THE BLOG
11/16/2011 09:41 am ET Updated Jan 16, 2012

Romney, the Financial Engineer As Job Destroyer, Now Sets His Sights on the National Endowment for the Arts

Writing in USA Today earlier this month, Mitt Romney opens boastfully: "I spent much of my 25 year career in the private sector turning around failing enterprises."

Really!? Just this past week the New York Times set forth exactly how Romney achieved much of his fortune "turning around companies." Explaining the process and citing as an example the medical company, Dade International, Romney's company Bain Capital Partners would in effect take over companies -- selling off their assets, forcing them into grandiose debt, firing thousands of worker, in effect destroying traditions and business goodwill built up over years of hard work and commitment of the company's work-force -- for his and his partners' personal gain and fortune; $242 million in this case, while Goldman Sachs pocketed $121 million before the company was forced into bankruptcy.

Yes, investments are meant to bring about profits, but the entire system comes into question when power and profit rests exclusively with the high rolling investors while the day-to-day builders of the businesses are left with little to show for their years of labor, if jobs at all. The Times, quotes two workers who lost their jobs, Brian and Christine Shoemaker: "How can the bean counters just come in here and say, Hey, its over?"

Romney, continued in his USA Today policy outline that he would: "Enact deep reductions in the subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts..."

Well, that would help a great deal. The annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for 2012 is expected to be $146 million, significantly less than Romney and Company made on the Dade International deal alone. But worse, that priority bespeaks a severely limited view of America, with a profound lack of understanding of how the arts form our character, of their impact on the quality of our lives and how we define ourselves as Americans. While politically it is a cheap shot to pander votes from those who would close down libraries if they could.

Personally, this writer served as a presidential appointee to the National Council of NEA, the NEA's oversight committee appointed by and serving under President Ronald Reagan during his administration. Reagan, the very quintessential Republican, clearly understood the importance of the arts, and its role to the nation's well-being. He was an ardent supporter of the NEA's mission, appointed in Frank Hodsoll a Chairman of the NEA who shared his views. By his last year in office, the NEA's budget was larger than it ever was before and at $169 million larger than is being considered today.

As a further aside, our support for the arts compared to other national societies is an embarrassment in its paucity. France, with a population of barely a quarter of the United States, has a budget for its Ministry of Culture of some $3 billion. On a pro rata basis that would put NEA's budget at over $10 billion. Certainly the mandates of the NEA and the France's Ministry of Culture are not quite the same, but here we are comparing oranges and tangerines, not apples and oranges. Given all the special interest and lobbyist inspired disbursements of our government, a major increase in the support of and teaching of the arts might be a major policy direction to be discussed. Clearly Mr. Romney is not the man to carry this issue.

Lastly, as a further example of his world view, Mr. Romney would: "Eliminate subsidies for the unprofitable Amtrak..."

Well, we are already two to three decades behind countries who have built up extensive high speed rail networks, be it Japan, France, not to speak of China. Possibly no domestic American infrastructure program cries out more for attention than the bullet train connectivity between our major travel hubs be it Houston-Dallas, Chicago-New York, San Francisco-Los Angeles, not to speak of the Washington-Boston corridor serviced by Amtrak. Aside from the convenience of travel, there would be significant environmental benefit in getting us out of cars and off planes, along with the enormous economic benefit to the areas inherent in making these services available.

Given Mr. Romney's own priorities and given the nature of his business experience as a financial engineer, hard questioning is in order.