Friday, February 10, 2012

The CEO As Leader

Politics in America

There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else.
Andrew Carnegie
One of the current political articles of faith in American politics is that a person who runs a corporation is best suited to run a nation, since the characteristics of a CEO are ideally suited for those of a political leader.  The working idea behind this thought is that a nation ought to run like a business. That idea is often closely associated with conservative parties, since this has always been the party of the wealthy.  Conservatives, true to their nature, want to conserve wealth and keep it in the least hands as possible—the top 1%, or even better the top 0.1%. It's an exclusive club.

This idea of business leader turned political leader has become such a matter of faith that even the middle-class and the poor have bought in to this piece of political religion, voting against their best interests. This belief needs more scrutiny. Who benefits the most from having someone in office who has elite business connections? And which group would such a person, once in higher office, richly reward? Not the poor and middle class whose votes were necessary to vote him into office.

The essential argument is that a nation is very much unlike a business. The capabilities a CEO brings to a business is often  unsuitable for the office of the president, acting as a leader to a diverse nation. Paul Krugman, a distinguished if not opinionated economist, hits the nail square on the head in a piece, "America Isn't a Corporation," in The New York Times:
But there’s a deeper problem in the whole notion that what this nation needs is a successful businessman as president: America is not, in fact, a corporation. Making good economic policy isn’t at all like maximizing corporate profits. And businessmen — even great businessmen — do not, in general, have any special insights into what it takes to achieve economic recovery.

Why isn’t a national economy like a corporation? For one thing, there’s no simple bottom line. For another, the economy is vastly more complex than even the largest private company.
Precisely. And this applies to my country, Canada, which as of late "believes as a matter of faith," that CEOs make good political leaders. CEOs are no better or worse than other professions, including lawyers, engineers or career politicians, in being a leader of a nation. The chief question the electorate needs to ask is whether the candidate has earned the trust of the people for higher office. Money and social status should never be chief deciding factors.

Let's look at the United States, which is facing a domestic crisis. Today, when the underemployment rate remains stubbornly unsustainable at over 15%, with 23 million persons underemployed; and the number of persons in poverty exceeds 46 million, that would mean doing something big to give people dignity and hope. If the candidates running for the leadership of the Republican Party haven't noticed, people in America have lost hope and are dispirited.

The election will likely became an election focused on the economy and the current inequalities built-in to the current model or form of capitalism. This is suggested in a recent article in The New York Times, "Obama and Romney Face Tough a Fight for Key Group," which shows what's important to Americans:
But the political landscape seems unusually fluid as the main argument of the past two years – over the national debt and the size and role of government – gives way to some degree to a related one about inequality and the nature of capitalism. For example, recent months have produced some evidence that non-college-educated white voters support the goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement, an indication that populist anger over the economy is more free-floating than ideologically fixed.

Truly, the last thing America needs is a CEO as president, whose strength it seems is slashing jobs to maximize shareholder value, and again reward the privileged few. The key word and the chief priority ought to be the Economy: Jobs, jobs and jobs. Focusing on such a priority would take a courageous leader who understand the average Joe or Jill. Perhaps President Obama will awaken from his slumber and make that the focus, the center-piece so to speak, of his election campaign. (Republicans historically have had other interests.)

The U.S. presidential election this November 6 is probably the most important since 1980. It will decide the direction that this nation takes, whether it continues on this path of deepening inequalities or reverses course to once again make America the land of opportunity for all.  I despair for the former and hope for the latter. Yes, I know, I am living in Dreamland, not steeped in political reality.

There is a nice expression in Yiddish that characterizes such people: Du bist ein luftmensch.


  1. Perhaps the best profession to prepare someone to be a political leader is acting. Ronald Reagan was an extremely popular president, although popularity does not imply wisdom.

  2. Yes, for many such might be the case, expecting a nation's leader to entertain, make jokes and keep things light. Reagan was good in all three, yet his public policies are nothing to laugh about.

  3. Something to laugh about:
    Ronald and Nancy Reagan went to a restaurant. The waiter approached to take their order.
    Nancy: I'll have roast lamb and a baked potato.
    Waiter: And the vegetable?
    Nancy: He'll have the same.

  4. You have reminded me of Nancy Reagan's imperious ways.


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