Wednesday, February 10, 2016

When the CEO Enters Politics

I’ve been saying this for a long time. Certain commenters—they know who they are—have been rejecting the point for just as long a time. Other non-commenters have been willing to consider it, if not to agree with it. If the comments section is any indication they are silent majority.

My point, and it felt too obvious to make, was that being a businessman was not a qualification for being president of the United States. It was like saying that a champion chess player could sit down and learn bridge in a weekend, then to become a champion bridge player. It’s absurd to think that being great at one game necessarily means that you are great at another game.

And, yes, I do understand that such remarks should come with a trigger warning. I understand that Trump’s followers, staunch opponents of political correctness, are very quick to take offense at any disparaging or discouraging word about the Donald.

Yesterday in the Washington Post, the former prime minister of Yugoslavia, Milan Panic explained what happened when he morphed from successful businessman into political leader. He concluded as many others now have been trying to explain, that skill in one field does not translate into skill in another field.

Panic explained what happened to him, adding a quotation from Robert Gates:

After decades as a successful California businessman, I answered the call to serve as prime minister of my former homeland of Yugoslavia.

I quickly learned that politics is another realm with very different rules in play. “If you don’t have experience in how government works,” as former secretary of defense Robert Gates recently noted, “your ability to make the government work is going to be significantly reduced. It’s different than business.”

Different game; different rules. Knowing how the system works is essential to make it work better. Having had dealings with some government officials is not sufficient.

When Panic was asked to become prime minister of Yugoslavia in 1992, he had great hopes and aspirations, to say nothing of an overweening confidence built on business success:

At the time, Yugoslavia was under United Nations sanctions, cut off economically from the rest of the world, and breaking apart into separate and warring republics. I thought I could work with the legislature to create an investment and financial environment conducive to economic growth: low inflation, stability and a climate friendly to foreign investors. I planned to hire the best brains from American universities and think tanks to help reorganize the economy. I would bring enemies together and show them it was in their mutual self-interest to stop the interminable fighting. In short, I would give orders and they would happen.

One notes that Trump promises that he will also bring together the best brains to run the American government. Many people would be reassured if he named a few of these brains. Is the country going to be run by Roger Stone?

Saying that an eighty-year-old hedge fund manager is going to step in and run the treasury department or the council of economic advisors is rank absurdity. As of now, we have no idea who these great minds are and—another important consideration-- whether they would sign on to work for Donald Trump.

It appears to be true that a President Trump will not be beholden to any special interest group or contributors. And yet, these special interest groups and their lobbyists have considerable influence on the legislative process and even on the bureaucracy. 

Even if Trump is right about the influence of money, if we consider how little he knows about government, about history and about policy… the real question is: who will have his ear? Who will he empower? And if his advisers disagree, will he know enough to decide between two competing analyses of a situation whose details escape him?

Meanwhile back in Yugoslavia, Panic explained what happened when he started dealing with legislators.

In his words:

But politics soon proved as murky as business seemed clear. As CEO, I could simply issue directives; my employees would follow my lead. Their jobs, in fact, depended on it. I also had the opportunity to handpick my closest business associates.

Working with politicians was a different story. The legislators I dealt with had their own agendas and constituencies to serve. On a given issue, they would talk the whole thing into oblivion, and nothing would get done. I met dozens of nationalist politicians who were filled with a startling level of vicious xenophobia. These politicians wanted to expand their power base by reveling in imagined slights and blaming everything bad on other religions or ethnicities. When I urged the peaceful recognition of breakaway republics following the borders laid down by Josip Tito decades earlier, one former Yugoslav president told me I had fallen from Mars.

But, how did Panic do in the art of diplomacy, aka the art of the deal?

Trained as a businessman, I confess I was initially unprepared for the machinations of diplomacy. I had always prided myself on being able to sit down with anyone, talk things out and find common ground. But politics is more often a zero-sum game, where enmity and intrigue often supplant self-interest and simple common sense. The gloomy and paranoid worldview of Milosevic and my counterparts in Bosnia and Croatia was maddening to me. Rather than work toward a future based on pluralism and respect, they were always looking to the past, quick to take slight, and eager for revenge. Once, losing my patience at a diplomatic conference in London, I yelled at Milosevic to sit down — a slight that ignited a personal war between us.

It did not all turn out badly. But it took many years for Panic to make anything happen at all. Many people believe that Donald Trump is going to march into Washington, wave his magic wand, to make great things happen. In truth, he has no record of government accomplishment. He has never gotten anything done within a government. He is running on air.

Or better, he is running on hope and change, on your hopes that he can do what he says he will do to institute radical change. And he thinks that he can do that after having insulted and offended the better part of the people he will supposedly be working with.

But, if you challenge him, if you disagree with him, if you dare to run against him, even to beat him in the Iowa caucuses, you will be the object of his withering contempt. He will call you out as a “pussy.” Surely, that will solve our political correctness problem. If you don't believe me, try it at home.

What was it we were saying the other day about the president being the national role model, about promoting good behavior? For now, at least, a significant number of Republicans do not seem to care.


Ares Olympus said...

Yes, a good example of the predicaments of political leadership. If you wanted to compare it to business you might imagine having ONE CEO of two companies competing against each other for profits, and trying to get them to cooperate, or nothing gets done.

But we if agree experience matters, then you can end up with "its my turn" politics where low-quality people slowly rise in the ranks simply for persistence, and have enough people skills to make friends and gain power, while actually not having any great executive skills.

I don't know if ANY job experience is enough to justify that you're ready to run for and be president of the United States. We can agree Ben Carson, however brilliant as a surgeon, offers no special qualities for executive leadership of any sort.

Minnesota's Jesse Ventura was at least mayor of a small town before his run for Governor, and I'm sure state governor is at least 10 time easier than being president of the united states, and Jesse still ended up with a very aggressive stance against the media, calling them Jackal for actually remembering what he said in the past and pointing out his hypocrisy in changing sides based on his personal interests in any given moment.

And I was surprised Arnold Schwarzenegger got to be Governor of California in the 2003 recall election, and winning 48% of the vote in 135 candidate races! I didn't pay attention how well he did, but he didn't run for re-election, and again a state is much easier than the whole country.

I confess I"m not against the idea of limiting the presidency to candidates who have at least 2 years experience as a State Governor AND 4 years in the U.S. Senate. So the first will aid in understanding the executive problems, and the Senate will help widen attention to international issues. YET, I suppose I'm willing to substitute other executive experience, whether a military leader, or a business leader.

It seems nice to try to set standards, and yet you'll always find exceptions. Would hundred millionaire Romney govern better than billionaire Trump? Actually I'd say yes, but I actually see both of them manipulatable, because they have to depend on the information tunneled to them. But Romney seems more emotionally stable, and I really would trust him with "The button" than pussycat bully Trump.

But I do keep going back to dictatorship, and I think Trump could make a good dictator for his ilfelong experience in telling others what to do.

And even President Bush joked "If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier... just so long as I'm the dictator"

A rise of Trump to me shows people are willing to abandon the Constitution in favor of a strong leader who gets things done even by illegal executive order, as long as it is for the "best" interest of the country.

Mark A said...

Yugoslavia in the 90's was an unstoppable train wreck that nobody could have fixed, and a totally unfair example for comparison.

There have also been plenty of experienced and successful Governors who couldn't transfer that success to their Presidencies (Bush 43, most recently).

A 4 or 8 year moratorium on all immigration might just allow the country enough time to 'catch it's breath', that a Trump presidency could be called a success regardless of any other Big Plans that may fall short.

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. Trump isn't just a CEO and a "Brand", he's a master of the art of the deal, remember. You don't get this kind of experience in government compromising all the time!

So what Trump understands is that all negotiations must start from a place of strength, like asking for something "completely unreasonable", so when he proposes his final offer, what once would be an insult, now looks like a bargain.

Just think, right now the president of Mexico has no interest in building a wall, but when he finds out the U.S. will pay 80%, Calderon will suddenly realize its a good photo op with Trump, and a chance to restore good relations with the United States.

That's a master at work, but these things do take time. First we have to elect Trump to negotiate for us.

The next thing you know, he'll be removing all funding from public institutions of higher learning, and then reluctantly giving them back 50%, if they agree to stop all the PC crap, and microaggression nonsense.

It'll be great! Yes we can make America great, again! This is Teddy Roosevelt Great we're talking about! We might even invade Mexico, just for old time's sake - clear out the riff-raff, and there'll be parading in the streets of Mexico when the drug lords are all dead, or in Guantanamo Bay for life.

And Cuba, its been a thorn in our side for 50+ years! Surely if Cruz or Rubio are VP, they'll jump for a chance to add Cuba as a 51st state!
Trump's proposal to build a wall on the U.S.'s southern border and his hardline immigration policies have become central to the billionaire's presidential campaign. But Tuesday marked the first time he has tacked a specific dollar amount to his border wall proposal.

Trump said he came up with the figure by "multiplying the number of miles by a certain number."

"I'm taking price per square foot and price per square, you know, per mile, and it's a very simple calculation," Trump said, noting that he would need to erect about 1,000 miles of border wall along the 2,000-mile long border because of natural barriers along certain parts.

Trump's pledge to make Mexico pay for the wall drew harsh criticism just days earlier from former Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

"Mexican people, we are not going to pay any single cent for such a stupid wall, and they need to know that," Calderon had said. "And it's going to be completely useless."

Marsh said...

So based on a sample size of one, we should generalize about all businessmen in politics?

Panic was an American citizen and thought he was well equipped to govern a foreign country? It was delusional for him to believe, it was going to be easy for him to fix a war torn country, he hadn't live in since the fifties.

"Experts" politicians were responsible for the disaster Yugoslavia got into. And they are responsible for the mess this country is in right now. Let's try something different.

Marsh said...

"If you don't believe me, try it at home."

Your home life should not in any way resemble that of a political campaign.

Sam L. said...

"A rise of Trump to me shows people are willing to abandon the Constitution in favor of a strong leader who gets things done even by illegal executive order, as long as it is for the "best" interest of the country." So wrote AE. Remember, that's what a lot of people like about Obama.

Politics ain't business. Government is nothing like business. Employees are unfireable, and nearly impossible to remove even in the cases of extreme incompetence or malfeasance.

Anonymous said...


Besides your extremely small sample size of one, you picked an example of a true businessman, rather than a real estate developer, as Trump is.

As a consultant who has worked with all levels of government my entire professional life, I can assure you that development of a SINGLE major real estate project, is more than a sufficient tutorial in the byzantine ways all governments work, including hundreds if not thousands of "compromises" each project requires. And when you write or approve the checks, you know all about those, or you wouldn't be in that position!

Trump has been involved with dozens of such deals and projects,.....'nuf said!

Marsh said...

We don't think he's going to bring a magic wand to Washington. We think he's going to bring something much more powerful that that, he's going to bring his will.

Why don't we have a wall on our southern border? Congress passed a law to get it built. So all Trump has to do, is build it. There's no doubt he can build a wall, but what about the cost? Jazz at Hotair explains the exact type of leverage Trump has been talking about using against Merxico.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

As I have shared before, people would be wise to consider what Trump's candidacy is all about. It's the same thing Sanders' candidacy is all about.

People are pissed off. Really, really pissed off.

As long as the RNC continues to whistle along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's agenda, the middle class will decline. As long as we allow lawlessness along our border, our culture will decline. As long as we shrug that a former Secretary of State kept a private email server and doesn't get prosecuted, we will degrade the rule of law. People know this. Our institutions are failing. We have liars and rogues at the helm... people totally in it for themselves. It's an awesome spectacle.

The U.S. government caused the mortgage meltdown with an implicit guarantee of residential housing loans, and that guarantee became explicit when everything went kaboom. Then the U.S. government interfered with clearing the housing market of these toxic loans. Now we have a parade of politicians promoting zero interest rates and subsidizing risky housing loans again. Who gets the blame? The banks. Who regulates the banks? The government. Who's accountable? No one.

American voters elected a charismatic black man to be President in 2008. We re-elected him in 2012. He has done serious damage to race relations in this country. He came to office promising to turn the economic crisis around. He used his enormous Congressional majorities to pass a jobs-killing massive entitlement. The rollout has been delayed to stem the negative impact ObamaCare will have on the economy. The regulatory framework is opaque. The market impact has been devastating to normal Americans buying private insurance, and group premiums have crushed businesses.

And in this, Donald Trump beat all the polls handsomely last night, taking 35%. That figure is above what any other major polling group projected. It shows you that people are not being honest with pollsters. Despite the glares and sneers of the intelligentsia and sophisticates, people are still voting for Mr. Trump.

What does all this mean? To me, it means that people feel betrayed by the elites. Washington and New York talking heads have no idea what goes on in the country. It means that the media agenda is so far out of whack, and the PEOPLE are sending a message. They don't like the direction this country is going in. And like Rubio said, it is all by design. People feel betrayed, and they feel they are losing their country. The Democrat Party is a coalition of identity groups. The Republican Party is collection of voting groups that are hated by the linguini-spined Country Club Tycoons who run the party.

If Trump loses the nomination, he could run third party. Then Bloomberg's ego will lead him to run. Hillary will run as a Democrat. Some Establishment candidate will win the Republican nomination. This is a nightmare scenario. The race will go to the House, and all the people in California will get one vote, and so will all the people in Wyoming. That's the way the system is designed. And we will end up with a public so furious with the design of our government, they will demand an Article V convention. And then the whole American system -- which has built our way of life by balancing interests and protecting individual rights -- will be up for grabs, and we will lose our country. The Constitution will be replaced by a phone-book size document so obtuse and byzantine that corruption will become a way of life. We will no longer have a constitutionally-limited federal republic, we will instead have a democracy. And democracy is insane... it is the tyranny of the majority.

Gloomy? Yes, perhaps my outlook is a bit dark. But I fear what will happen to America if the political class continues to operate this way. Commentators have thrown the book at Trump, yet he prevailed big in New Hampshire. He crushed his competition, while the chattering class wailed and moaned. Instructive... if you want to listen.

Scullman said...

Bloomberg jumping in could split the vote three ways. Republicans control 33 of the 50 House delegations that would decide the presidency, if no candidate receives the 270 electoral votes necessary to win outright. Bloomberg’s wacky liberal positions on social issues and guns will prevent any support in conservative states in the Mountain West, South and Plains.

He wouldn’t win a red state. Anywhere. So, he starts the race with 206 electoral votes off the table.

He’ll split votes in the blue and purple states with the Democrat nominee, most likely sending the election to the House of Representatives (per the 12th Amendment). Republican control of the House delegations guarantees majority support for the Party nominee and The White House.

Jump in, Mikey. Jump in!