As Newt Gingrich lashes out at “liberal elites,” Mitt Romney is casting the 2012 campaign as “free enterprise on trial” — and Mr. Romney defines free enterprise as achieving success through “risk-taking.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donahue, defending Mr. Romney, explains that “this economy is about risk. If you don’t take risk, you can’t have success.”

But who do they think is bearing the economic risks? The higher you go in today’s economy, the easier it is to make a pile of money without taking any personal financial risk at all. The lower you go, the bigger the risks and the smaller the rewards.

Partners in private-equity firms like Romney’s Bain Capital don’t risk their own money. They invest other people’s money and pocket 20 percent of any upside gains. They then pay taxes on only 15 percent on their incomes — a lower rate than paid by many middle-class Americans — because of a loophole that treats that income as capital gains.

Wall Street as a whole seeks to maximize personal gains and minimize personal risks. If you’re high enough on the economic ladder, you can screw up royally and walk away like royalty. And if the bottom falls out, don’t worry. Taxpayers will bail you out.

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