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Where Does It End?

The illogic of Obama’s attack on Romney.

Sep 3, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 47 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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All this is true, but it also has its downsides: The market is capricious, subject to boom-and-bust cycles, and, while it does tend to reward hard-work and performance, it leads to outcomes that are often seen as unjust, in which hard working and competent people can suffer through no fault of their own. A competent worker can work for a firm whose incompetent management makes it go out of business. A competent worker can work for a firm with competent -management, which fails when its products are made obsolete by advancing technology. Capitalism works by a process of creative destruction, in which firms open and close, hire and downsize, fail, and spin off in whole new directions, creating a large, changing number of winners, but also of people who lose. Bain Capital, which specialized in startups and in rescuing troubled assets, created an unusually large number of winners and losers, and it was tales of the latter​—​people whose firms were closed down by Bain Capital​—​that Ted Kennedy turned into the heartrending commercials that rescued his Senate seat in 1994 when Romney challenged him. And so it is the current project of the Obama campaign to separate the “creative” and “destructive” facets of capitalism and assign the destructive elements to Mitt Romney and Mitt Romney alone. If a firm he bought closed, it wasn’t because of market forces: He wanted to close it. Not only that, but he may have liked doing it. He’s a vulture and vampire capitalist, isn’t he? Case closed, the end.

But more than a few things are left out of this story, one being that while Romney sometimes made money when plants closed, he would have made more if they had succeeded, and had no incentive towards seeing them fail. Point number two is that there was nothing done by Romney or Bain that hadn’t been done many times over by Obama’s donors, such as Jonathan Lavine, an Obama bundler who headed Bain Capital in 2001 (after Romney had left), when Soptic’s plant closed. (Barack Obama has raised $152,000 in donations from Bain and its employees.) Point number three is that if employers are responsible for their employees’ lives seven years after the connection is severed, it stretches the idea of the social contract beyond all sustainability and raises the question of where it all ends. Can anyone morally fire anyone without making provisions for his health and well-being many years into the future? For how long must the former employee be covered? When are the obligations of the employer, moral and otherwise, considered fulfilled? If employers are to be held responsible for the health of their former workers’ families for years into the future, this is an expansion of the social contract that will make it impossible for commerce to survive. (Let us recall that General Motors began its long slide into bankruptcy when it stopped being a car company and became a retirement program with a car company attached to it.) Indeed, can anyone ever be fired at all?

And then, assuming that the Democrats are right, and employers are responsible for the lives of their ex-employees in perpetuity, the question of fairness intrudes. If Romney is tied to the destruction side of “creative destruction,” the creative side needs to weigh in. 

Bain Capital surely created more firms and more jobs than were destroyed when it controlled them, and hired more people than it let go. If some people who lost jobs had the effects of these losses shadow their lives long after they lost them, then the people who got jobs, raises, promotions, and health care must also have benefited greatly years after the fact. People with jobs found themselves able to marry, buy houses, provide educations for their children that helped them realize their dreams and ambitions: By the standards employed by the Democrats and their media people, these were the consequences of Romney’s decisions and acts. 

If Romney deserves blame for stunting the lives of some people, then he deserves credit for enriching the lives of others, who, without his far-ranging powers, might have led less happy and prosperous lives. Not to mention having had lives at all. How many people over the years, insured by companies saved or established by Romney, contracted cancer, were treated, and are now living long lives? Given the far-reaching Bain investments, and law of averages, their numbers must be in the thousands. And Mitt Romney “saved” every last one.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and a columnist for the Washington Examiner.

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