Friends, co-workers and relatives describe Mr. Romney, now seeking the Republican presidential nomination, as something of a paradox: a man exceedingly deft at and devoted to making money who has never become entirely comfortable with his own wealth.
In interviews, they said he was driven in his business career more by his striving and competitive nature than by the goal of accumulating riches. Still, he had to be persuaded by his wife, Ann, to walk away from his job at Bain Capital, the private equity company he helped found, at a time when it had become “extraordinarily lucrative,” he recounted in a memoir.
Mr. Romney, who has a net worth estimated at $200 million from his days buying and selling companies, rarely discusses the rewards of that career, wary that it might alienate voters worried about paying their bills. He has not disclosed his income tax records, shielding from public view details about his finances. On the campaign trail, where he wears Gap jeans and a Seiko watch, he is eager to highlight the humblest aspects of his biography, including the bankruptcies endured by his grandfather.
His complicated relationship with money was shaped by his father, George W. Romney, a self-made businessman and Michigan governor, and by a Mormon faith that counsels modesty. Tagg Romney, Mr. Romney’s eldest son, explains his father this way: “There isn’t much that bothers him more than wasting money.”
But isn’t this a pretty standard worldview of many wealthy men? Before he cracked up, Ross Perot liked to brag about his Sears & Roebuck suits, if I’m remembering 1991 correctly. George Lucas is famous for wearing jeans and plaid workshirts. Not every wealthy person is the real life equivalent of Gordon Gekko — or Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman, come to think of it. It might be news to the New York Times, but most wealthy people — particularly conservatives — lead pretty thrifty, non-flashy lives:
The sad thing for those of us who write about these people is that many of the hard-working people who make up the ranks of the gradually successful are flamboyance vacuums. Often they are far more interested in working and making money than in consuming and spending money. According to research that Thomas J. Stanley did for his book ”The Millionaire Next Door,” written with William D. Danko, 70 percent of millionaires have their shoes resoled and repaired rather than replaced, and the average millionaire spends about $140 on a pair of shoes, which doesn’t get you Guccis. After Visa and MasterCard, the most common credit cards in the millionaire’s wallets are charge cards for Sears and J.C. Penney . In that 1996 study, Stanley and Danko reported that the typical millionaire paid $399 for his most expensive suit and $24,800 for his or her most recent car or truck, which is only $3,800 more than what the average American spent.
In other words, they shop the way most Americans shop, in that confused hierarchy-busting manner the market researchers now call rocketing. They spend lots of money on a few items they really care about — their barbecue grills or their lawnmowers — and then they go downmarket to Wal-Mart to buy most of the other stuff they don’t care about. This isn’t upper-class consumption or even relentlessly middle-class consumption. It’s mixed-up no-class consumption.
In this, as in so many respects, people who live in Manhattan or Los Angeles or San Francisco or even Dallas have to keep reminding themselves that their experience is not typical. In most places in America, there are no massive concentrations of rich people and hence no Madison Avenue boutiques, no fine art galleries, no personal shoppers. There is just the country club, and certain social pressures to be just this affluent, to prove you are a success, and no more so.
— That’s David Brooks, writing back in 2003 in…The New York Times, back before his trouser fetish overtook his ability to reason, and he bet the ranch on one of the great wealth destroyers in America’s history.