The Real Scandal of Mitt Romney and Bain

I really don’t understand the US. I mean to say, here’s a rich, inventive country stuffed full of innovative and smart folks. And yet the best it can do by way of a presidential challenger is a hypocritical creep like Mitt Romney. Now, serious folks tell me that he might even beat Obama, despite the astonishing contradictions and evasions in his account of himself. This nice New Yorker blog post by James Surowiecki ponders the recent revelations which suggest that Romney didn’t part company with Bain, the private equity firm that made him rich, when he claimed he did.

What Romney’s career shows, after all, is that once you’re at the top, you can keep being called C.E.O. even if you’re not even working at the company. You can get paid a hundred grand a year—chump change for Romney, to be sure, but twice the U.S. median income—while doing, by your own account, nothing at all for the company. You can build up an I.R.A. worth tens of millions of dollars when the maximum annual contribution is four thousand dollars. (Henry Blodget suggests here that Romney’s ownership of Bain Capital shares may explain how that I.R.A. could have legally gotten so big.) And, above all, if you manage a private-equity firm, you can reap the benefit of the carried-interest tax loophole and pay a much lower tax rate on your income than the vast majority of Americans, and you can continue to reap the benefit of that loophole even after you stop working for the firm. None of these things is illegal, but none of them are things that ordinary Americans can benefit from, and that’s the real scandal of Romney’s career at Bain.