Mitt Romney's Firing People Gaffe
Senior Editor, CNBC.com
Mitt Romney took some unfair heat for recently saying "I like being able to fire people."
This fit nicely into the narrative being constructed by Romney's opponents that he is a "predatory capitalist." It's just a personalized version of the long-standing complaint that private equity firms like Bain Capital, which Romney founded, make money by viciously reducing the workforces of the companies they take over.
What makes this unfair is that Romney wasn't talking about laying off workers. He was talking about choice in health insurance.
Here's the full quote in context (via Business Insider):
"I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means that if you don’t like what they do, you could fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone isn’t giving the good service, I want to say, I’m going to go get someone else to provide this service to."
Joe Weisenthal at BI argues that this is still a gaffe. Why?
"Because saying 'I like being able to fire people' is something that nobody would ever use in this context, unless they're someone for whom firing people (restructuring, right-sizing, etc.) is their modus operandi, which applies to a PE guy," Weisenthal writes.
I think Joe's right here. Let me elaborate.
When most of us sign up for insurance, we don't think that we're "hiring" our insurers. The same applies to all sorts of our dealings with large corporations. We don't "hire" our cable company. We don't "hire" our phone company or Internet provider. We don't "hire" the car dealership that leases our car.
And when we drop cable, a car lease, a phone plan, or an insurance plan, we don't "fire" them. We stop using them. Sometimes we might even say we "quit" using them.
In other words, most of us experience our interactions with these large corporations not as if we were their bosses, but as if we were subservient to them. Which we are. We generally need them far more than they need us. Where I live in Brooklyn, for instance, I only have one choice of Internet service. If I don't use the provider, they will hardly notice. But I won't have Internet access. If I stop paying the provider, it feels far more like I quit something than I fired someone.
Romney's line about firing insurance companies revealed that he doesn't experience interacting with these companies the way most Americans do. He's not below the corporate power structure, he's above it. Which means, by extension, that he's above us.
For a guy trying to combat his image as a predatory capitalist, that's not the message he wants to send.
Questions? Comments? Email us atNetNet@cnbc.com
Follow John on Twitter @ twitter.com/Carney
Follow NetNet on Twitter @ twitter.com/CNBCnetnet
Facebook us @ www.facebook.com/NetNetCNBC