January 29, 2007
The CEO President
Matt is, I fear, too kind to Sebastian Mallaby's sleight-of-hand:
Mallaby ends with a kicker. "American business succeeds in the world because it morphs, shape-shifts, learns from its mistakes; it is too paranoid, too anxious to please its customers, to stick with formulas that aren't working," he writes, "The question posed by last week's BBC poll is whether American government can mimic that agility." Well, what a nice center-right I-used-to-work-for-the-Economist way of putting things. Business good and nimble, government clumsy and inept. But of course the problem here isn't that "American government" has proved reckless and stubborn and trashed America's global image. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, etc. have done these things...There's not an abstract government problem here, there's a concrete Bush administration problem.
But it's worse than that, of course. George W. Bush ran for president explicitly promising to run government more like a business. He was the "CEO President," remember? He'd led companies, owned baseball teams, understood delegation, and wouldn't waste time in interminable meetings or late-night policy discussions like the undisciplined, un-business-like Clinton. Indeed, we even got weird extensions of the Bush-as-CEO brand, like The Rumsfeld Way : Leadership Wisdom of a Battle-Hardened Maverick.
The CEO President, of course, ran his company, his company's reputation, and his own reputation into the ground. And so those committed to conservatism's Manichean view of the private and public sectors (private good, public bad) are back to blaming government. But when government was run by Clinton, a longtime political executive who sought to run it as a good government, it worked quite well. It was only once we elected a self-described CEO and instinctual privatizer that everything came off the rails. And we elected him largely on the strength of business-glorifying bromides like the one Mallaby offers above.
John Dickerson, by the way, has a bit more on the CEO President's many failures, and he even includes a case study.
Crossed to Tapped
January 29, 2007 | Permalink
GWB has run the country like a business - Enron or maybe one of those multi-level marketing outfits (aka Ponzi schemes) where a select few make out like bandits (aka Iraq war profiteers) and the rest are SOL.
Posted by: CParis | Jan 29, 2007 12:08:33 PM
Yay for Ezra's Monday morning Wheaties or Cheerios that seem to have generated somewhat more, shall we say, aggressive views of our loser preznit. I'm all for it. Good monday therapy.
For me, an interesting question is how many volumes of history will be needed in describing the many ways Bush has screwed our pooch during his two terms. It may take a group project of the American Historical Society to really do justice to the scope of the policy insanities and executive incompetencies. Surely such a chronicle is way beyond the capacitiy of any single scholar.
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jan 29, 2007 12:21:10 PM
To be fair to the private sector, Bush failed there, too. It's not like he was the best/brightest that we had to offer and couldn't make it work. He couldn't make it work in business, and so he tried government, where he still couldn't make it work. The problems we have are due to Bush, the person, not being good at things. It has nothing to do with some faux-private/public sector competition.
Also, it doesn't seem right to claim that government was sans-problems before Bush was elected.
Posted by: Mike | Jan 29, 2007 1:59:57 PM
The entire exercise Mallaby is engaged in is a meaningless comparison between the purveyors of consumer products and a government which seeks to influence other governments. I’m glad to hear McDonalds now sells salads and…what…leaves pork off the menu in Muslim countries? That’s all well and good but how does that relate to what our government is doing overseas?
Corporations exist to make money. McDonalds share holders don’t care if McDonalds makes a profit by selling beef or by selling pork just so long as they make a profit. Our government should be pursuing realistic objectives but those objectives should be rooted in some fundamental values which we simply cannot toss aside if they fail to produce the outcome we want.
Posted by: Bob | Jan 29, 2007 7:58:32 PM
"American business succeeds in the world because it morphs, shape-shifts, learns from its mistakes; it is too paranoid, too anxious to please its customers, to stick with formulas that aren't working[.]"
GM. The Bell System. Enron. LTC. US Steel. The Penn Central Railroad. Long Island Lighting Company. Digital Equipment Corporation. I'd go on, but why bother?
You can argue that those are merely "american businesses" rather than "american business", which is I guess some amorphous moniker for the huge mass of companies headquartered in the US (oops, no) or with primary stockholder in the US (not necessarily) or that primarily manufacture in the US (don't make me laugh) or something about this ever-changing class that Mallaby can pull a Potter Stewart with. But then it comes down to the notion that those who fail get booted out, their assets get redeployed, and the people who worked for them now work for new bosses.
Which happens every two or four years in government as designed...
Posted by: paul | Jan 30, 2007 8:47:05 PM
Posted by: JUDY | Sep 26, 2007 4:14:16 AM
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