Mortimer Duke: “Tell him the good part.”
Randolph Duke: “No matter whether our clients make money or lose money, Duke & Duke get the commissions.”
Mortimer Duke: “Well, what do you think, Valentine?”
Billy Ray Valentine: “Sounds to me like you guys’re a coupla bookies.”
Whenever the topic of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital comes up, I think of that Trading Places scene:
“The issue isn’t that GST collapsed or that its workers lost their jobs. It’s that Romney and Bain Capital made enormous profits on the deal despite the failure of the company,” as Jed Lewison writes at the Daily Kos.
Lewison says further:
Nobody expects every single business to be a success, but how is Mitt Romney’s business motto — tails I win, heads you lose — compatible with free enterprise? If a company he invests in fails, shouldn’t he share in that failure? Isn’t that one of the most basic rules of our economic system?
Of course, the issue is quite a bit more complicated than that.
As I wrote over at U.S. News, the wealth generated by financial engineering, or computational finance, isn’t merely smoke and mirrors, as liberal economists like Brad Delong will concede.
But I suspect a lot of Americans view Bain Capital’s business model in much the same fashion as Billy Ray Valentine. At a gut level, when Americans think of “free enterprise,” they think of someone who built a better mousetrap and got rich. That’s not how Mitt Romney got rich. Mainline fiscal conservatives are all too content to respond to queasiness over private equity by grunting something along the lines of “Capitalism. Shut up.”
During the general election, if Romney truly is capable of the human emotion known as empathy, he’s going to have to do better than rote repetition of the free-market catechism. Team Romney is going to have to figure out how to dispel, in plain terms, the notion that he was a glorified bookie.