Ross Kaminsky characterizes Newt Gingrich and others who have criticized Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital as an attack on free enterprise itself. I was struck in particular by these two paragraphs:
On Monday, Mitt Romney said when discussing purchasing health insurance that he “likes being able to fire people who provide services to me.” While the context was being able to change insurers if they’re not providing good service — and the incentive that that possibility instills in providers of services — Romney’s opponents wasted no time taking his remarks out of context, making it sound as if Romney was making a blanket statement about relishing firing people.
Jon Huntsman knew he was wildly misconstruing Romney’s words when the former said that “Gov. Romney enjoys firing people” which, even out of context, Romney didn’t say. But putting aside that such an interpretation was clearly not what Romney meant, even if he had said “I like being able to fire people” as a more general statement, one has to wonder what his critics would propose as alternative. Should a businessman not be able to fire people? Once again, Mussolini’s heart warms at the words of Romney’s critics.
I am certainly aware of the context in which Romney made his remarks and said as much yesterday. But didn’t the employees of the companies Romney ran provide services for him? So is it really a stretch of the imagination to argue that he dismissed employees with the same relish he might dismiss a health care provider? I don’t think it is.
Ross, of course, disagrees with this interpretation as is his prerogative. But then he makes the argument that if Romney does, in fact, like firing people then what is the alternative? I think Ross is missing the point here. It isn’t a question of whether should a businessman be able to fire people. After all, it comes with the territory. Firing people is often a necessary evil. But I’ve never come across an employer who actually enjoyed firing an employee even if that employee was deserving of termination. Many of the employers I have dealt with over the years have told me that firing or laying off people is the most difficult part of their job. Indeed, a little over a year ago, I found myself out of a job. After the company vice-president who gave us the news broke down in tears as he left the room.
Admittedly, breaking down in tears is an unusual reaction. Nevertheless, in many workplaces employers develop bonds with their familial like bonds with their employees. But it is a business and sometimes business doesn’t prosper and something has to give. Yet when companies have to reduce their staffs they try do so through attrition and provide personnel close to retirement age a golden parachute. Their aim to soften the blow and minimize the pain.
Now I realize Romney was in a different role. Bain was in the business of taking over distressed companies and try to restore them to profitability. In the case of venture capitalism, perhaps you need to have the sort of personality that wouldn’t give a second thought to casually fire someone who has worked for the same company for twenty years. I guess you could call it creative destruction. So Romney didn’t have a personal connection to the people who worked for him and in that sense made it easier for him to fire people at Worldwide Grinding Systems, deny them severance pay, health insurance while slashing their meager pensions. But these actions have consequences. Of course, in this case, the people who provided services for Romney bore the brunt of those consequences.
The fact is that Mitt Romney wants us to elect him President in part because of his work at Bain. Fair enough. But then let’s have the unabridged version. Sure, Mitt Romney helped make the lives of some people better while at Bain. But other people and their families were hurt by his actions and it’s going to be very difficult to get 8.6% of the country that’s unemployed not to mention those who fear losing their jobs to vote for Romney if they think he’s somebody who derives pleasure from giving people pink slips. As long as this perception exists, Romney will never take up residence in the White House. He will have to be content with his mansions in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Utah and California.
Look I have few illusions about life. It isn’t fair and the world doesn’t owe you a living. As for capitalism, to paraphrase Winston Churchill on democracy, “Capitalism is a terrible economic system except for all the others that have been tried.” Capitalism might be the best economic system we have but that doesn’t mean the system and its practitioners are above criticism. Ross can surely do better than to label those who point out capitalism’s shortcomings as admirers of Il Duce. What ever happened to Two Cheers for Capitalism?
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