A Philosopher's Blog

Is Business Experience Relevant to Being a Good President?

Posted in Business, Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 18, 2011
Governor Mitt Romney of MA

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Interestingly, the job of President only  requires that a person be a native born American of at least 35 years of age (and, perhaps, a residency requirement). There is, of course, also the matter of being elected.

When Obama was running for president he was routinely attacked for his lack of experience. While I preferred Obama over McCain, I was quite willing to acknowledge that the question of experience was legitimate. After all, as other folks have noted, the presidency is not supposed to be an entry level position. The question of Obama’s experience will, presumably, not be an issue in the upcoming election-after all, he has been in office for a while and the economy is what is on the minds of most folks.

While Romney is the most likely choice for the Republicans, Cain is the latest contender for (or pretender to) the GOP throne. Since he has no actual experience in government, he is pointing towards his business experience and his very impressive life story. While Romney has executive experience as the governor of Massachusetts he does not seem to be playing that card very hard. This is, after all, not surprising given that Governor Romney would seem to look very much like a moderate Democrat in the eyes of the current Republican base. Romney is, instead, focusing on his business experience.

As some have pointed out, Romney’s experience seems to be more in financial matters rather than what would be considered positions of executive leadership. In contrast, Cain seems to have more experience as a business leader. However, the question still arises as to whether or not business experience is relevant to being a good president.

As various critics have been quick to point out, Bush had an MBA and was initially pitched as being a businessman president. However, the results of his eight years certainly raise some questions about how much business experience is relevant to the presidency. Then again, critics have asserted that Bush’s presidency was the logical extension of his less than spectacular business career. In any case, Bush provides but one example and hence arguments made based on this single example would be rather weak. It would, perhaps, be wiser to see if the skills and talents of the businessman would translate to the oval office.

In the Ion, Socrates argues that each profession has its own domain of skill and knowledge. For example, being a  good doctor does not make one a good general or a good fisherman. A person can, of course, have multiple skill sets-but these sets are distinct. Speaking of dead Greeks, Aristotle claimed that the life of the businessman was distinct from the political life-but, as I always tell my students, just because he is famous does not mean he cannot be wrong.

On the face of it, however, there do seem to many important dissimilarities between the two jobs. One obvious major difference is that the presidency involves so much more than what a business executive does. As such, there would seem to be rather significant areas that business skills would not cover (such as matters of war and foreign policy). A second obvious major difference is that the ends are different. A businessman’s ultimate end is to make a profit. The ultimate end for the president is, presumably, the good of the people as a whole. That said, perhaps it could be argued that the truly highest good is the making of money by the right people and hence a businessman and the president have the same ultimate end. A third obvious difference is that a business is typically not a democracy and hence getting things done in business is very different from getting things done as a president. As such, there seem to be many differences between the role of the businessman and the role of the president.

That said, it can be argued that business experience can provide a foundation from which a person can become a good president. To use an obvious analogy, we have had presidents who were high ranking military men prior to being president. Some of them proved to be good presidents, others not so much. I would suspect that the same would be true of someone with business experience. This, of course, suggests that it is not so much the sort of experience the person has, but what sort of person has that experience. As such, an exceptional person could probably do well as president, regardless of his (or her) specific background. Naturally, relevant experience would be useful, but what counts as relevant would probably be rather broad. After all, good leadership is more than just a matter of making money or knowing about war.

Overall, I would say that outstanding performance in business (or many other things, such as military service or law) would be a plus for a presidential candidate. However, the experience of a being an executive businessman is different from the experience of serving in the executive branch of government. While the same term, “executive”, is being used, this does not prove they are the same ins substance. After all, the fact that I have been running for years does not entail that I would be good at running for office.

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19 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on October 18, 2011 at 6:59 am

    In order to grow the economy, the President is expected to understand and help overcome the problems businesses face. I would think that for this particular task, business experience would help.

  2. magus71 said, on October 18, 2011 at 7:07 am

    Really not sure, Mike, how you can insinuate that the economy under Bush was bad. The last 1.5 years were not as good as the previous 6.5, but nothing like what we’ve seen during Obama’s hope and change.

    More jobs created monthly under Bush: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/249516/job-creation-bush-vs-obama-veronique-de-rugy

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 18, 2011 at 2:43 pm

      No need to insinuate-I can just point to the historical fact that the economy tanked in 2008 as a result of the fruition of causal factors that had been in operation for years. Bush obviously does not bear the full blame-after all, the fundamental problems go back before him.

  3. magus71 said, on October 18, 2011 at 7:09 am

    Bush, better on debt:

    “How do Bush and Obama compare on closer inspection? Just about like they do on an initial glance. According to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, during his eight fiscal years, Bush ran up a total of $3.283 trillion in deficit spending (p. 22). In his first two fiscal years, Obama will run up a total of $2.826 trillion in deficit spending ($1.294 trillion in 2010, an estimated $1.267 trillion in 2011 (p. 23), and the $265 billion in “stimulus” money that was spent in 2009). Thus, Bush ran up an average of $410 billion in deficit spending per year, while Obama is running up an average of $1.413 trillion in deficit spending per year — or $1.003 trillion a year more than Bush.”

    http://www.npr.org/2011/01/25/133211508/the-weekly-standard-obama-vs-bush-on-debt

    • T. J. Babson said, on October 18, 2011 at 7:40 am

      “In his first two fiscal years, Obama will run up a total of $2.826 trillion in deficit spending …”

      More evidence that Keynesian economics is a flop, yet all we hear from the Dems is that we need more spending.

    • T. J. Babson said, on October 18, 2011 at 8:15 am

      Austerity is for the little people:

      This is said to be a new age of fiscal austerity, yet the government had its best year ever, spending a cool $3.6 trillion. That beat the $3.52 trillion posted in 2009, when the feds famously began their attempt to spend America back to prosperity.

      What happened to all of those horrifying spending cuts? Good question. CBO says that overall outlays rose 4.2% from 2010 (1.8% adjusted for timing shifts), when spending fell slightly from 2009. Defense spending rose only 1.2% on a calendar-adjusted basis, and Medicaid only 0.9%, but Medicare spending rose 3.9% and interest payments by 16.7%.

      The bigger point: Government austerity is a myth.

      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204479504576637513885592874.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEADTop

  4. WTP said, on October 18, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Hmmm…still looking for that discussion on what wealth is, if it is constant, how it can be created, etc. etc. etc. All else is a waste of time.

  5. dhammett said, on October 18, 2011 at 8:45 am

    And things wouldn’t have been different if Obama had come into office during a period of economic posterity?

    The current circumstances weren’t drastically influenced by “facts on the ground” Sept ’08- Jan ’09?
    Do economic and social events occur in a vacuum? The effects of the costs of 6-8 years of two wars aren’t still reverberating through the economy? A black Democratic businessman would have gotten more cooperation from a recalcitrant Republican opposition whose clearly stated goal was to make him a “one term president” and (by implication) regain power?

    • T. J. Babson said, on October 18, 2011 at 10:13 am

      One man’s “recalcitrant” is another man’s “principled.”

      • dhammett said, on October 18, 2011 at 11:33 am

        And one man’ “principled” is another man’s “self-serving”, “mindless”, Etc. And vice-versa. Etc. Would that we could all understand that simple concept.

        The point of my question was perhaps unclear. I may have muddied the water by failing to type the word businessman in all caps and using the word recalcitrant”. Perhaps it was not so much the recalcitrance as the reluctance, political motivation, blind ideological drive, principles, or even wisdom of the opposition.* Trying to deal with the topic of the day, I had hoped to get an answer about whether a “businessman” (as opposed to an actor turned governor, or Abraham Lincoln, or a general, or . . .)would have gotten different and/or better results if the opposition didn’t want him to.
        And answers to my other questions, too.

  6. ajmacdonaldjr said, on October 18, 2011 at 11:10 am

    As you’ve said before, we don’t get true leaders, or statesmen: we get politicians. And there’s a big difference. I suppose that since the Washington government now enables business to exploit the worker, and the banks to fleece the US taxpayers, a business/finance man like Cain is well-suited for Manager and CEO of the corporate American fascist state.

    What America needs, for a true leader, is not a politician or a businessman: we need one man to rule who knows what justice is. That way we can be rid of the congress altogether and begin establishing peace, justice, and harmony in America.

  7. T. J. Babson said, on October 18, 2011 at 11:31 am

    The Obama legacy:

    Since taking office in January 2009, President Obama has ushered in a period of relentless economic decline for the United States. His administration has added $4.2 trillion to the national debt (now standing at $14.9 trillion), lost 2.2 million jobs, introduced a vastly expensive health-care albatross, and spent nearly $800 billion on a failed stimulus package. At the same time, house prices across the country have tumbled at an unprecedented rate, consumer confidence has plummeted, and millions more Americans are now dependent upon food stamps. International confidence in the US economy has fallen to its lowest levels in decades, with credit agency Standard and Poor’s downgrading of America’s AAA credit rating for the first time in 70 years in August this year. As I noted in a piece at the time:

    Since President Obama took office in January 2009, the United States has embarked on the most ambitious failed experiment in Washington meddling in US history. Huge increases in government spending, massive federal bailouts, growing regulations on businesses, thinly veiled protectionism, and the launch of a vastly expensive and deeply unpopular health care reform plan, have all combined to instill fear and uncertainty in the markets.

    Is it any wonder that just 17 percent of Americans now believe the country is moving in the right direction, according to RealClear Politics? Or that 81 percent of Americans “are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed”, according to Gallup? As a series of major Gallup polls have shown, public disillusionment with the federal government has now reached an all-time high, with 69 percent of Americans now saying “they have little or no confidence in the legislative branch of government”, with 46 percent believing “the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.”

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/nilegardiner/100110552/barack-obama%E2%80%99s-disastrous-first-1000-days/

    • magus71 said, on October 18, 2011 at 12:42 pm

      I do hope he is not re-elected.

    • dhammett said, on October 18, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      TJ: The government, consisting of three branches, does not move in one direction or another on the command of one party or one man, unless of course the party owns the White House, both houses of Congress, and in matters of Constitutional interpretation, the SC. Indeed, even if it ever did, it would first have to first escape the gravitational pull of governmental muck-ups in administrations that preceded it. At times, as we’ve noted in the last three years, that pull can be powerful. To accompany other opinion cited on here:
      http://prospect.org/cs/articles?article=is_bush_to_blame_for_the_economy

      Magus, in his brief comment, states his hope for the next election. Let me add to that that I shudder to think what the current state of the country would be if we had we had continued down the 2000-2008 road.

      Magus, I soooo hope Bachman, Gingrich, Perry, Santorum are not nominated. Paul. How many times can he run and lose? Palin is out. . .not so surprisingly. Christie stepped down, I believe, in a savvy political move to solidify his chances in 2016.

      Anyone else who hasn’t entered the race yet had better get to it. The important Republican primaries keep moving closer and closer.
      A prediction without crystal balls. The race will be simple. Barring a major calamity, it’ll be Romney v a Tea Party representative. The Republican establishment v the Tea Party.
      I’ve got the popcorn. Someone else can bring the beer, if they’re so inclined.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 18, 2011 at 6:11 pm

        I respect Ron Paul’s dedication and his lack of flip-flopping. But, it his hard to imagine that he would even get the nomination (barring some disaster that eliminated everyone else).

        I suspect that Romney is already the party pick and that it is mainly a contest over who gets to be his VP. But, Cain might surprise me and prove that he is doing more than trying to sell books. Given the current state of the candidates, I would say that a Romney-Cain ticket would be the Republicans’ best bet for 2012. Of course, there is still plenty of time left for people to surge or sag.

        Christie, I think, will be a strong contender in 2016 after Obama is re-elected. On the somewhat unlikely chance that the Republican wins in 2012, then he’ll probably run in 2020. I have heard some whispering about Christie as a VP candidate, but I suspect that he would not go for that. Then again, maybe his plan is VP in 2012 and president in 2020.

        I was hoping for a Bachmann-Palin ticket: could you imagine that?

        • dhammett said, on October 18, 2011 at 6:20 pm

          Once I had a dream about that ticket. . .

  8. T. J. Babson said, on October 18, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Facts are stubborn things:

    The Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan watchdog organization that keeps track of lobbyist spending, said Obama had hauled in more money from Wall Street than any other politician. It found that Obama had been given more money from Bank of America than any other candidate dating back to 1991. The pay-out totaled $421,242 in 2008 contributions from bank executives, employees and PACs.

    By the end of the 2008 campaign, executives connected to Wall Street firms, such as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America and JP Morgan​ dumped $15.8 million into Obama’s campaign to sweeten relations with the new president.

    Some Wall Street executives aren’t so sweet on Obama now, however, and are giving campaign money to Mitt Romney instead. One executive, who asked for anonymity, said he was sorry he ever gave to Obama.

    Goldman Sachs contributed slightly over $1 million to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, compared with a little over $394,600 to the 2004 Bush campaign. Citigroup gave $736,771 to Obama in 2008, compared with $320,820 to Bush in 2004. Executives and others connected with the Swiss bank UBS AG donated $539,424 to Obama’s 2008 campaign, compared with $416,950 to Bush in 2004. And JP Morgan Chase gave Obama’s campaign $808,799 in 2008, but did not show up among Bush’s top donors in 2004, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

    Obama’s close relationship with JP Morgan​ Chase was highlighted earlier this year when he tapped Bill Daley, a former top executive with the bank, to replace Rahm Emanuel​ as his chief of staff.

    Wall Street’s generosity to Obama didn’t end with his 2008 campaign either. Wall Street donors contributed $4.8 million to underwrite Obama’s inauguration, according to a Jan. 15, 2009 Reuters report.

    So far, Wall Street has raised $7.2 million in the current electoral cycle for President Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Obama’s 2012 Wall Street bundlers include people like Jon Corzine​, former Goldman Sachs CEO and former New Jersey governor; Azita Raji, a former investment banker for JP Morgan; and Charles Myers, an executive with the investment bank Evercore Partners.

    This should blow apart the myth that Wall Street is composed solely of greedy Republicans. But it will only work for those who care about the facts.

    http://frontpagemag.com/2011/10/18/obama%E2%80%99s-wall-street/2/

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 19, 2011 at 11:48 am

      Facts are stubborn things. I’ve made this point myself: most politicians are beholden to the big dogs of the private sector. That is one of the problems.

  9. dhammett said, on October 18, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    And political “free speech” flows to whichever party can benefit the “speaker”.
    http://cachef.ft.com/cms/s/0/8ec9172c-a4cf-11df-8d8c-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1bBqRaia4

    It’s a sad, stubborn fact.


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