Setting the standards for the jobs debate

It has quickly become a standard talking point for Mitt Romney: during his tenure at Bain Capital, he created “over 100,000 new jobs.” Campaign officials have been reluctant to back up the claim, and fact-checkers haven’t been able to substantiate the claim in any way.

But that changed this week, when Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom presented his argument to the Washington Post‘s Glenn Kesler.

Fehrnstrom says the 100,000 figure stems from the growth in jobs from three companies that Romney helped to start or grow while at Bain Capital: Staples (a gain of 89,000 jobs), The Sports Authority (15,000 jobs), and Domino’s (7,900 jobs).

This tally obviously does not include job losses from other companies with which Bain Capital was involved — and are based on current employment figures, not the period when Romney worked at Bain.

This is just fascinating. The Romney campaign is not only taking credit for jobs created at these companies after Romney left his firm, the campaign is also choosing to ignore all layoffs when coming up with the figure. Romney and his team are only counting hits, not misses.

This is a bit like a coach saying his team is undefeated, just so long as you overlook the team’s losses. Or as Paul Krugman put it, “By that standard, everyone who’s spent a lot of time with slot machines is a big winner, since only the pluses count.”

But wait, it gets better. Greg Sargent noted that the Romney campaign is also using one standard for counting jobs when it comes to Bain and a completely different standard when it comes to the Obama presidency.

Romney is only counting jobs gained at companies restructured at Bain during and after his years there — and is not factoring in jobs lost — in claiming he created over 100,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, as the Romney camp concedes to Kessler, in making the claim Obama is a job destroyer, Romney is factoring in the jobs that were lost during Obama’s presidency — before Obama’s policies went into effect. In other words, Romney is calculating a “net” number for Obama, and isn’t calculating a net number for himself. Just wow.

It’s remarkable, to be sure, but let’s take this one step further. Let’s agree to play by Romney’s rules, let’s only count his hits, and let’s even allow him to take credit for jobs created at Bain-owned enterprises after Romney had left the firm. And then let’s allow President Obama to do the same thing when examining his jobs record.

According to the Romney campaign, the Republican created 111,900 jobs at Bain, only counting his successes. And if we look back over the last three years, and only count the months in which the economy added jobs, President Obama created 2.79 million jobs overall (the figure is higher if we only look at the private sector).

Here it is in chart form:

Remember, this isn’t playing by my rules, or even Obama’s rules. This is how the comparison would shape up applying Romney’s own standards to both.

Update: There may be some confusion here. Brian Beutler argues, “It’s absurd to compare a President’s and a private equity fund manager’s fake ‘job creation’ accolades.” I’ve some related criticisms this afternoon.

Folks may be missing the point here. Romney has said repeatedly that he created more jobs at Bain and in Massachusetts than Obama has created in three years as president. It’s a standard talking point from Romney and his campaign.

My point isn’t to compare a country to a private equity firm, but rather, to show how foolish it is to accept the jobs debate on Romney’s terms. He’s playing fast and loose with the details in the hopes voters won’t know the difference. It’s absurd and the chart is intended to highlight that absurdity.