Whatever his other shortcomings, I get plenty of entertainment from watching Mitt Romney on the news. His personality type — privileged white boy, executive-type hair, born with a silver foot in his mouth — reminds me of how much I miss Dan Quayle. And he — and his defenders — have certainly provided entertainment value the past few days.
Romney’s primary opponents have been jumping on him for his record at Bain Capital — referring to it, variously, as a “chop shop” or “vulture capitalist” operation that buys up enterprises, downsizes their workforces, strips them of assets, loads them up with debt as cash cows, then throws them away.
Their criticism comes across as somewhat less than authentic; when, under any other circumstances, has someone like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin or Rick Perry had a problem with that model of capitalism? For that matter, what Romney did as a venture capitalist is essentially what Fortune 500 companies do with all the corporations they acquire from mergers and acquisitions — and frequently with the enterprises they already owned. That’s just what most pointy-haired MBAs do. So one suspects an element of disingenuousness in the moral outrage coming from Gingrich and Perry.
But what’s really hilarious is the response from Romney and his surrogates. Some Romney flack on a talking head show wrung her hands over what a shame it was to hear “criticism of the free market” coming from Republicans. And whoever’s turn it was inside the barrel writing boilerplate for the WSJ editorial page clutched their pearls at such “crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism,” calling on Romney to “base his claim to office on a defense of the system of free enterprise that has enriched America over the decades and is now under assault.”
Romney himself is aghast at “class warfare” and the “politics of envy” from Republicans who sound like “socialists,” scolding that “President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial. … In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him.”
Hearing all these encomiums on “free enterprise,” and equations of the Romney vulture capitalist model of “modern business and capitalism” to the “free market,” reminds me of an old Russian joke from the Brezhnev years.
Brezhnev, on the occasion of a visit from his old mother from her rural village, went out of his way to impress on her that he’d made good. He showed her his closet full of tailored suits. They rode around in his chauffeured Zil, visited his vacation dacha on the Crimean Sea, and went shopping at the GUM department store for which only the Soviet elite had membership cards. The old lady remained silent through the whole tour. Finally, the disappointed Brezhnev pressed her for a reaction. “This is all very nice, Leonid,” she said. “But what will happen to you if the communists take over?”
Forty years later and on the other side of the world, listen to this gaggle of crony capitalists, monopolists, corporate welfare queens, Gordon Gekko wannabes, and pet ideologists at Pravda (ahem — The Wall Street Journal) talk about our “free enterprise system” makes me want to ask: “That’s all very nice, Mitt. But what will you do if the free marketers take over?”
When a genuine free market comes to America, I expect the Fortune 500 and the banksters will fare about as well as would Brezhnev & Co. had the workers taken over.
In a sense, Mitt and his stooges are correct to refer to criticism as “class warfare.” As Prussian strategist Karl von Clausewitz argued, a war is not started by the country that moves its troops across a frontier. The invader would like nothing better than to carry off the invasion without a single gunshot. The actual war starts when the invaded country’s army starts shooting back. Likewise, a lot of sensible folks like to point out that we’ve had a class war for all of human history — it’s been waged by the privileged, exploiting classes on the rest of us. But to be perfectly accurate, it only becomes a genuine class war when we start fighting back.
Unfettered market competition — which destroys monopoly, destroys large concentrations of wealth and causes scarcity rents to evaporate — is the greatest weapon of class warfare ever created.