Mitt Romney chatted with Bloomberg Businessweek Editor Josh Tyrangiel for a good-but-brief interview, which was published today, and which turned out to be quite informative (thanks to Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).
Tyrangiel asked, for example, about the famous Bain Capital photo featuring Romney and his colleagues posing with cash, and what Romney thinks of the image now. "Oh, that was a moment of humor as we had just done what we thought was impossible," he said.
The editor also tried to ask the tax-return issue in a new way: "If you're an investor and you're looking at a company, and that company says that its great strength is wise management and fiscal know-how, wouldn't you want to see the previous, say, five years' worth of its financials?" Romney dismissed the comparison, saying, "I'm not a business."
I was also delighted to see Tyrangiel ask how Romney intends to balance the budget without raising taxes, without cutting defense, and without touching Social Security. Romney responded by talking about eliminating "Obamacare," which, of course, would make the deficit worse, not better.
But what I found most interesting was an exchange that probably won't get as much attention. Tyrangiel asked a fantastic question about the economy: "One thing that distinguishes this recovery is that public sector jobs, government jobs, have already fallen by 650,000. Given the conservative goal of shrinking government, is this a positive development or a negative one?" Romney didn't get a straight answer, but his take was nevertheless illustrative of a larger point.
"Well, clearly you don't like to hear [about] anyone losing a job. At the same time, government is the least productive -- the federal government is the least productive of our economic sectors. The most productive is the private sector. The next most productive is the not-for-profit sector, then comes state and local governments, and finally the federal government. And so moving responsibilities from the federal government to the states or to the private sector will increase productivity. And higher productivity means higher wages for the American worker. All right?
"America is the highest productivity nation of major nations in the world, and that results in our having, for instance, an average compensation about 30 percent higher than the average compensation in Europe. A government that becomes more productive, that does more with less, is good for the earnings of the American worker, and ultimately it will mean that our taxes don't have to go up, that small businesses will find it easier to start and grow, and we will be able to add more private sector jobs."
It's far from clear that Romney's correct about the federal government being the "least productive of our economic sectors," but for the sake of conversation, let's say that's true. Let's just assume that those rascally federal bureaucracies are just too darned "unproductive."
This is still a deeply misguided policy position.
Remember, the question from Tyrangiel has to do with the economic recovery: is it good or bad that America has been trying to dig itself out of a brutally-deep economic hole while simultaneously laying off 650,000 public-sector workers -- on purpose.
Romney's response is about a long-term vision -- a more efficient and productive federal sector will eventually be good for the private sector. That may or may not be true, but the Republican is badly missing the point: how can the economy get better in a hurry if we're deliberately putting 650,000 out of work? The answer is, we can't, but apparently Romney doesn't much care.
For that matter, Romney may struggle with the details of basic economics, but it's disconcerting that he doesn't realize who these people are. "The federal government is the least productive of our economic sectors"? What does that have to do with school teachers, police officers, and firefighters who've been laid off in droves in communities nowhere near the Beltway?