Mitt Romney claims he’ll deliver 12 million jobs. Leaving aside that presidents actually have little ability to deliver anything but government jobs, one wonders exactly how he will fulfill that promise. But hey, specifics and math seem irrelevant in his campaign. What we do know is that, above all else, the former governor believes strongly in two things: low taxes and free enterprise. So deep are these beliefs that they have taken on almost mythic proportions.
Long and deeply interested in myth, I have one question about taxes for the candidate and one small observation about free enterprise relative to being the engine of job growth. First the question, and it’s kind of personal. It’s one I would pose at this week’s debate.
So Mr. Romney, we see from the limited information you’ve provided that you are currently paying a relatively low tax rate, about 14%. You say that’s been about your average over the last decade. We’ll take your word on that, this despite the absence of that pesky math and specifics. Now we also know that one of the reasons for your modest tax bill is that a good chunk of your assets and their earnings are sheltered offshore. So tell me, governor, considering this low tax rate and the money you’ve shipped abroad on a fairly sustaining level, what new American jobs have come out it? How exactly are you creating jobs by paying so little in taxes?
I’m imagining the “answer” will come in the form of changing the subject, talking about the myth of low taxes not the reality of specifics. Why? Because Mitt Romney, even when he was in business, has never focused on, or had much experience with, job creation. Private equity’s principal concern is generating the largest possible return–on-investment. That often comes from reducing expenses — jobs always being a big part of those expenses. Romney has shown his willingness to fire people, most recently some hypothetical private insurance company that wasn't performing for him.
Now to the observation and that is more general. As noted in a previous post, Governor Romney used his platform at the Clinton Initiative in September to laud free enterprise. It’s a theme that has run through his campaign, one consistent with a long term Republican message. Of course Romney portrays himself as its embodiment. Being a businessman is his primary qualification for being a good president. Get the government out of our way — keep taxes low and send regulation out to pasture. The economy will thrive. Let’s stipulate that the free market economy has been central to the American success story. Private sector jobs are and have always been an engine of our growth growth. But here is the myth-breaking rub.
The story Republicans like to tell is that it’s the government, specifically the federal government, that is responsible for the loss of American manufacturing. Without question, the reasons for the decline of manufacturing are complicated and government policy from taxes to regulation and tariffs do come into play. But to my knowledge the government has not sent a single job overseas or shuttered one American plant. When the now discredited John Edwards talked tear-eyed about the job his father lost in a South Carolina mill, it was the owners of that enterprise that both farmed out the work overseas and then shuttered the facility.
That happened across so many industries, from textiles and furniture in the South to steel and appliances up North. Let’s even accept the contention that big bad unions played a role by demanding wages that were no longer competitive. But it was free enterprise’s — company management's — decision to maximize profits by exploiting cheap foreign labor that killed all those plants. It wasn’t the government that made cars many of us didn’t want, ones that couldn’t compete on fuel millage or quality. And speaking of consumers, the other side of free enterprise, these are the people who freely traded in their Chevy for a Toyota and their Lincoln for a Mercedes. They weren't fulfilling some government request or mandate. So the myth that all will be well if we simply turn everything over to unrestricted free enterprise is, well exactly that, a myth.
Taxes are lower today then they were under Bill Clinton — they have been for twelve years, thanks mostly to George Bush and the Republican. Romney pays a low 14%. The economy is still struggling and the deficit is staggering. Much of what we use is made in China, Korea or other parts of the world. Those jobs were shipped abroad by American companies like Apple and of course by the demands of Walmart whose role in systematically killing our manufacturing and jobs has been widely reported. Again, the government didn’t employ those now fired domestic workers or own those factories — private enterprise did. Somehow this particular arithmetic and set of facts just doesn’t get any airtime from Romney or, for that matter, from the press. But hey, it’s just not as interesting a story as who is up and who is down.
It’s a truism to say we’re facing an important election and that who we are and will be as a nation is on the table. Well, that one surely isn't a myth.
I call them Transcenders. To brand them nonbelievers is to assume religion and its particular belief system the human default. Worse it suggests that those who have left religion behind lack beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. For more read my book.