In Which We Are Reminded That Prosperity Is Not A Zero Sum Game
By Pejman Yousefzadeh Posted in Economy | John Edwards | Mitt Romney | Wealth Distribution — Comments (7) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
Today's New York Times comes out with an examination of the views of Mitt Romney and John Edwards on the issue of wealth. Romney is the candidate with the biggest personal fortune and Edwards is probably only rivaled by Hillary Clinton, whose husband went on a speechmaking-for-pay spree after he left the Presidency. There views on wealth are telling and in one case--Edwards's--entirely strange:
"Some people come from nothing to being wildly successful and their response is, `I did this on my own,'" Mr. Edwards said in an interview. "I came to a different conclusion. I believe that I did work hard, and I think people should work hard, but I think my country was there for me every step of the way."
Today, he added, "the problem is all the economic growth is going to a very small group of people."
Mr. Romney, by contrast, talks about the ways that his experiences at Bain showed him how innovative and productive the American economy can be and, particularly, how free markets can make life better for everyone.
"There is a model of thought among the Democrats -- that the amount of money, the amount of wealth in a nation, is a fixed amount," he said in an interview. "And that if Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are making a lot of money, that just means somebody else is not able to make as much. That happens to be entirely false."
Readers, of course, won't be surprised to find out that I agree with Romney's views on wealth from a general philosophical standpoint. But even if we take the lives of both Edwards and Romney as case studies on the issue, we should find in favor of Romney's views on the issue of wealth acquisition.
Read on . . .
Edwards came from a relatively impoverished or struggling background and achieved his wealth both from his practice as a plaintiff's attorney and after his Senate career was over, as a member of a hedge fund making $500,000 a year for what was described as part time work (Edwards was also running his think tank on poverty issues at the University of North Carolina). His rise came from a lot of hard work, not a little talent when it came to operating in a courtroom and, as the Times article notes for both Edwards and Romney, luck. In any event, the once significantly poorer Edwards has made quite a turnaround in his financial fortunes through his career path.
Romney came from greater wealth, as his father was an executive at the American Motors Corporation. But Romney made his personal fortune on his own and did it much in the same way that Edwards made his fortune; through lots of talent, lots of hard work and again, not a little luck (as Jefferson noted, the harder one works, the luckier one tends to get). I might doubt--as I have in the past--whether Romney, a very bright man, is as intellectually engaged in politics as he was in business. But there is no doubting the fact that Romney was indeed tremendously intellectually engaged in business and that degree of intellectual engagement helped win him the wealth he now has.
These two life stories help buttress Romney's argument that wealth is not a zero sum game. Power--especially political power--may well be a zero sum game but wealth and economic prosperity is a different matter entirely. Edwards could have gotten a lot of respect by pointing to his life story and making an optimist's argument to the electorate to the effect that if he could rise to the great financial heights he has achieved, anyone could. Sure, he would probably segue from that into making claims regarding how big government would help in the effort, but at the very least, he would be speaking to people's hopes and not to their fears.
Instead, he chooses to play the class warfare game and tell the electorate "watch what I say and pay no attention whatsoever to the nature of my life story as I talk about wealth and prosperity distribution in America." His own life story belies his populist claims and enhances Romney's case.
Of course, in discussing so complicated a matter, we can and should go beyond mere life stories. But the nature of those life stories is not inconsequential. And in John Edwards's case, his life story helps undermine his very campaign.