- For years now, whenever I've been invited to lecture students on how our tax system works, I have asked a simple question: What is the purpose of the United States of America? The most common answer, be it at prestigious universities, elite prep schools, rural community colleges, or crowded urban high schools, is this: To make people rich.
- This should come as no great surprise. For anyone born after, say, 1970, the world has been shaped by Ronald Reagan's remaking of government's relationship with private interests—a vision of lower taxes, less regulation, and maximum economic leeway for those at the top. In this view, the pursuit of wealth is the warp and weft of America; everything else will follow.
- By contrast, the preamble to the Constitution tells us the nation's reason for being in 52 words that can be reduced to six principles: society, justice, peace, security, commonwealth, and freedom. Individual riches don't make the list. They are a product of American society, not its guiding purpose. Progress, then, must begin with a return to the best of the values that created this Second American Republic—one born, it's worth remembering, from the failure of the Articles of Confederation, whose principles (weak government, unfettered capitalism) found their resurrection in the economic policies of the past three decades.
- The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier, that give you time and space to focus on what you want to focus on.
- That’s what money has bought Romney, too. He’s a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream.
- The problem is living the dream has blinded him to other people’s reality. His comments evince no understanding of how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, how awful it is to choose between skipping a day on a job you can’t afford to lose and letting your sick child fend for herself. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it.
- In their book “Poor Economics,” the poverty researchers Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo try to explain why the poor around the world so often make decisions that befuddle the rich.
- Their answer, in part, is this: The poor use up an enormous amount of their mental energy just getting by. They’re not dumber or lazier or more interested in being dependent on the government. They’re just <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=Tj0TF0IHIyAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false">cognitively exhausted</a>.
That money, of course, all came from investments. But Romney didn’t even manage those investments. Someone else took charge of the decisions. Romney basically made $14 million in 2011 — putting him way, way above the top 1 percent, which starts at around $350,000 a year — because Romney was very rich in 2010, too. That’s the nice thing about being rich: It makes you richer.
Compare Romney to a single mother of two who works full-time at Wal-Mart, who takes the Earned Income Tax Credit and whose children get health insurance through Medicaid. Romney says she’s not taking personal responsibility. He says he couldn’t get her to take personal responsibility if he tried. And yet, Romney is someone who doesn’t even have to take personal responsibility for earning money anymore. He’s beyond all that.
Romney’s situation is wonderful. It’s the dream. And he worked to achieve it. I have no qualms about any of that. But his riches have come with a lack of empathy for what it’s like to be poor, or even just not-rich. He’s taken the fact that he’s rich as an indictment of the work ethic of people who aren’t. And he’s carried that belief into his policy proposals."