Before I became a senior editor with Bloomberg Financial News where my work revolved around business and economic issues, I spent years writing about the environment. This background has given me a rather interesting focus — an ability to see some important similarities in the ways the natural world and the world of economics operate. From this perspective, it’s clear to me why Mitt Romney should not be put in charge of the U.S. economy.
Predators and vultures play important roles in both natural and economic systems. Herds of animals, for example, have to be regularly culled to improve the herd’s overall health and viability. Predators do the job. They kill the weak, the diseased, the careless, the inadequately protected young. Then vultures, hyenas and other members of nature’s clean up crew consume the mess and “refashion it” in the form of their own waste, which helps fertilize fields where healthy members of the herd feed.
Things work much the same way in the economic realm. Companies, industries, entire nations show signs of weakness and predators of various kinds attack (think bond vigilantes in world markets). Then the market’s vultures move in to clean up the mess. The result is a healthier economic “herd,” a healthier Main Street, that can grow in healthier ways having been culled of its unproductive or no longer desirable elements.
Mitt Romney’s major business experience, what he is putting forth as his major qualification to reanimate the economy as President, is his work at Bain Capital, a Wall Street vulture fund. In spite of the unflattering image the word “vulture” evokes, as is true in natural economies, these funds play an important and valuable role in keeping economies healthy.
Based on the above, one might suppose that Romney’s history with Bain was something he could truthfully claim qualifies him to get America back on its feet economically. Look a little closer, however, and its easy to see this is actually a work history guaranteed to point a new President Romney in the wrong economic directions.
The reason? Because what was described above is the way things work in a properly functioning natural ecology or environment — one in which the various parts, the herds (whatever they might consist of), the predators, the vultures, are all in balance.
If you come upon a natural ecology where herds have been overly culled, while at the same time lions and leopards are overly well fed, and the numbers and size of vultures and hyenas are enormous, you’ve got a sick ecosystem. If you see an economy in which Main Street is wobbly and anguished, while the predators and vultures of Wall Street wax fatter and fatter, you’ve got a sick economy.
Our own economy today is over-Bained, over-Citied, badly under-Main Streeted. The main economic problem here isn’t the cast of economic players and what each is supposed to do to keep things healthy. It’s that the balance wrought by some of these players, the predators and vultures, has made things very, very out-of-whack.
Culling this herd, culling Main Street more than it has already been culled, won’t improve our economic health. Doing so might not always be the wrong prescription. But it is certainly the wrong prescription for the wrong disease today.
Expecting this reality to be appreciated and acted upon appropriately by a former partner in a vulture fund backed by Wall Street predators is thus a very silly political choice for a mighty sick Main Street herd.
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