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Old 02-20-2020, 03:05 PM
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The myth of the businessman-President


If you look at the last 100 years, a list of US Presidents with significant business experience would include:
Warren Harding
Herbert Hoover
Jimmy Carter
The two Bushes
Donald Trump.

I think HW was a decent President and Carter was unlucky and underrated but this is not an impressive list to put it mildly. Harding,Hoover,W and Trump have a reasonable claim to being the four worst Presidents of the last 100 years.

There is still something of a myth particularly among Republicans that business experience is some kind of uniquely valuable qualification for a President. Clearly Bloomberg subscribes to that belief but it has no basis in historical experience as far as I can see and for good reason: running a country is very different from running a business.

Looking more broadly around the world I see little evidence that there is much of a correlation between business experience and successful political leadership. The most prominent example I can think of a businessman who became a political leader recently is Silvio Berlusconi.
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Old 02-20-2020, 04:07 PM
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I will admit to not knowing the backgrounds of the two older ones so I wonít speak to them.

I donít agree with the Bushes or Carter being part of your ďmyth.Ē They were politicians and ran as politicians. Two governors and a Vice President canít pretend to not be politicians. Their other experience was background only. I would never think of any of them as primarily businessman.

Trump and Bloomberg are the ones that fit the bill leaving out others who have tried at lower levels. I think the appeal is pretty clear when you strip away the individuals and just look at the concept. Politicians suck. They are only good at spending your money wastefully. A good businessman doesnít waste money and will show the politicians who never worked a day in their life how things are done in the real world. Itís a nice theory and plays to the inherent hatred of career politicians of any stripe. Of course it depends completely on the competence of the individual and also relies on them surrounding themselves with experienced people who actually know how government works. Iím not sure if itís any worse idea than picking someone with no executive experience or the mayor of a small city or many others that tried.

Last edited by Loach; 02-20-2020 at 04:31 PM.
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Old 02-20-2020, 04:14 PM
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Those of us who lived in Illinois during Bruce Rauner's governorship knew better than to believe that a businessman would necessarily be a good choice as a chief executive.

I'm not totally convinced that a good businessman couldn't be a good president, but it's neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition. Running a government is very different from running a business, both in terms of means and ends. (And Trump was never a good businessman.)
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Old 02-20-2020, 11:18 PM
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I didn't mean to suggest that the others were like Trump in that they were pure businessmen without any political experience or that they were running primarily on their business experience. What I wanted to examine was the idea that significant business experience in one's life was a major asset when later becoming President. That idea is certainly out there and was implicit in Bloomberg's question about whether anyone else on the stage had started a business. My point is that there no positive correlation between business experience and a successful Presidency and if anything the correlation is negative. That doesn't mean one would automatically reject a future candidate with business experience but it should not be considered a major asset either.
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Old 02-21-2020, 07:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Lantern View Post
My point is that there no positive correlation between business experience and a successful Presidency and if anything the correlation is negative. That doesn't mean one would automatically reject a future candidate with business experience but it should not be considered a major asset either.
Yes, it certainly does look that way, based on the very limited evidence. (And before there was Trump or Bloomberg, there was H. Ross Perot, trying to run on his business experience.)

Would we get more evidence one way or the other if we looked at state governors, or chief executives of other countries, with business experience?
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Old 02-21-2020, 08:22 AM
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Politics and business are two different career paths. Doctors don't generally become lawyers. Scientists don't become actresses. Brain surgeons don't become Cabinet Secretaries. What else is new?

But there's probably some (not much?) correlation between success in business and as President. GW Bush was not a successful businessman. Truman was also an unsuccessful businessman, but became an outstanding President.
Trump was a nasty and bombastic buffoon as a businessman, and a nasty bombastic buffoon as a politician.
Bloomberg was a very successful businessman and rather well respected as a Mayor IIUC.

Garfield, Arthur, Wilson, LBJ, Clinton and Obama were all teachers BTW.
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Old 02-21-2020, 08:44 AM
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Trump was a shitty, corrupt business person, and he's a shitty, corrupt politician. I'm sure he'd manage to be a shitty and corrupt dishwasher. His skill set is scamming and putting on an act. So I don't think he's a good example for testing the hypothesis, though the premise of the OP is probably right.
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Old 02-21-2020, 08:46 AM
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septimus:

Quote:
Politics and business are two different career paths.
True in some ways, but there's considerable overlap. Politicians (especially of the executive sort) deal with budgets, income and expenses, effective allocation of resources, brokering alliances with other entities and/or deciding when such alliances are detrimental, hiring, firing, promoting and otherwise handling employees, and knowing when to delegate and when to take a personal hand in matters. Having a business background can't be too bad a thing to bring to an executive political office.
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Old 02-21-2020, 11:28 AM
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Reaganís time as head of the Screen Actors Guild ó relevant or not?
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Old 02-21-2020, 11:51 AM
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Personally I wouldn't count being a union leader as "business experience". Incidentally was Reagan the only union leader to become US president ; that would be rather ironic...

I think there could be a better case for business experience at the state and especially local level; mayors do run cities in a way at least somewhat analogous to businesses.

Being President is vastly different and involves a whole range of issues like national security, macroeconomics, financial regulation, where business experience is of relatively little use and could in fact be a source of bias.
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Old 02-21-2020, 12:07 PM
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Just in general terms, I'm not so sure that Bloomberg or Trump or anyone else mentioned really believes that being a successful business person means you are likely to be a successful president. They very well might believe that, but who knows? But maybe they make that case, just because that's what they happen to be. Just like Warren and Klobuchar have said a woman would make a good president. Now why on earth would they say that? FTR, I think it's high time a woman is elected president, and feminine qualities in general have been locked out for way too long from that office.

Now, I do think that certain qualities of successful business people as have already been mentioned have carry-over to the presidency. But since the most essential goal of a business is to make a profit, and since the United States is not a business, there is no reason to just glom onto a business person who is running primarily because his company got rich.

Last edited by Fiddle Peghead; 02-21-2020 at 12:10 PM.
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Old 02-21-2020, 12:25 PM
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Besides the shitty corruptness, pointed out by guizot, the thing that distinguishes Trump from all other presidents is that not only was business his main background, but it was his sole background. All the other people on your list spent some time either as an elected official or a cabinet secretary before they were elected president. Trump is the first president we've had that has had absolutely no government experience prior to taking office, and it shows.

I'm hoping that Trump's time in office puts a stake in the heart of the notion that what we really need in Washington is an outsider who will run government like a business.
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Old 02-21-2020, 01:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Buck Godot View Post
Besides the shitty corruptness, pointed out by guizot, the thing that distinguishes Trump from all other presidents is that not only was business his main background, but it was his sole background. All the other people on your list spent some time either as an elected official or a cabinet secretary before they were elected president. Trump is the first president we've had that has had absolutely no government experience prior to taking office, and it shows.

I'm hoping that Trump's time in office puts a stake in the heart of the notion that what we really need in Washington is an outsider who will run government like a business.
I share your hope, but I don't think it will come to pass. The outsider myth has been around as long as I've been voting -- before Perot there was a movement to draft Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca -- and I think it's probably hardwired into the democratic psyche.

People are predisposed to notice and fixate on things governement does badly (or that simply annoy them) and take for granted all the things government does competently or well. (Take roads: people curse the potholes and construction delays, but never appreciate the roads that are paved well, the working traffic signals, the abundant, well-placed signs and just the staggering availability of driveable roads that can take you virtually anywhere.) It's easy for the fixation on the bad government stuff to become a belief that anyone who works in government is incompetent and corrupt, so naturally an outsider looks better.
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Old 02-21-2020, 02:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Loach View Post
I donít agree with the Bushes or Carter being part of your ďmyth.Ē They were politicians and ran as politicians. Two governors and a Vice President canít pretend to not be politicians. Their other experience was background only. I would never think of any of them as primarily businessman.
Agreed.

- Carter served two terms as a Georgia State Senator, and a term as Governor of Georgia.

- GHW Bush served two terms in the House of Representatives, was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was chairman of the Republican National Committee, was chief of the U.S. Liason Office to the People's Republic of China (effectively serving as ambassador), was director of the CIA, and was Reagan's vice-president.

- GW Bush had run (unsuccesfully) for a U.S. House seat, was an advisor on his father's presidential campaigns, and won two terms as Governor of Texas (though he left that office midway through his second term when he was elected president).
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Old 02-21-2020, 02:54 PM
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Reaganís time as head of the Screen Actors Guild ó relevant or not?
To this thread? Not relevant.

The Screen Actors Guild is not a business.
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Old 02-21-2020, 03:19 PM
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I agree with the OP.

I've had a few brief conversations with people (Democrats) this week who say "ah, Bloomberg is a successful businessman. That means he has the kind of experience we need and is the most qualified of anybody to run this country!"

Somehow there's an obsession among some people with CEOs and big money, and a sense that the skills of a CEO track appropriately to that of the presidency in a way that being a senator or experienced in Washington politics does not.

I think those people are off their gourds.
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Old 02-25-2020, 05:15 AM
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septimus:



True in some ways, but there's considerable overlap. Politicians (especially of the executive sort) deal with budgets, income and expenses, effective allocation of resources, brokering alliances with other entities and/or deciding when such alliances are detrimental, hiring, firing, promoting and otherwise handling employees, and knowing when to delegate and when to take a personal hand in matters. Having a business background can't be too bad a thing to bring to an executive political office.
You could say the same thing about having a military background, or a union background, or a senior academic background, or a background in NGOs. I'd agree that yes, managing any sort of large, complex organization is valid experience for executive political office; I'd also say that of all of the possible organizations one could have experience in, experience in a commercial organization is the least relevant to politics, if only because unlike a business, a nation is, at its heart, a non-profit organization.

So elect more generals, more union bosses, more college presidents, more non-profit organizers, and maybe elect a few CEOs too.
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