Dumb quote of the day--this is why running on your "corporate experience" is bullshit edition

>> Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"It is my practice to meet with people that share responsibility for some type of enterprise and to establish very clear goals and objectives, so they know what they’re to accomplish."
- Mitt Romney quoted by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen,
"Mitt Romney outlines his governing plan to POLITICO",
Politico, August 27th, 2012.

Yes. Well. I expect that'll go over wonderfully if you get elected. If you win, Mr. Romney, please be sure and let us know how that went; I know most people will want to know how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (assuming the Democrats keep the Senate thanks to Mr. Akin's fine work) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) respond, but I'm actually more curious about how Chief Justice John Roberts likes being sat down to discuss his department's goals; the one thing those Supreme Court people share in common, regardless of their partisan affiliations, is that whole "air of institutional independence" and "separation of powers" thing.

I think he may be underwhelmed. Just guessing.

There's a serious point here, of course, and that is the silliness of some Americans' infatuation with CEOs as leaders or the view that corporate experience prepares you for something other than working for or running a corporation.

I don't want to demean the usefulness of corporate experience in the corporate sector; goodness knows, if someone walked up to me and made me CEO of a billion-dollar asset management and financial services, I'm sure I'd have no idea where to begin. Is there an employees' manual? A training video I can watch?

But what that has to do with being a democratically-elected representative of a constituency--in the case of the President, that constituency consists of the entire population of the United States with secondary obligations to all those foreign peoples dependent on or beholden to American power--is beyond me. What, exactly, is the analogue to dealing with the opposition party and figuring out whether you can get legislation passed without them or what horses you have to trade to work with them? Do CEOs ever have their policies overturned by a separate, equal branch of the company empowered to rule on whether policies are consistent with the corporate charter? And whereas a CEO might be able to lay off an entire underperforming manufacturing division to cut costs and maximize profits, I don't believe a President Of The United States is allowed to fire Alabama (however much we all agree it would be a good idea).

One of the bizarre things about the Romney campaign, of course, is that Mitt Romney does have experience doing things kind of like what a President does: Romney was Governor of Massachusetts, which is sort of like being President of a state. There are various reasons it isn't the same thing at all, but there are familial resemblances, obviously. Only, Romney doesn't want to make a big honking deal about that part of his career because that's the part of his career where he had to act like a politician, making compromises and trying to figure out what was for the best for the most people, which is why Massachusetts residents got a healthcare program that was a model for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that Romney now promises to repeal because there's a bunch of people in his party who don't understand "Obamacare" and hate it. Except, of course, one might bear in mind that, just as the Obama Administration didn't get everything they wanted in the ACA because they had to, you know, work with Congress, Romney can't just magically undo the ACA--he has to get Congress to repeal it, which may be easier said than done if the Democrats keep the Senate, and might still be easier said than done if they don't (after all, a lot of those politicians in the legislature may end up saying one thing and doing another when they start hearing from the insurance companies who have come around on the ACA and spent money preparing for implementation, from the citizens benefiting from the law, from the Congressional Budget Office re: the savings from the ACA, et al.).

It can't be said too many times that the business of government shouldn't be business. Governments come into existence for all sorts of reasons ranging from making sure irrigation ditches are dug before the flood to securing the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness everybody's endowed with. I don't recall a single instance of government being created for the purpose of manufacturing widgets or guaranteeing a profitable return to investors, though there may be some such place in central Eurasia somewhere (I haven't read the constitution of Widgetstan, but I have my suspicions). We put up with a certain amount of narcissistic, sociopathic behavior from private enterprise because it sometimes serves a useful function, e.g. setting a reasonable price-point for retail toilet paper; but there's no room for that at all in government, that's not why we have government.

Actually, I could put it another way, starting from that same point: there's a certain amount of narcissistic, sociopathic behavior from private enterprise we don't have much tolerance for but can understand. E.g. it is comprehensible, though amoral and undesirable, when a corporation looks at the safety of a product and decides whether the cost of litigating and settling consumer liability is more or less cost-effective than simply fixing the problem regardless of expense. We regulate that kind of thing through the courts when a company puts profits above valuing life, and sometimes through the legislature, but we understand that this is rational behavior even if it's hideous behavior. But there's no room for that in governing a republic: that is, the President can't very well respond to intelligence North Dakota has been invaded by radical Flemish nationalist paratroopers who have somehow penetrated American airspace and are even now lining non-Dutch-speaking Fargoans up for execution by firing squad, by assembling an auditing committee of accountants and lawyers to evaluate whether it would really be cost effective to activate the National Guard and send in the Marines.

It just wouldn't do.


timb111 Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 3:08:00 PM EDT  

"Do CEOs ever have their policies overturned by a separate, equal branch of the company empowered to rule on whether policies are consistent with the corporate charter?"

Actually a CEO has to listen to the board and can be overruled. Also, in larger companies the bureaucracies can resist change to an astonishing degree.

I once gave advice to the CEO of a $5 billion/year company that got him fired. So CEO <> Tyrant!

Eric Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 4:27:00 PM EDT  

I was trying to pick a phrasing that covered that scenario and shareholder revolts; they aren't exactly the same thing as dealing with separate, coequal branches of government, though it's a fair enough point as far as it goes.

Nick from the O.C.,  Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 3:43:00 PM EDT  

“If for every error and every act of incompetence one can substitute an act of treason, many points of fascinating interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination.”

-- Richard Hofstadter

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