Back in April, Mitt Romney delivered one of his more memorable pieces of advice. Talking to Otterbein University in Ohio, the Republican said President Obama is against "success" -- I still have no idea what that was in reference to -- but Romney prefers to "encourage young people."
"Take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business," Romney said.
The line was significant because of what it told us about Romney's approach to economic opportunities. If you're a young person who can't afford rising college tuition rates and/or don't have the resources to launch a business venture, the GOP's would-be president has some advice for you: choose wealthy parents.
I mention this because a very similar point came up yesterday at a Romney event in Elk Grove, Illinois, where the candidate was praising "the entrepreneurial spirit."
"I met a guy, you may know him, Jim Liautaud, you know Jim. Jim didn't do so well in high school.
"He graduated number two from the bottom of his class. And he went to his dad and said, 'Look, college isn't in my future. Can I get a loan from you to start a business?' And after a little discussion, his dad agreed to give him a loan. He went out and looked to see whether he could get one of these griddles to make hamburgers and those rollers to make hotdogs and found out they were more expensive than the money he had. The only thing he could make with the money he'd borrowed from his dad was sandwiches. So he set up some tables in a garage and made sandwiches and then he delivered them to the workplace to people who wanted them.
"Now Jimmy John has 1,200 restaurants across this country. That's the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that you see in Americans across the country. You see, these individuals don't look to government, they instead look to themselves and say, 'What can I do to make myself better?'"
It's a perfectly nice story and I'm glad Jim Liautaud has been successful. He had a good idea and produced a good product. More power to him.
But I don't think the story means what Romney thinks it means.
Liautaud didn't do well in school, but he was able create a profitable business because, according to Romney, his father provided him with financial resources. Liautaud had the individual initiative, the drive, the ingenuity, and the public infrastructure that allowed him to deliver his sandwiches, but he didn't have any money.
His father provided Liautaud with some seed loans and the rest his history. But what about the folks who also have the building blocks for success -- the individual initiative, the drive, the ingenuity, etc. -- but don't have parents with large amounts of disposable income?
In Romney's vision, these people are simply out of luck. Higher education isn't an option -- young people who can't afford to go to their college of their choice should "shop around" for some other institution, because a Romney administration doesn't intend to help with Pell Grants or student loans -- and entrepreneurial opportunities aren't really an option, either -- Romney believes small businesses should depend on parental aid, not governmental aid.
If you don't come from a wealthy family with tens of thousands of disposable income, well, that's a shame -- no small business for you.
To reiterate a point from April, my point isn't to mock Romney for being very wealthy or for having very wealthy parents. For that matter, I wish nothing but success for entrepreneurs who get seed money from Mom and Dad, and go on to create profitable ventures.
Rather, what matters here is that Romney is actively opposed to using public institutions to help level the playing field for everyone else -- and that's a problem voters need to consider.
Speaking of small businesses, the Obama campaign is "assembling an army of small business owners who say that they did engineer their own success -- thanks to the opportunities afforded them by generations of American taxpayers." That seems like a good idea.