Edwards and Romney Highlight Parties’ Views of Wealth
A fascinating NYT profile shows how John Edwards and Mitt Romney became very wealthy circa 1984 and drew very different lessons from it.
In the decade that followed, Mr. Edwards would win one big verdict after another, and Mr. Romney would oversee a series of hugely profitable investments. Like thousands of other Americans in a global, high-technology economy in which government was pulling back and wealth was being celebrated, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Romney used talent, hard work and — as both have suggested — luck to amass fortunes. They became a part of a rising class of the new rich.
Whether this class is a cause for concern — whether it deserves some blame for the economic anxiety felt by many middle-class families — has become a central issue in the 2008 presidential race. And Mr. Edwards and Mr. Romney are basing their candidacies in large measure on the very different lessons each has taken from his own success.
“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.”
Now, in fairness, the two men came from very different social backgrounds to begin with; Edwards was, as he incessantly reminds us, the son of a mill worker and Romney’s dad ran American Motors before getting elected governor. One wonders, though, if the way the two men made their fortunes didn’t shape their views of wealth. Getting a cut from exploiting tragedies and convincing juries to award massive damage amounts is markedly different from building businesses and putting people to work. It’s not hard to see why the latter would feel his money was more deserved than the former. Or why the latter would see the virtues of a free market while the former would emphasize the contributions of others.