New York Times, By Adam Davidson, May 1
Ever since the financial crisis started, we’ve heard plenty from the 1 percent. We’ve heard them giving defensive testimony in Congressional hearings or issuing anodyne statements flanked by lawyers and image consultants. They typically repeat platitudes about investment, risk-taking and job creation with the veiled contempt that the nation doesn’t understand their contribution. You get the sense that they’re afraid to say what they really believe. What do the superrich say when the cameras aren’t there?
With that in mind, I recently met Edward Conard on 57th Street and Madison Avenue, just outside his office at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm he helped build into a multibillion-dollar business by buying, fixing up and selling off companies at a profit. Conard, who retired a few years ago at 51, is not merely a member of the 1 percent. He’s a member of the 0.1 percent. His wealth is most likely in the hundreds of millions; he lives in an Upper East Side town house just off Fifth Avenue; and he is one of the largest donors to his old boss and friend, Mitt Romney.
Unlike his former colleagues, Conard wants to have an open conversation about wealth. He has spent the last four years writing a book that he hopes will forever change the way we view the superrich’s role in our society. ”œUnintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong,” to be published in hardcover next month by Portfolio, aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is not a sign that the system is rigged. On the contrary, Conard writes, it is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off. This could be the most hated book of the year.
Conard understands that many believe that the U.S. economy currently serves the rich at the expense of everyone else. He contends that this is largely because most Americans don’t know how the economy really works ”” that the superrich spend only a small portion of their wealth on personal comforts; most of their money is invested in productive businesses that make life better for everyone. ”œMost citizens are consumers, not investors,” he told me during one of our long, occasionally contentious conversations. ”œThey don’t recognize the benefits to consumers that come from investment.”
Conard and Romney certainly share views on numerous policy matters. Like many Republicans, they promote lower taxes and less regulation for those who achieve financial success. Romney has also said that rising inequality is not a problem and that the attention paid to the issue is ”œabout envy. I think it’s about class warfare.” The differences between these two men are also striking. Romney’s economic platform and his record as the governor of Massachusetts suggest that he is more of a centrist than Conard. Romney wants to eliminate capital-gains taxes for people earning less than $200,000 a year but keep them in place for the 1 percent, which Conard says is a good start but doesn’t go far enough.
The biggest difference is that Romney is running for president and needs more people to like him. Conard doesn’t have to worry about that. ”œPeople get very angry before they change their mind,” he said. ”œEconomics is counterintuitive. It just is.” I told him that surely is true, but his ideas are counterintuitive even to people well versed in economics. After we spoke for one of the last times, he sent me an e-mail summing up his argument: At base, having a small elite with vast wealth is good for the poor and middle class. ”œFrom my perspective,” he wrote, ”œit’s not a close call.”
Introduction and Chapter 1 available here.
So, Mr. Canard – is your neck getting itchy? And why would you recommend the Colombian model over, say, the Swedish model?