By Bill Mattox, JMI Resident Fellow
Posted January 3, 2012
As a political independent who’s still very much undecided about the 2012 presidential race, I read with great interest a recent New York Times article entitled, “Two Romneys: Wealthy Man, Thrifty Habits.” The article, which cited many colorful examples of Mitt Romney’s personal frugality, sought to show that rich man Romney isn’t just a bit of a stiff – he doesn’t even find it easy to spend his own money.  In fact, according to the Times, the only time Mitt ever really splurges is when his wife wants something – especially something that their entire family can enjoy.Two things struck me about the supposed irony in this Jekyll-and-Hyde portrait of Mr. Romney.  First, the article revealed just how little the Times editors understand about the true meaning of “thrift.”  While some falsely associate the word with miserliness and joyless self-denial, thrift actually finds its root in the term “to thrive.”  And Benjamin Franklin, in his best-selling book, The Way to Wealth, argued that thrift traits like frugality and industry hold the key to our financial flourishing.Surely, nothing in my experience contradicts Franklin.  Most wealthy people I know have a knack for practicing thrift.  Most thrifty people I know have greater wealth than their non-thrifty peers.  And most married men I know practice some measure of thrift to help their loved ones thrive.  So, I see no inconsistency between the rich Romney and the thrifty Romney. Second, if indeed it’s true that “stiff Mitt” finds it hard to spend his own money, is that such a bad trait in a presidential candidate?  I could be wrong here – and I’m certainly not trying to make the case for a Romney presidency – but I suspect that people who are careful with their own money are more apt to be careful with the taxpayers’ money, too.  And the last thing our nation needs at a time like this is a president who finds it easy to spend and spend and spend. For as ol’ Ben Franklin understood well, thrift isn’t just “the way to wealth” for individuals and households – it’s the way to restored wealth for a once-thriving-but-now-debt-ridden nation.