A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post published a report detailing how Bain Capital, under Mitt Romney's leadership, invested in companies that specialize in outsourcing American jobs, creating a surge of media and public interest in his relationship to the private equity firm. Since then, the Romney campaign has offered one lame comeback after another -- from splitting hairs over the terms "outsourcing" and "offshoring" and trying to drum up VP speculation, to flat out "whining" as Karl Rove put it -- in an attempt to distract voters from the real issue: Mitt Romney has personally made, and continues to make, millions from shipping American jobs overseas.
Decimating American jobs through offshoring is a main element of what we'll call the Romney Economy, an economic ideology that focuses exclusively on enriching America's wealthiest individuals via tax cuts for the rich, and a business ideology centered on taking over companies, siphoning off the profits, laying off workers, and leaving crummy low-wage jobs for everyone else. Exemplified by Bain Capital, the Romney Economy involves sacrificing the jobs, security and well being of working Americans in order to funnel wealth to a relatively few extraordinarily rich folks in the financial industry. In a recent blog post, Robert Reich describes it this way:
"... Romney's Bain is part of the same system as Jamie Dimon's JPMorgan Chase, Jon Corzine's MF Global and Lloyd Blankfein's Goldman Sachs -- a system that has turned much of the economy into a betting parlor that nearly imploded in 2008, destroying millions of jobs and devastating household incomes. The winners in this system are top Wall Street executives and traders, private-equity managers [like Mitt Romney] and hedge-fund moguls, and the losers are most of the rest of us."
In Freeport, Illinois, 170 workers at a Bain-owned Sensata Technologies plant know the effects of the Romney Economy all too well. During a community meeting last weekend, Sensata employees -- many of whom have spent decades building the company and contributing to its profitability -- shared how Bain's decision to relocate their jobs to China by the end of this year will thrust their families into poverty and likely decimate the economic base of their community. (Watch the video of these courageous folks here).
When the Sensata workers discovered a few months ago that their factory was owned by Bain Capital, they extended a public invitation to Romney (who was campaigning only about 50 miles away) to come meet with them and perhaps use his continuing business relationship with Bain to help prevent their jobs from being shipped to China -- a request that the Republican presidential candidate has so far ignored.
Fortunately, these workers are not alone in their fight to save their jobs: on July 16 the Freeport City Council passed a unanimous resolution calling on Mitt Romney to keep Sensata jobs in Freeport, and even Republican representatives Bobby Schilling and Dan Manzullo of Illinois wrote a letter to the CEO of Bain Capital asking him to reconsider offshoring the Sensata plant. And as the public's interest in Romney's ties to Bain spiked this week, media interest in the Sensata workers soared, with the New York Times and Reuters covering the story, along with MSNBC's The Ed Show and The Last Word.
That Romney declined to acknowledge the workers -- and only offered a condescending "The world of finance is not as simple as some would have you believe" to those with legitimate questions about his relationship with Bain and his tax returns -- should hardly be surprising, given that the Republican presidential candidate stands to make large sums of money off of offshoring the Sensata workers' jobs. Although Romney reportedly left Bain Capital in 1999 (an "official" departure date which, of course, has now seriously come into question) he still has what the New York Times describes as an unusually lucrative retirement deal that has allowed him to continue to share in the company's profits -- to the tune of millions of dollars each year. As The Times' David Firestone reports, Romney's retirement package includes:
"[A]bout $8 million worth of Bain funds that hold 51 percent of Sensata's shares. If Sensata saves money by closing the Freeport plant, that could add money to Mr. Romney's trust accounts, now or after the election."
The Romney Economy dictates that it is OK to turn places like Freeport, Illinois into what the Sensata workers predict will be "ghost towns" by shipping jobs to China if it results in Romney and other finance industry elites increasing their personal wealth. While outsourcing may be perfectly acceptable to Romney and his buddies at Bain, it is overwhelmingly unpopular with most Americans. According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, 83 percent of blue-collar Americans and 95 percent of managers and professionals believe that the weak economy and record joblessness in our country can be blamed on outsourcing.
Romney's personal stake in outsourcing good jobs to other countries will certainly have political consequences, particularly in swing states. But it also raises more questions about the Republican presidential candidate's business ethics. Last year, New York Magazine's Benjamin Wallace-Wells painted an "arresting" picture of what a Romney White House would look like, complete with "the clinical separation of decision-making from ideology, the detachment of those decisions from moral consequence, [and] a persistent blind spot for people as people." A Sensata worker described it this way:
"Romney likes to say that his business experience will make him a good President. But considering his mindset, as a guy who made his millions in private equity, I think he would justify selling the United States of America if he thought he could make a profit. There is more to being a leader than just looking after the bottom line."
Mitt Romney has no excuse for continuing to earn money from a company whose business practices hurt working families and communities. If he wants voters to believe that he is an ethical businessperson rather than a vulture capitalist, Romney should take the concerns of the Sensata workers -- and the millions of other Americans who have lost their jobs to offshoring over the last decade -- seriously. But since doing so would stand in stark contrast to the fundamental rules of the Romney Economy, we shouldn't hold our breaths.