The Obama campaign has a new 2-minute ad out, set to air in five battleground states, that accuses Mitt Romney of closing down a steel company and throwing people out of their jobs in order to make a buck for Bain Capital. It shows images of displaced workers, many of them at the end of their working careers, who are, not surprisingly, unhappy with what happened. It’s tough to lose a job, especially one you’ve held for a long time.
The ad is, of course, unadulterated demagogy. Never mind that the closing took place in 2001, two years after Romney left Bain Capital. Never mind that 2001 was a terrible year for the American steel industry. Never mind that ten percent of the jobs in America disappear every year as the economy endlessly remakes itself through the process of creative destruction that makes capitalism work.
Indeed, the ad is so shamelessly dishonest that it has produced a surprising critic, Steve Rattner. He is Obama’s former “auto czar,” who presided over the administration’s remaking of General Motors and Chrysler, a process that cost tens of thousands of jobs, as dealerships across the country were closed down by order of the Obama administration.
“I think the ad is unfair. Mitt Romney made a mistake ever talking about the fact that he created 100,000 jobs. Bain Capital’s responsibility was not to create 100,000 jobs or some other number. It was to create profits for his investors, most of whom were pension funds, endowments and foundations. It did it superbly, acting within the rules and acting very responsibly and was a leading firm,” Ratner said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday.
“So I do think to pick out an example of somebody who lost their job unfortunately, this is part of capitalism, this is part of life. And I don’t think there’s anything Bain Capital did that they need to be embarrassed about,” he said.
Rattner, to be sure, made his considerable fortune in a private equity firm not dissimilar to Bain Capital, called Quadrangle Group, and so might be inclined to see things from Romney’s point of view. But this is exactly right. Corporations are not WPA projects; they don’t exist to provide jobs but to maximize profits. Indeed, management has a fiduciary obligation to the stockholders to do exactly that. The theory of businesses as job providers was tried, in effect, in the Soviet Union, which always had a zero unemployment rate. Except for the highly privileged elite at the top, it produced nothing but poverty and a stunning lack of technological innovation.
Romney in particular and Republicans in general need to stop apologizing for advocating capitalism. It is what has made this country so extraordinarily rich, both for the Steve Rattners and Mitt Romneys and for the average American family as well, which lives at a level of affluence undreamed of even two generations ago.