the national interest

Romney Can’t Explain What He Learned in Business

Mitt Romney has been asserting for months that his experience in the private sector qualifies him to create jobs as president. Mark Halperin takes the clever and unusual step of asking Romney why this is so. Romney’s answer is pure incoherence:

Well that’s a bit of a question like saying, what have you learned in life that would help you lead? My whole life has been learning to lead, from my parents, to my education, to the experience I had in the private sector, to helping run the Olympics, and then of course helping guide a state. Those experiences in totality have given me an understanding of how America works and how the economy works. Twenty five years in business, including business with other nations, competing with companies across the world, has given me an understanding of what it is that makes America a good place to grow and add jobs, and why jobs leave America — why businesses decide to locate here, and why they decide to locate somewhere else. What outsourcing causes — what it’s caused by, rather. I understand, for instance, how to read a balance sheet. I happen to believe that having been in the private sector for twenty five years gives me a perspective on how jobs are created — that someone who’s never spent a day in the private sector, like President Obama, simply doesn’t understand.

Basically Romney is just repeating his premise over and over again. He doesn’t say why his experience as a rich business guy better enables him to craft pro-growth policies.

Halperin actually follows up and asks for some specificity. You can read the whole answer if you like, but Romney insists that his Job Creator experience taught him that energy is part of the cost of a business, so it’s bad to pursue policies that result in high energy costs. But obviously this isn’t some special knowledge that you need to be in the private sector in order to acquire. If you’re the president, businesspeople will be happy to tell you this. The root of the disagreement between Obama and Romney over energy policy lies in their different beliefs about the legitimacy of scientific findings about the effects of carbon emissions on climate change. Obama believes in the findings of climate science, and Romney says he is not sure.

I do think that Romney’s private experience shows he is a highly competent person with a sharp analytic mind. But he is claiming something different. He is claiming to have gained a kind of ideological kinship with business, an internalization of its wants and needs. To the extent that’s true — and I think it is somewhat true — it is also just as fair for Obama to point out that Romney gained from this experience a boss’s view of the world, which was geared toward the maximization of profit and not the interests of everybody involved. If Romney is right that his business career taught him to gear public policy around what is best for “business,” defined as what’s best for the owners of business, then it seems perfectly fair to raise questions about that background.

Romney Can’t Explain What He Learned in Business