Worse than Statistics

Mark Twain observed that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Well, several of Mitt Romney’s opponents, from both major parties, no less, have demonstrated that there is an even lower category.
Romney is quoted as saying “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”
This quote has gone viral, and anyone who pays the least attention to national politics, has heard at least the first seven words. The quote is literally accurate. But it is a classic half-truth; telling it out of context makes it a lie. The entire quote, in context, is
“I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service that I need, I want to say I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.”
The only thing wrong with what Romney expressed is that he inartfully used “fire”, a word laden with the connotation of Upton Sinclair’s fictional Chicago meat packers or of Scrooge’s threat to relieve the hapless Bob Cratchit of his position and thus condemn his crippled child to starve to death. Upon reading the full quote, it is obvious to anyone with two brain cells that fire in order that Romney was not talking about liking to fire his employees. I refuse to insult the intelligence of anyone who cares to read this by belaboring the point.

Having been an employer of over thirty years, and having observed others similarly situated, I can say with assurance that no businessperson in his right mind likes to fire employees. This by no means indicates altruism (which I do not believe is necessarily a virtue) on her part. For one thing, it is really difficult to find a good employee, and when one is found, you want to keep him or her at nearly any cost. If it is necessary to fire — euphemistically “lay-off” — employees because of lack of work, that means things are not going well – and their job is in jeopardy anyway. If it is necessary to fire an employee because of poor performance or misconduct, it means that time and resources that could be better used accomplishing the business mission must be spent finding a replacement. Then there is the possibility of an unemployment benefit claim that causes the payroll tax rate to increase. So, no employer likes to fire an employee, and many a business owner, including me, has kept a marginal worker much longer than they should have just to avoid the hassle of replacing him or her.
On the other hand, neither does an employer like not being able to fire an employee if it is, in their judgment, necessary for the business. Texas, fortunately, is what is called an employment-at-will state. In the absence of a contract, an employer can fire for any reason or no reason, and, conversely, the employee can similarly quit without penalty. (There are a number of exceptions to the employment-at-will status I will not go into as this writing is not legal advice.)
There is really no such thing as a “job” in the context I speak of here. What we are really talking about are employment opportunities, which come about when, and only when, one possesses skill, knowledge, or merely a willingness to accomplish a task or tasks that someone else is willing to exchange value for.
It is unfortunate that many have come to believe that a “job” is a right bestowed by law. The United Nations, whose General Assembly is dominated by nations who have much to gain but little to lose by promulgating platitudes, came up with The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Most nations have signed on to the Covenant, but few abide by it in practice. This pact arguably makes having a “job” a human right. President Jimmy Carter signed that Covenant on behalf of the United States in 1979, but it has never been submitted to the Senate for ratification (for obvious reasons), and thus has no legal effect here. It is unlikely ever to be ratified. And for good reason. None of the rights recognized by our Constitution bestow any right to largesse, and, while statutory entitlements have increased over the past decades, their folly is becoming all too apparent..
What the Constitution does is restrain the government from doing something unpleasant to a person for engaging in activity deemed to be a fundamental right, and it restrains the government from unnecessarily and unreasonably intruding (yes, my social conservative friends, there is a right to privacy in the Constitution, and you better take comfort that there is). For a government to provide so-called “positive rights” it must have the resources to do so. That means taking those resources from private individuals, and re-allocating or re-distributing them. Our governments, national, state, and local, do that to some degree, which is ever increasing. A tipping point will be reached – some believe it may have been already – and there will be no more wealth to redistribute. A case in point is the late, unlamented Soviet Union, whose constitution mandated all of the largesse in the above mentioned Covenant. The Soviets were never able to provide anywhere near the benefits and entitlements its constitution mandated, and it thus imploded under its own weight and ended up in the landfill of history.
A note about Mitt Romney and his tenure with the Bain Capital. Accusations have been made that under Romney, Bain took over ailing businesses, restructured them, which often involved reducing their workforce – firing employees – and resold those business for a profit. Of course, some employees lost their jobs, but if those businesses had continued on their same paths, they would have gone bankrupt and all the employees would have been out of work. On balance, Bain created many, many more opportunities for employment that it eliminated. Contrast with Solyndra, where the government acting as a venture capitalist, invested in a questionably viable business, paid lavish salaries for executives and an unneeded jim-dandy new plant, and then the company went broke. Everyone lost their jobs, proving that P.T. Barnum was right. A fool is born every minute, and most end up in liberal academia and even the White House.
Regarding the 28 minute film “When Mitt Romney Came to Town” also billed as “King of Bain” several workers featured therein have challenged its accuracy. Three employees of Unimac said, contrary to the film’s assertions that they actually received multiple promotions and raises in pay while Bain ran the company. See Featured Workers Call Bain film Inaccurate
For those interested, Darrell Huff’s How to Lie with Statistics (1954) issued as a Norton paperback in 1993 provides useful information about how to avoid being conned by statistics.

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