Feb 012012
Authors: Jesse Benn

I don’t have a college fund. My parents never bought me a car, not even my $800 Ford Bronco II. And they didn’t help me buy my house –– but I do owe an enormous amount of my success to them.

In one of two debates that likely will win it for him, Mitt Romney, the nominee of last resort said, “I have earned the money that I have. I didn’t inherit it.”

And that is kind of true, only not really at all.

First and foremost, Romney did inherit money in the strictest sense of the word; he just happened to be rich enough by the time his dad passed to have the luxury of donating his inheritance and getting a school at BYU named after his pops.

Secondly, his dad was a multi-millionaire and a three-time governor of Michigan who ran for president in the 1960s.

And like me, I’m sure Mitt was a constant benefactor of his parent’s success –– only, not really at all like me.

You see, Willard was a child of true privilege.

Here’s what we know:
1) Mitt’s daddy paid for him to go to several very expensive universities. His support covered all of Willard’s expenses, including an allowance large enough for Mitt to frequently fly home to see his girlfriend. I wonder if he flew coach?
2) Mitt’s daddy bought him a car.
3) Mitt’s daddy “helped” Willard buy his first home.

I don’t know about you, but if my parents did those three things for me I’d feel like I “inherited” quite a bit from them.

But that doesn’t really represent the largest thing Willard inherited from his parents –– he got something much larger than that: station in life.

In our house growing up, there were certain expectations of my four siblings and me. The most important was the expectation that we would do better for ourselves than our parents had.

With a dad holding a doctorate, working in a private practice and academia our whole lives, and a mom who showed an unparalleled devotion to raising her kids, directing a preschool and holding a master’s degree, the bar was set high.

And despite our family’s ups-and-downs, each sibling is on their way to, or already has lived up to this expectation.

And that’s how upward mobility works. Sadly, the U.S. now lags behind much of the so-called developed world in terms of potential and realized upward mobility.

A New York Times article discussing the struggle with upward mobility in the U.S. recently said this:

“One reason for the mobility gap may be the depth of American poverty, which leaves poor children starting especially far behind. Another may be the unusually large premiums that American employers pay for college degrees. Since children generally follow their parents’ educational trajectory, that premium increases the importance of family background and stymies people with less schooling.”

What the Times is saying is that the house you are born into matters, and for some of us, our chances at success are greatly increased by it , despite the myth you’ve been sold called the “American Dream.”

I was lucky enough that I was born into a family and class that has, and will continue, to benefit me. And any success I have will be partially attributed to this luck, and any failure will be in spite of it.
Willard was born to a father who was already a millionaire, into the highest class, and while he maintained and improved his station, it was not without the help of its foundation. For him to stand on a debate stage and claim he didn’t inherit his wealth isn’t just a lie, it’s an affront to his very upbringing.

So take just a moment, especially all of you conservative, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps types,” and consider the wealth you’ve inherited –– did you do it on your own?

Jesse Benn is a senior political science major who thinks it’s ridiculous that the parking for the library is an “A” lot. His column runs Thursdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:46 pm

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