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Krugman, Romney and jobs

January 6, 2012: 1:49 PM ET

Paul Krugman gets sloppy.

Paul Krugman today eviscerates Mitt Romney for claiming to have helped create more jobs at Bain Capital than Barack Obama has helped create as president. A very smart take-down, until a final three paragraphs so specious that even political hacks would have to hold their noses.

Krugman begins by picking apart Romney's analysis of Obama's record, pointing out that most of the job losses on Obama's watch occurred during his Administration's opening months (i.e., before Obama policies had time to take effect). And this was written before the new labor data showing 200,000 jobs added in December.

He then moves on to Romney's claim that he helped create more than 100,000 jobs at Bain Capital. It's a claim that I've previously criticized, in part because it is virtually impossible for private equity firms to satisfactorily track how many jobs they create or destroy. But the Romney campaign has been particularly deceptive in its math, and gets rightly rapped for it by Krugman.

So far so good. But then comes Krugman's conclusion:

At this point, some readers may ask whether it isn't equally wrong to say that Mr. Romney destroyed jobs. Yes, it is. The real complaint about Mr. Romney and his colleagues isn't that they destroyed jobs, but that they destroyed good jobs.

When the dust settled after the companies that Bain restructured were downsized — or, as happened all too often, went bankrupt — total U.S. employment was probably about the same as it would have been in any case. But the jobs that were lost paid more and had better benefits than the jobs that replaced them. Mr. Romney and those like him didn't destroy jobs, but they did enrich themselves while helping to destroy the American middle class.

And that reality is, of course, what all the blather and misdirection about job-creating businessmen and job-destroying Democrats is meant to obscure.

Did I miss the past where Krugman provided some numbers to back up his allegation? You know, the type of data he previously upbraided Romney for ignoring?

First, what exactly is a "good" job? Is there an income threshold? Is it dependent on location? If the early jobs at Staples or Sports Authority didn't count, how about the hundreds employed by Bain Capital itself? And how do you factor in the "good" jobs that were indirectly supported by Bain Capital -- such as at universities and other institutions that make up the bulk of Bain's investor base? For example, one of Bain's investors in Princeton University. You know, Krugman's employer.

Moreover, where is the specific evidence that most jobs at Bain-owned companies were ultimately converted into lower-paying jobs with worse benefits, thus "helping to destroy the American middle class?" Did Bain maintain some sort of portfolio company payroll database that it's been keeping secret? Or did a documentary film crew spend twenty years tracking the lives of Bain Capital employees (all of them, not just a select few)?

These are not rhetorical questions: I want to know, and Krugman has burdened himself with a responsibility to provide answers. Without them, Krugman has no more credibility on this matter than does Romney.

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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