Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mitt Romney: "A Perfectly Objective Efficiency Machine"

This article on Mitt Romney's business career, written in the Oct. 31 edition of New York magazine by contributing editor Benjamin Wallace-Wells, is one of the most insightful things I've yet seen on Romney.

Mitt Romney with Bill Bain
 It takes you through his career as a business consultant and private-equity buyout specialist with Bain & Company, in which he personally made hundreds of millions of dollars.  But he and his colleagues also had a genuinely nation-wide impact on the way American business and our entire economy is run.  The article subtitle put it this way.  "At Bain Capital, Romney remade one American business after another, overhauling management and directing vast sums of money to the top of the labor pyramid.  The results made him a fortune.  They also changed the world we live in."

This world of business is quite foreign to me, so I have a difficult time grasping all the lingo and the ideas involved.  But the article is well worth slogging through, for it seems to sketch out the big changes that our economy was going through in the last quarter of the 20th century, that led to the loss of jobs and the shifting of wealth and income to wealthy Americans.  It appears that many of the problems we're grappling with today can be tied to the work of business leaders and consultants like Mitt Romney.

But even more significant is how the author tries to imagine the approach that Romney would bring to the White House:
It is arresting to imagine a Romney White House, inevitably filled with as many former Bain colleagues as each of his other public ventures have been: The ­PowerPoints, the 80-20 jargon, the clinical separation of decision-making from ideology, the detachment of those decisions from moral consequence, a persistent blind spot for people as people. It would represent the final ascension of a perfectly American type, one that has already remade the culture of business. I once asked a Bain colleague of Romney’s how Romney thought of his own core competence. “I think Mitt thinks he’s good at being Mitt Romney,” the colleague said.

But Romney’s career-long commitment to his own particular brand of impersonal decision-making might suggest something personal after all. One great mystery about Romney has been where his Mormonism comes in and what it explains. Maybe the clearest answer comes from taking at their word the businessmen with whom he came up, who say they never saw its influence. Romney’s religion constitutes a minority set of beliefs. Poorly understood and widely mocked, it can provoke suspicions about his motives. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that he has adopted a public persona that contains no detectable motives at all, one that is buried in objectivity, in data, in process. The best evidence of how important Romney’s religion is to him could be how far he has kept it from view. But the character that remains visible is at once uniquely American and a little strange: a perfectly objective efficiency machine.  [Italics are mine--CL]

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