When did Mitt Romney leave Bain Capital, and what does it say about his candidacy? For better or worse, this story shows no sign of abating. Over the weekend, The Globe ran a story claiming the story had “evolved,” which may be a stretch.

So as long as we’re forced to keep hearing about this, I figured I’d offer my own step-by-step guide to the facts, tied into whether or not you need to actually care, depending on your assumptions. My preference is to spend the time talking about Romney’s policy proposals, but that’s just me. Hopefully, this Choose Your Own Adventure will help you decide whether you agree.

Let’s get started…

How relevant do you think Romney’s time at Bain Capital is to his presidential candidacy?

My own view is that the specifics of Romney’s time at Bain are far from the most important item to be discussing. That’s informed by my more general view that private equity is overall positive for the economy and by the fact that research suggests politicians actually do do their best to implement their campaign promises. In other words, policy proposals matter a lot.

But you might feel differently. After all, Romney is running on his business experience, so perhaps you feel that the minutiae of his tenure at Bain is extremely relevant. So: which is it?

CHOOSE (click one):

I don’t think the specifics of Romney’s time at Bain are very relevant to his campaign. Let’s talk policy.

The specifics of Romney’s time at Bain are very relevant to how I judge his candidacy. Tell me more.


Is someone responsible for the business they own, even if they’re no longer involved in decision-making?

Ok, so this is possibly the trickiest part. You have to decide if someone should be held accountable for the actions of an organization they founded and own, even if they aren’t currently involved in the decision-making of that organization. (Note: we’re not talking legal responsibility here. We’re talking about, for lack of a better term, moral accountability.)

Because that’s basically what we’re talking about here. In a nutshell, Romney left Bain in 1999 to go run the Olympics but, as Fortune’s Dan Primack puts it:

He didn’t formally give up his title and firm ownership until 2002, once the Games had been successful and he was interested in other elective office. In the interim, he continued to fulfill legal obligations such as signing certain documents — but actual investment and managerial decisions were being made by others.

Before you decide on this one, two things. 1) Recognize that like everyone else, you’re biased. If you tend to dislike Romney you’re going to strongly lean toward the idea that someone is responsible by virtue of ownership, not decision-making. If you tend to like him, you’ll feel the reverse. Take a deep breath and try to weigh the issue on its merits. 2) Before you make up your mind, read this post by VC Fred Wilson. Wilson’s no Romney fan, but he makes clear that one’s entanglements in the VC/PE world don’t just end like that.

Ok, time to decide.

CHOOSE (click one):

If someone owns a company it’s reasonable to hold them accountable for that company’s decisions, even if they weren’t involved in making those decisions.

Even if someone still technically owns and is listed as CEO of a company, they shouldn’t be held accountable for decisions they were not involved in.


How worried are you about offshoring of U.S. jobs?

Ok, next up you need to decide how much you care about a private business offshoring jobs. This is a very emotional subject and there’s not space to get deeply into it. But I’ll point out that at least some economists from both sides of the aisle have argued that sending jobs overseas can increase efficiency and thereby benefit U.S. consumers. The gains of cheaper labor show up in lower prices for the goods we buy.

It’s also worth considering that it may be the role of the private corporation to focus on efficiency (at least up to a point) while the government focuses on cushioning the blow to workers who may lose their jobs. I’ve argued as much here. But of course you may feel differently.

CHOOSE (click one):

The offshoring of American jobs is a major problem and the companies that do it need to be held responsible.

The offshoring of American jobs is a natural occurrence in the marketplace, and compensating for it is the purview of government, not private corporations.


The offshoring that Bain is responsible for

Ok, you’re at the end of your Bain adventure. You believe corporations need to be held responsible for offshoring American jobs, and that Romney needs to be held accountable for what happened at Bain from 2000 to 2002. Based on all of that, you do need to care about this whole story. For details on the actual offshoring, this Factcheck.org piece is a decent guide. THE END.


Let’s talk about policy!

Hurray, we can sidestep this story and talk policy. Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters most, right? Glad you made it here.

Here’s the Issues page for the Romney campaign. Here’s the Obama campaign’s. Here’s a post at The New Republic offering the liberal view on the policy differences between the two candidates. If you want to recommend a similar breakdown from a conservative point of view please let me know in the comments!

Thanks for playing my Romney-Bain Choose Your Own Adventure. THE END.