For Mitt Romney, the fundamental argument underpinning his presidential candidacy is his experience as a top executive at Bain Capital, the huge Boston-based private equity firm. That is especially true now because he must disown his most important achievement as Massachusetts governor — health care reform — in order to assuage the Tea Party extremists in his own party. But what does his business career tell us about the economic policies that might be pursued by the Republican front-runner — and about his worldview? Much could have been gleaned from the career history of George W. Bush, if only voters had paid closer attention to the unflattering reports of his experience as oilman and baseball team owner that accumulated in 1999 and 2000.
As the stories behind Romney’s success unfold in the coming campaign, the answer is likely to be that Bain Capital has prospered during the past quarter-century promoting a harsher brand of enterprise — one that ruins communities, impoverishes workers, and exports American jobs, all in the name of shareholder “value.”
In the current issue of New York Magazine, reporter Benjamin Wallace-Wells begins the process of unpacking what Romney and his colleagues in management consulting and private equity have wrought upon the U.S. economy. Wallace-Wells opens his narrative with a telling recent anecdote from the campaign trail in Iowa, where Romney lectured a disbelieving crowd on the issue of corporate personhood. When a heckler urged raising taxes on corporations, Romney replied with condescension: “Corporations are people too, my friend….”
Of course in the strictest sense he was right: The management, shareholders, and workers of every corporation are indeed human beings, and it is to those human beings that the money earned by corporations, after taxes, is paid. But as Wallace-Wells discovers, Romney and company have done much to change how those earnings are apportioned, encouraging massive increases in the amount appropriated by management and huge reductions in wages and benefits paid to workers. Creating incentives for managers to maximize stock prices — which would explode their own compensation — simultaneously undermined old-fashioned corporate responsibility toward employees, communities, and the nation as a whole. The deepest implication of the consultant creed that Romney represents is an ugly Darwinism — or so Wallace-Wells suggests.
But as consultants, there was only so much that Romney and the Bain crowd could do to change any corporation. Wanting to put their theories into practice, and sensing that big profits could ensue, they formed Bain Capital, whose record in corporate takeovers and turnarounds became the envy of the industry — and the ruin of thousands of workers and their families unlucky enough to become collateral damage.
The improved efficiency and productivity of private enterprise over the past two decades certainly were not without benefit to society, in lower prices, better technology and even, for a while, higher employment. But the perfect “alignment” of incentives between corporate managers and shareholders, without any regulatory brakes, led to worsening economic inequality, executive recklessness, stock manipulation, and a laser-like focus on the short term — in short, all of the ills that underlie American economic decline. Those same incentives have been trained on the political system to ensure decisions that benefit those same overpaid, seemingly sociopathic bankers and investors — now known as the “one percent.” They could scarcely hope for a more sympathetic candidate than the man from Bain.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, October 25, 2011
Gov. Romney, Ohio Republicans are fighting to undermine collective-bargaining rights; do you agree with them? No comment.
Gov. Romney, your top rival for the Republican presidential nomination is questioning the president’s citizenship status; is this a legitimate subject for debate? No comment.
I thought it would be worth asking the campaigns of the two frontrunners — Herman Cain and Mitt Romney —for comment on [Rick Perry’s birther comments]. Are they willing to condemn it? After all, Romney has vouched for Obama’s U.S. citizenship in the past and has made Perry’s unelectability central to his campaign, and it seems likely that Perry’s flirtation with birtherism will fuel doubts about whether he has the gravity and temperament to be a good general election candidate.
Both campaigns declined to address Perry’s comments. “We’ll pass,” Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon emailed. A Romney campaign spokesperson also declined comment.
Remember, this isn’t one of those 11th-Commandment-style dynamics; Romney criticizes Perry comments all the time. But when Perry dabbles in unhinged conspiracy theories, the Romney campaign prefers to remain silent.
Greg Sargent added, by the way, that some major players in the party — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Karl Rove, and others — have all said Perry’s comments were, at a minimum, out of line.
So where’s Romney as his top rival is taking heat from within the party?
There’s going to come a point next year when the Obama campaign is likely to say, “Mitt Romney lacks the courage and the character to be a leader.” And the criticism will sting because it’s based in fact.
Romney can end this talk very easily and demonstrate that he’s more than a craven empty suit. There are some basic yes-or-no questions — Do you condemn the booing of honorable American soldiers? Would you endorse Paul Ryan’s budget plan? Do you support public workers’ collective bargaining rights? — that the former governor could answer directly without looking for wiggle room and without a bunch of caveats to cling to later.
He just doesn’t seem to have the guts.
By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 25, 2011
An upcoming report by the Federal Trade Commission shows that brand-name pharmaceutical makers continue to cut questionable deals with generic manufacturers that delay the introduction of cheaper drugs onto the market.
Such pay-for-delay arrangements hurt consumers and increase costs for federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by the editorial board. These deals are not illegal, but they should be.
Pharmaceutical companies rightly enjoy strong protections for products that often take years and billions of dollars to develop. These protections were so strong at one point that they discouraged would-be competitors from jumping in. The Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984 meant to address this problem by allowing generics to market “bio-equivalent” drugs as long as they did not infringe on the brand-name drug’s patent; the generic could also proceed if it proved the brand-name patent was invalid. The goal was to enhance competition and lower drug prices. That goal is thwarted when brand-name manufacturers engage in the popular practice of paying generic-drug makers to keep their products off the market.
In 2004, the FTC did not identify a single settlement in a patent litigation matter involving drug makers that raised pay-for-delay concerns. In its new report, the agency points to 28 cases that bear the telltale signs of pay-for-delay, including “compensation to the generic manufacturer and a restriction on the generic manufacturer’s ability to market its product.”
Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) have introduced the Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act to close the pay-for-delay loophole. The bill would make such schemes presumptively illegal and empower the FTC to challenge suspicious arrangements in federal court. The most recent version gives companies a chance to preserve certain deals if “clear and convincing evidence” proves that their “pro-competitive benefits outweigh the anti-competitive harms.” The Obama administration estimates that eliminating pay-for-delay could save the government $8.8 billion over 10 years; the Congressional Budget Office offers a dramatically more conservative savings estimate of roughly $3 billion over the same period.
The legislation should appeal to the deficit-reduction “supercommittee,” which has been tasked with identifying ways to cut the federal deficit.
By: Editorial Board Opinion, The Washington Post, October 24, 2011