It has become common to hear contenders for public office trumpet their experience in the business world as a significant reason for them being elected to government posts. The rationale is that business people would bring a business approach to government, focusing on the bottom line, and eliminating all sources of “fat.” He or she might even be able to lower your taxes once they get all that “fat” off the books! Or so their reasoning goes.
But, isn’t it true that most of the time, FAT = JOBS ? Ironically, bottom-line man Mitt Romney tries to convince us that he was actually a job creator despite the track record of Bain Capital. At the helm of that private equity firm, Romney acquired and merged companies, loaded them with debt, fired employees, slashed vendors and disappointed customers. In the end, Bain led certain enterprises into certain bankruptcy, while getting well-compensated for doing so.
None of this sounds like he holds the key to job creation. But even to question Romney’s job creator claim is to invite shrill accusations by the Republican faithful and its network pundits that you are questioning capitalism. To question the capitalist system as the best way to organize all economic activities equates to nothing less than treason and/or sacrilege.
But just because no one is supposed to question how Romney’s experience makes him a job creator, doesn’t mean that he and his support group aren’t allowed to criticize the President. Since Obama isn’t a venture capitalist or former CEO, he is presumed ignorant about how the free enterprise works (subtext: he’s a socialist!). No wonder, Romney crows, President Obama can’t fix the economy.
Frankly, I find it hard to believe that President Obama lacks understanding on economics, or any other subjects, for that matter. (Okay, maybe he’s weak on the details of brain surgery, nuclear fusion, and the difference between mitosis and meiosis.) After all, could someone so clueless about free enterprise also be a graduate of Harvard Law School (as president of the Law Review) and teach constitutional law for 12 years at the prestigious University of Chicago Law School? And, even if there were some fine points he didn’t understand, the President regularly sits down with a team of economic advisers, a.k.a. the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, whose members, I’m sure, can explain things to him.
But more significantly, whether the President ran a business or not is not relevant to fixing the economy as a whole. Like apples and oranges, there is a big difference between micro- and macro-economics, i.e., individual companies acting to maximize profits for its shareholders versus the government acting in the collective interest of its citizens. In the narrowly-focused, micro context (individual companies), the interest of the country’s economy as a whole – the public’s interest – is not even a factor they consider in their profit-making calculus.
And yet, citizens in this country are not allowed to question whether corporate profiteers like Romney would understand the concept of public interest. As if permanently mired in the Cold War politics of anti-communism, we have silenced any criticism of capitalism, elevating corporations and their leaders to the status of prophets leading us to the promised land. Profit-making, profit-taking, and the destruction of worker unions/rights and benefits are the new holy trinity of this religion called “capitalism,” in which the dollar is God and Wall Street is always deserving of salvation (unless you are Lehman Brothers).
Even the Supreme Court majority has been converted. In a breathtaking sleight of hand (or mind), the court majority managed to sidestep the actual controversy in the case of Citizens United vs. FEC. The question before the court was whether Congress can make different election spending rules for human beings than those for corporations as legislated in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, known as McCain-Feingold. But in this challenge, the Court ignored the issue about an even-handed (viewpoint neutral) regulation of corporations – whose very existence is a legal fiction created by the laws and regulations of the states – and made this a case involving speech of natural persons as protected by the Bill of Rights. Voila! Corporations are people, too!
And, shepherding this conversion has been a very elite group of corporate leaders whose compensation has skyrocketed, particularly in comparison with we-the-99% working stiffs. In Paul Krugman’s 2007 book, Conscience of a Liberal, he compares incomes of Americans in 2005 (latest available at publication) to those in 1973. He reports that in that 32-year period the median household income adjusted for inflation grew modestly: a total of 16 percent. Looking at the wages of a specific group, 35 to 44-year old men who a generation ago would have been supporting stay-at-home wives, their inflation-adjusted wages in 1973 were actually 12 percent higher in 1973! And yet, the Americans in the top tenth of a percent saw its income rise fivefold and the top .01 percent of Americans was seven times richer in 2005 than they were in 1973. Krugman says, “A rough estimate is that about half of the wage income from this superelite comes from the earning of top executives – not just CEOs but those a few ranks below – at major companies.” The incomes of sports and entertainment celebrities appear to account for the rest of the wage income of the top 0.01 percent, he reports.
And need we wonder why corporations get such largesse from Congress in the form of tax breaks, farm product subsidies, and other forms of corporate welfare? When they have incomes among the highest .01%, a lot of influence can be bought and exerted.
Undoubtedly, American capitalism produces winners and losers. But this country wasn’t founded to install and perpetuate an economic system that would produce a new aristocracy of privilege at the expense of the citizens who fight its wars, sweat in its factories, build its roads, and keep the machinery of capitalism humming along. Capitalism should not be treated like a religion that cannot be questioned, analyzed, and fettered. It is not ALL good. Al Lewis explained that capitalism “also produces liars, cheaters, swindlers, self-dealing narcissists, overleveraged idiots, and reckless egomaniacs out to abuse their economic power and take unfair advantage of hard-working people . . . who cares how money is made, as long as its made in abundance. Regulations, shareholders rights, class action attorneys, workers, the environmental an industrial accident victims be damned. Tax the middle class. Leave the rich alone. The corporation is king.”
So, pardon me, Mr. Romney if I find your Bain Capital experience as a reason not to vote for you. We don’t need some hard-nosed, bottom-line capitalist cutting the “fat,” when most of that fat involves jobs. Real human beings are suffering throughout this country and your free enterprise-inhuman corporate model only works to further enrich those in your circle of superelites.
With his typical understated eloquence, President Obama recently explained the inaptness of Romney’s resume: “When you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.”
We, the non-corporations of this country, need that fair shot!