We hear a lot about the desirability of business acumen for elected officials, as if the provision of government services is responsive to market forces or has something like a profit motive.
Actually, being a success in business has nothing at all to do with running a responsive government of any size, let alone the world’s largest. But I get tired of hearing about Willard Mitt Romney’s awesomeness at capitalism without any evidence beyond his personal fortune. Capitalism at its best enriches more then just the proprietors and management, by making products or providing services that are cheaper, better, completely new and original or any combination. Sure, getting rich means you did something right but true success means you bettered the lives of your customers and employees, not just you and your investors.
Staples is mentioned as a big win for Romney. At first glance it looks like the idea was WalMart for office supplies, or another iteration of the “Lower Prices. Always.” idea. You’d think a Harvard MBA would realize that’s unsustainable, a variant on the Greater Fool theory: you buy into an unsustainable or short-run idea, hoping to sell out before the truth of it gets out. It’s not a Ponzi scheme or pyramid game, nothing illegal, just one of the twists of the market.
Staples was the first of the big three office supply chains but in looking over the history at Wiki, Romney isn’t even mentioned. His contributions were probably limited to financing and a seat on the board, as his own bio mentions. He lists a lot of other businesses to which he contributed expertise but I don’t see anything that looks imaginative or visionary. He didn’t start a car company to reinvent Detroit, for example, as a hat tip to his father’s legacy.
And there’s the LBO angle, that old notion from the 80s:
Romney soon switched Bain Capital’s focus from startups to the relatively new business of leveraged buyouts: buying existing firms with money mostly borrowed against their assets, partnering with existing management to apply the “Bain way” to their operations (rather than the hostile takeovers practiced in other leverage buyout scenarios), and selling them off in a few years.
So he’s not really a capitalist/entrepreneur but a consultant/financier. Nothing wrong with that but it doesn’t fit the narrative he wants us to buy, of the shrewd businessman. He’s not a team member so much as a team owner who hasn’t faced the risks that true capitalists face on a regular basis.
So I’m not buying the idea of the resolute capitalist so much as an opportunist with a bankroll. I’m sure he’s plenty smart (hey, he went to Harvard, just like our President and many others besides). But smart isn’t necessarily imaginative or creative. He certainly isn’t empathetic, doesn’t connect with the people he aspires to serve. And I have no idea why he wants the job other than to get Obama out of it or that it’s his turn, compensation for his father’s thwarted ambition. I think we’d be well served if we could trade the son for his father, since the son never learned anything from his father’s example.