16 September 2008

A President, Not a CEO

One comment can cause such a kerfuffle in this presidential race, no matter how true it may be. A top advisor for the McCain camp, Carly Fiorina said that none of the candidates for president or vice president are qualified to run a major corporation. News outlets, in their clearly unbiased nature, shortened the statement, limited their headlines to Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin (CBS News for example). Any sort of partisan spin in this gets away from the central truth of the statement. None of the candidates are qualified to be a CEO of a major corporation.

That’s a good thing. Governing and running a business are not the same thing. Anyone who believes they are ought to attempt to do both simultaneously within the same power structure.

Whereas businesses are created to deliver services for profit, governments necessarily take in taxes to deliver services. One is a producer of wealth, one is a consumer of wealth – one would hope for the protection of the nation and its citizens. Attempting to run a government for profit would necessitate that government producing something that the public would want to buy, something they would be willing to pay for above and beyond required taxes. If anyone can figure out what that product might be, please call Congress and demand it.

Some say that the executive branch “manages” the US economy, that the president pushes the buttons of economic progress (or decline). I don’t think either is correct, nor are they the proper role of the executive. While the government ought to regulate business so that business is conducted in an open and honest way (or at least as much as is reasonably possible), putting the executive in the role of “US Economic Manager” is a slide toward nationalism of industry. That just seems obvious, yet all too often the press (and by extension, perhaps, voters) asks “How will the president or candidate fix the current economic crisis?”

That is an error. The executive can’t “fix” the economy, only influence it. And perhaps not as much as the press (and perhaps voters) think. Take oil prices, for instance. Did trips to OPEC countries by members of the executive branch reduce oil prices, or did reducing demand?

Much of this election cycle has been filled to the brim with declarations of what the next president will do for the everyday folks. Presidential campaigns promise to fix this, fix that, and always in a universal and comprehensive way. Rubbish. What we need is a leader who has the judgment to pick the right course, the courage to move forward warily but resolutely, and wise enough recognize when course changes are needed. That might sound like a job description for a CEO, but there are no widgets being produced here – rather a country.

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