Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mitt Romney is Rich. So What?

To hear all of the talk about Mitt Romney's tax returns and wealth you would think being rich should make someone constitutionally ineligible to serve as President.

If that was the case, our country would have been much poorer for lack of leadership over the years.

Consider this list of the 10 Richest U.S. Presidents complied by 24/7 Wall Street.  Forbes magazine also compiled a list that is similar but replaces Zachary Taylor with Bill Clinton in its Top 10. This does seem to make more sense since most of Clinton's wealth was created post-Presidency.

All net worth figures were adjusted to 2010 dollars for an apples to apples comparison.

Who was the wealthiest President to have served?

He was first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.  He is also first in terms of the wealth of all our Presidents... George Washington.  There is a reason his image is on the dollar bill.

Washington was worth an estimated $525 million.  He was one of the largest landowners in the country.  Mount Vernon had over 8,000 acres of prime farmland.  Most of his wealth came from inheritance from his father and from his marriage to Martha who also had inherited significant property interests.  Interestingly, leadership must have been highly valued for a start-up nation.  Washington's salary as President in 1789 was 2% of the federal budget.  That would be about $75 billion today based on the size of our current budget.

Thomas Jefferson is considered to have been the second richest President at $212 million.  Monticello, his home near Charlottesville, VA, consisted of 5,000 acres.  A good part of his wealth came from inheritance from his father and his pay in political positions over the years.  Unfortunately, Jefferson did not do well after he left office and he was mired in debt when he died due to financial problems related to his plantation.

Teddy Roosevelt had an estimated net worth of $125 million.  He came from a prominent and wealthy family and he received a sizable trust fund and is considered the third wealthiest President.  He spent most of his life in public service.

Andrew Jackson is considered #4 on the list of the richest Presidents.  He married into his money and also made money in the military.  His home, The Hermitage, in Tennessee included over 1,000 acres of prime real estate.  He also had financial reversals later in life.  Jackson's image is on the $20 bill.

Rounding out the top 5 wealthiest Presidents is James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution.  Madison was the largest landowner in Orange County, Virginia.  His holdings exceeded 5,000 acres  that were mostly inherited, including his Montpelier plantation.  He also ended his life with far less money than he had as President due to financial reversals.  How different this is from today where former Presidents grow wealthy from books and speeches after they leave office.

What is striking about these five wealthy Presidents is that all of them gained their wealth principally by inheritance, marriage or in service to their country.  They were all great leaders despite being rich.

The rest of the Top 10 richest Presidents...Lyndon Johnson, Herbert Hoover, FDR, Clinton and JFK.

If Mitt Romney is elected President he would probably be second on this list.

Mitt Romney did not gain his wealth by inheritance, marriage or in service to his country.  If he is elected President he will be unlike Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Jackson and Madison in one important respect.  He will have earned his wealth on his own without help from family, wife or taxpayers.

He clearly had the advantage of a great education and support from his parents growing up but he did not inherit any of his father's money.  Those assets went to charity.  His wife Ann did not bring assets to the marriage when she married Romney at age 19.  Romney has had only two significant stints of public service-his role as CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympics for three years and his four year term as Governor of Massachusetts.  In both cases he did not take a salary.  He worked for no pay.

Mitt Romney is rich.  So what?  He earned it through his own individual effort which is more than can be said for the others at the top of the list.  However, all of them turned out to be pretty good leaders despite being rich and how they got their wealth.  Washington, Jefferson and Roosevelt all ended up on Mt. Rushmore.

Mitt Romney is rich. So what?  If he is elected and can get us out of the mess we are in no one is going to be concerned about his wealth.  These guys appear to be looking for a real leader.

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