Business People In Office: A Good Thing?

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

I’m going to try an interesting op-ed approach; debating with myself. While this may seem silly, this is how logical thinking and skepticism usually works. I list the pros and cons in order to come to a logical conclusion and attempt to refute my own theories to see if they hold up. The latter part, a version of falsification, being the most important.

Normally I do this before I write something, then write my opinion once I’ve come to a conclusion. But on this one, I just cannot commit to a particular opinion. So instead, I’ll lay out my arguments, and at the end, just leave it open for further discussion. I would love to hear your own opinions and why.


GCaseAs a young man, I had been initially enamored with the idea of Ross Perot as president (as evidenced by my trusty old guitar case). I don’t even remember any of his actual positions, I was just beginning my politically literate phase in life. But what I did know is that this man, having borrowed $1,000 in 1962 to start a company called EDS (I believe his wife had to sign because he had bad credit, no less), later sold that company to General Motors for an astounding $2.5 billion in 1984. By all accounts, a pretty good investment and an amazing American success story.

I say initially interested, because as you may know, his campaign soured in the end with claims of death threats and such that seemed to indicate Ross might be either succumbing to senility, or was honestly just a kook.

The part that interested me about Ross though, was the generic idea of a businessman in office. Whether it be as a president or legislator, I felt that the people running our government should have business acumen so that they actually knew how to manage employees and solve problems—something successful business owners do in the marketplace every day.

But is this really logical?

H. Ross Perot
H. Ross Perot

Let’s first ask if we’ve had any successful businessmen as president. Herbert Hoover stands out as the only truly successful businessman who went on to become president, and in the scientific community, when trying to establish a pattern, only one data point isn’t exactly helpful. We’ve likely had numerous successful businessmen as legislators, but it’s nearly impossible to judge a single legislator’s success when everything they do is by committee. So for now, we’ll stick to theoretical arguments as we can’t really use history.

I believe that one of the problems of government is that it is inefficient. In the business world, this is the path to insolvency, but in government, it is quite common and somewhat by design.

Inefficiencies in the government work place are indeed problematic though, and having a leader that not only inspires people to be better, but holds them accountable when they’re not, should improve productivity and reduce waste. This is my initial case for a businessman as president.

But when it comes to a president who works with legislators, they’re not supposed to be efficient at making change. The point of our Constitution and resultant system of government is one that is intended to be insusceptible to changing on a whim. A constitutional republic protects the minority from the majority, whereas a pure democracy could change in a heartbeat due to panicked legislators making knee-jerk reactions or merely those wishing to serve at the whim of a charismatic president.

Huyton Internment Camp
Huyton Internment Camp

An easy hypothetical to explain my meaning on this would be to go back to September 11, 2001 and imagine we were a pure democracy. Once we were aware that it was radical religious zealots at the behest of Osama Bin Laden who attacked us, the majority of America could have easily demanded that we deport all Muslim immigrants, instate Muslim internment camps, and/or attempt to close any Muslim mosques. There was a significant amount of anti-Muslim sentiment in those following months; if they were the majority, it would have been a real possibility without our Constitution and the 1st amendment to prevent such actions.

So would a businessman who is used to being able to put their foot down be able to deal with a Constitution, legislative branch, and judicial branch telling them what they may or may not do? I’m not convinced someone used to having “the power” could make the change without becoming jaded and end up giving up. Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to be a perfect example of this.

One of the other problems I perceive is of a fundamental nature. A successful businessman achieves success by growing his business. But in a free country, a successful politician should be one that shrinks government to what is considered to be the bare essentials. Two diametrically opposed philosophies, and ones that may not translate well.

Businesspeople solve problems, politicians fancy themselves as people who solve problems; but, unlike a business person a good politician should recognize when it’s not their problem to solve. That more often than not, they should simply abstain and let free people work it out.

What about combined experience? Clint Eastwood famously ran for mayor of a little town called Carmel, California after being offended by the bureaucracy of zoning laws and other restrictions that he felt were unfair. He understood how government affected him and would go on to make decisions accordingly.

I have conversely read news stories (can’t remember the name) of a legislator leaving office for the private sector only to get frustrated by laws that he had been instrumental in getting passed in the first place; showing regret for all he surely must have done to harm businesses he had intended to help.

Ted Kennedy
Ted Kennedy

In both situations, an opinion on politics was formed due to the effect of government on the private sector. This is something that life long politicians like the late Ted Kennedy likely never understood.

So I do believe that any politician should have some understanding of how laws they might pass will affect those being governed—it’s the difference between theory and reality. I hope there is not a capitalist among us that doesn’t want to vomit every time they hear the words “Compliance-lawyer.” The thought of having to pay someone to make sure you’re legal, in a free country, seems ridiculous. Shouldn’t one know when they’re doing something wrong?

So here is where I throw it to you the reader. Surely there are other pros and cons to be considered, what say you?

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One thought on “Business People In Office: A Good Thing?”

  1. I do often hear people (including myself) say that business experience should be required. But now that I think deeper I’m not sure what was meant by that. “Business experience” is actually a very broad term. That could mean anything from selling Tupperware at small parties to running multi-national distribution companies. The wide variety of business types and skills required makes each individual business almost like a snowflake: no two are exactly alike.

    I still think business experience is important. Politicians should put forth their business experience and let the voters decide if the experience is relevant. Looking back at the last election Mitt Romney touted his business experience. The interesting thing about Mitt is that his experience was almost all consulting-related, and not as a business owner. There is a big difference between a business owner and a consultant. A consultant can academically understand the pain new regulation can inflict upon a business. Business owners can understand the actual reality of pain inflicted by over-regulation. In this case I would almost rather have a leader that had a small business that failed due to over-regulation than a leader that worked successfully as a consultant.

Drop some genius on me here.

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