being the focus of a national debate over tax rates — and his family’s finances. The corporate law professor wanted to show that people making more than $250,000 a year are not super rich and indeed can be struggling in this economy like other families. The response to this argument on his blog was fast and furious — leading Henderson to shutdown his blog and decline further commentary.

Henderson is a neighbor of President Obama in Chicago and decided to open up his own finances to show that people in the top tax bracket are not super-rich citizens with large surpluses of money. He wrote “[a] quick look at our family budget, which I will gladly share with the White House, will show him that, like many Americans, we are just getting by despite seeming to be rich.”

He detailed how he and his wife, a doctor, paid $100,000 in federal and state taxes last year and $15,000 in property taxes. He explained that they carry $250,000 in student loans and that they do not have a large amount of excess cash.

You can certainly disagree with his view but the response was vicious and unfortunately all too common for blogs. People deluged the blog and his email with hateful comments. This increased when a business site reportedly estimated the combined income of the Henderson’s at over $400,000.

Henderson complained about an “online lynch mob” that sent messages like “die yuppie scum” and other threats. He said “[t]he consequences are devastating for me personally” and shutdown his blog.

I have long complained about the uncivil nature of discourse on blogs. Anonymity seems to unleash mean and petty impulses among some people. One can certainly disagree with Henderson’s view that $250,000 is not the real line of demarcation for the super rich. Many have made this argument and he was not denying that he is well off, but rather that he is not so wealthy as to be set apart with people who are making huge sums of money each year. That brought other academics to the forefront in sharp but civil disagreement. Prof. Bradford DeLong of the University of California at Berkeley insisted that “[b]y any standard they are rich. But they don’t feel rich.”

The problem are those people who want to immediately take the debate into name-calling and threats. I happen to think that the disclosure of his own financial details was offering a new context for this debate whether families making $250,000 or more are worthy of consideration in the tax cut debate. This debate has been maintained on generalities and it is a good idea to look at actual families above this tax line. Perhaps the Hendersons were not the best example, but it was the only example that Henderson could give on his blog.

I hope that Henderson will reconsider and restart his blog — and that people will show a level of civil restraint in participating in this and other debates.

Sources: Fox

Jonathan Turley

39 thoughts on “Does This Man Deserve a Tax Break? Blog Triggers Bizarre Debate Over a Law Professor’s Finances Swirls”

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  2. Are you kidding me. I could pay off the loan the first year, or less, and have tons left over. But then I earn less than 30K, so I know how to live on less than 30K.
    I worked up to three jobs at a time when I was in school. So I didn’t owe anybody anything when I graduated from college.

  3. I have to correct a posting at September 30, 2010 at 3:56 pm. Henderson has stopped blogging at a site that continues to post other articles by other contributors.

  4. Maybe if the professor downgraded his house and mowed his own lawn and didn’t eat out he and his wife would be able to tackle their student loans at a more aggressive pace. I make about $30-35K and have $50K in student loans and I pay extra so that I will pay off my loans in 5-6 years instead of the full term. I’m sure his payments are high but so is his income, there’s no reason he should still owe money after how many years out of school? Maybe he needs to get on the Dave Ramsey plan…

  5. I agree that people commenting on blogs or online news article should keep a civil tongue.

    That said, I think people like Porfessor Henderson don’t understand how bad it has gotten for millions of middle and working class Americans. Does he have a clue how many Americans have been out of work for well over a year and have exhausted their unemployment benefits? Has he thought about all the people who have lost their homes? Does he care? He’s feeling sorry for himself? Maybe he should open his eyes, step out into the “real world,” and find out what’s going on. He should stop whining and get a grip. He’ll get NO sympathy from me!


    From the Chicago Tribune
    Earnings of more than $250,000 a year, but professor laments family just getting by
    Professor’s lament about possible tax hike draws firestorm of criticism
    September 23, 2010|By Ameet Sachdev, Tribune reporter

    Todd Henderson feels like he’s barely making ends meet. He’s a law professor at the University of Chicago. His wife’s a doctor at the school’s hospital. Their combined income exceeds $250,000. They have a nice house, a nanny, kids in private school, a retirement account and a lawn guy.

    Wait. What’s he talking about? A lot of people would consider him rich.

    People have had some other choice words for the outspoken professor, who has been on the receiving end of a jolt of criticism in response to a blog posting last week in which he described his lifestyle in detail and then complained about President Barack Obama’s plan to raise taxes on high-income families.

    From The Wall Street Journal
    SEPTEMBER 24, 2010, 9:53 A.M. ET
    Advice for the ‘Poor Rich’

    Everybody hates Todd Henderson.

    In case you haven’t heard, he’s the University of Chicago law professor who unwisely blogged last week about his financial woes in a post headlined “We Are the Super Rich.”

    Mr. Henderson and his wife, an oncologist, make more than $250,000 a year, and apparently they’re struggling to get by. If President Barack Obama gets his wicked way, and tax rates rise for those earning more than $250,000 a year, Mr. Henderson says it will mean real sacrifice in his family.

    It’s too easy to pelt Mr. Henderson with rotten eggs, as so many have now done. (He yanked the post, but way too late–and on the Internet, one’s blunders never die.) But can we, instead, give him some useful advice?


    Adjust your expectations. “I can show you a client of mine right now who lives in a suburb of Chicago, he’s a doctor, makes $350,000 a year, and he routinely racks up $25,000 on his credit cards,” says Michael Kalscheur, a financial planner at Castle Wealth Advisors in Indianapolis. The reason? Too many people have “unrealistic expectations,” says Mr. Kalscheur. They figure they should be vacationing in Italy, driving expensive cars, the whole deal. “We need to knock him upside the head. He’s got to stop spending money.” Every financial planner will tell you the same thing: The real challenge is tackling the psychology.

    Stop blaming the government. According to the Congressional Budget Office, $265,000 is the average income of a household in the top 20% of the country, and $395,000 is the average for those in the top 10%. (The thresholds, of course, will be much lower). So you’re near the top of the tree in the richest country in history. At the same time, contrary to what you seem to think, federal taxes are not extortionate by modern historical standards. According to the CBO, families in the top 20% pay average federal taxes of 25.1%. The figure in President Reagan’s final year in office: 25.6%.

  6. I read this fascist’s Randian blog before he, in an act of supreme cowardice, took it down. I’d say this to his face, so anonymity is not the cause for this “uncivil” speech:

    “Fuck you, you spoiled brat. You’re a living example of every single thing that is wrong with this country.”

    I’d say lots more to him than that, actually, but won’t sully your blog with it, Professor Turley.

  7. Maverratick, thanks for the link. What I got out of the article wasn’t so much whining (and there was that) but anger. Here and there it broke through “Homes near our work in Chicago aren’t cheap and we do not have friends who were willing to help us finance the deal.” (snap!) He sounds like he’s pissed because he did what he thought he was supposed to do, followed the format for still youthful up-and-comers, and is now in trouble financially. I can actually understand that even if he and his wife are fools for buying into a template that was a trap from square one.

    The people on this blawg are, many of them, old enough to remember when credit was literally nonexistent except for a house and car, and those of us raised in such times in other than the wealth class made decisions that hinge on money with quite a different mind-set and strategy. This guy feels screwed and it shows.

    Everybody here might have suggestions about what he should have done, shoulda’ coulda’ woulda’, because he made some bad financial decisions. Thing is, I don’t see them as being extraordinary for who he seems to be and thinks of himself as. He got taken. You just can’t believe all that stuff people that make money off you want you to believe. If the Jones’ do and you want to fit in you’re doubly cursed. Considering he and his wife’s occupations I can see that there would be some pressure there to fit in.

    Where I do have serious concern for him and others is the college debt- that’s appalling and I read recently that some astronomical percent of today’s college grads leave college with years and years worth of debt. People smart enough to actually go to college and have hopes of making something of themselves are yolked to a millstone that should limit their life choices but, like the Henderson’s, probably do not in ways that help to free them. They’re programmed not to. I reflect on his story with more sadness than shadenfreude or derision.

    Having said that though, I’d still want the tax cuts to expire. And The U.S. to adopt the model of education that allows the first 16 years of education to be state paid.


  8. What Maverattick said:

    Better source: Google’s cache

    Before pulling them off his group blog, Henderson made some further posts (one entitled “Now I Know I’m Right”) which displayed a naive almost Randian outlook. Many took reasonable issue with specific issues that he raised in those posts but the Henderson demonstrated an inability to engage.

    Not surprising that he and his fellow extremists on the blog hid behind the inevitable vilification to dodge the awkward unvilifying questions. Not surprising either that Fox is sympathetic.

    It appeared to be an article of unshakeable faith for Henderson that renewed tax cuts for the relatively wealthy are good for the economy. Even when Krugman begged to learnedly differ, the Prof interpreted that as vilification.

    I too hope he returns to blogging. There remains a dialogue to be had. For example, Henderson made much of the fact that he had earned his wealth, not inherited it. I’d therefore like to know whether he favours estate taxes. I fear he opposes them, but he is free to correct me on that.

  9. Blouise,
    The real problem with the student loans is the principal amount not the interest. They are usually low interest programs, but when you have over $100,000 in law school loans and no job yet, it becomes very worrisome. That being said, I agree with you 100% that this guy is living in a dream world. 95% of the country would easily take his place with that salary. He has had a huge tax beak since the Reagan years and especially since the Bush tax give aways. He, and his comrades in dollars are due to pay their fair share.

  10. The internet is the natural home of incantation; discussions on email lists and online forums, bereft of the subtleties of normal human communication, often turn into a duel of incantations that the loudest and most intransigent voice generally wins.

    i don’t know who wrote this but it reminds me not to write anything online that i wouldn’t say to someone face to face

  11. Blouise, I am not sure, but I think that loans must be secured by residences to be deductible. A homeowner with a lot of equity could refinance, or take out a home equity line of credit (HELOC), to pay off student debt. It may not really matter, however, since at his level of income, deductions are capped, and there is an alternate minimum tax (AMT)to be considered. He would probably exceed the cap just by adding up state income taxes, local property taxes, and home mortgage interest. So he is unlikely to benefit from any deductible student loan interest. He said he is doing his own taxes on Turbotax. Maybe he should befriend some of the tax law profs on the stellar UCLaw faculty for a little professional courtesy legal advice. Anyone else can jump in to set me straight if I have erred.

  12. Professor Turley said “I hope that Henderson will reconsider and restart his blog — and that people will show a level of civil restraint in participating in this and other debates.”

    Take heart, everyone. He never dropped his blog, only the posting about his finances. He is cheerfully blogging along at

  13. The other thing about Henderson is that he is a Professor at the University of Chicago. I would submit that this institution has done more to harm this country in the last half century than any other, save for the Harvard MBA Program.

  14. The overall thing I don’t get is his mockery of the idea that he might be a “millionaire” simply for earning a paltry $300K to $400K a year. Yes you might be, if you earn that much and save your money with the ruthless thrift I see being prescribed for the less fortunate by this guy’s allies. I earn almost as much as he does and I could be a half-millionaire if I tried (since I support a disabled spouse). But I don’t write stupid posts whining about how it’s so unreasonable that my main expense is supporting an army and traffic lights.

  15. geazer, it may be even worse: “My wife has school loans of nearly $250,000 and I do too, although becoming a lawyer is significantly cheaper.”

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