The Fake Bain Debate

A blog about business and economics.
July 14 2012 12:30 PM

The Fake Headlines: Neither Obama Nor Romney Is Against Offshoring

148327043
US President Barack Obama speaks during a rain-soaked campaign event on July 14, 2012 at Walkerton Tavern & Gardens in Glen Allen, Virginia.

Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages

The way the Bain/outsourcing debate has gone, if I understand it, is this:

1. Romney touts his experience in the private sector as a key qualification for the presidency that Obama lacks.
2. Obama runs ads slamming Bain Capital for involvement in offshoring of jobs to foreign countries.
3. Romney angrily denies that he was even running Bain at the time this stuff happened.
4. Obama notes that Rommey was listed in government documents as Bain's CEO of record.
5. Romney says those filings don't reflect reality on the ground about who was running the company.
6. Obama begins collecting scraps of evidence pointing to Romney's continued involvement.
Advertisement

Lost in the shuffle here is the question of what it is Romney is denying he's responsible for. Stipulate that Romney somehow had nothing to do with running a company of which he was the CEO and sole shareholder. Does he think, in retrospect, that his subordinates did something wrong by offshoring jobs? Clearly he didn't, which highlights the absurdity of his claims not to have been responsible. It's true that he wasn't running the country on a day-to-day basis, but he really was titular CEO and had Bain been doing something he deemed outrageous he could and should have stepped in to stop them. But he doesn't believe that. And what's more, all indications are that Barack Obama also doesn't think Bain was doing anything wrong. As president he's made no moves to make it illegal for companies to shift production work abroad and has publicly associated himself with a wide range of American firms—from GE to Apple and beyond—who've done just that to varying extents. And we all remember what happened to Obama's promise to renegotiate NAFTA after taking office, right?

In my view both Obama and Rommey are quite right about this. I'll say more on this during the workweek, but one quick test is do you think there's something immoral about the fact that Toyota and BMW have manufacturing facilities located in the United States? Should the Japanese and German governments be stopping Japan- and Germany-based firms from locating production offshore?

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.