Eye on the bottom line

Except for his sincerely wanting to be president, it is very difficult to locate any truth in Willard Mitt Romney. However, we may be able to take him at his word when he says he believes that his success in making lots of money in business especially qualifies him for the highest office in the land… Sadly, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Lets looks at the historical record of successful businessmen in the White House:

Since Herbert Hoover’s 1928 election, the American people have voted out of office after a single term only three elected presidents: Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush — all of whom were successful businessmen before they were president. And the only successful business-trained president who was reelected, George W. Bush, oversaw an economic collapse at the end of his second term. (…) The startling bottom line is that the nation’s GDP has grown more than 45 times faster under presidents with little or no business experience than it has under presidents with successful business careers. (…) None of the five presidents under whom the stock market has had its best performances — Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower — had significant business experience. Topping the list are the two most recent career-politician presidents, Clinton and Obama, both of whom pursued economic policies that Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, insist are anti-business and economically disastrous. Robert S. McElvaine – Washington Post

Why should this be, when, as Calvin Coolidge said, “the business of America is business”? Why should businessmen, who are so adept at making money, be so inept at leading the nation?

As occurs so many times, the answer to that question is in the question itself.

It’s obvious if you think about it… business is first and last about making money. This is not to oversimplify and say that every businessman would do anything to make a buck, many businessmen have a well developed sense of ethics, but finally to lose money is to fail in business and to make money is to succeed.

To succeed in business is not easy, it requires intense concentration and singularity of purpose. The businessman’s eye can never be taken off the bottom line and everything he does must ultimately be dictated by that reality. In fact in a publicly traded company not to put the creation of shareholder value first is illegal.

In this business-process all the elements, material and human, that make it up are only contemplated with full attention as they affect profit and loss, they are merely a means to that end. Human beings and their needs and wants become even more abstract when, as in the financial industry, the only element involved in creating profit and loss is the money itself.

Here is how the Slovenian philosopher Zlavoj Zizek explains it using classical Marxist jargon.

Marx located the elementary capitalist antagonism in the opposition between use-value and exchange value: in capitalism, the potentials of this opposition are fully realized, the domain of exchange-value acquires autonomy, is transferred into the specter of self-propelling speculative capital which needs the productive capacities and needs of actual people only as its dispensable temporal embodiment. Marx derived the very notion of economic crisis from this gap: a crisis occurs when reality catches up with the illusory, self-generating mirage of money begetting more money-this speculative madness can not go on indefinitely; it has to explode in ever stronger crises. The ultimate root of the crisis is for him, the gap between use-value and exchange-value: the logic of exchange-value follows its own path, its own mad dance, irrespective of the real needs of real people.(emphasis mine) Slavoj Zizek – Rethinking Marxism

There is the answer to the question of why businessmen make lousy political leaders… In politics, the bottom line is and always has been the “real needs and wants of real people”. In politics money is only a means to satisfying those needs and wants or for seducing the population into thinking those needs and wants are being satisfied. If the real needs of real people are not seen to be satisfied, then in democracy the politicians will be voted out of power and in a dictatorship, their lives are in jeopardy. Finally power comes from some form of consent or support from the governed… human  satisfaction not numbers is the objective. The humans are citizens or subjects, not shareholders cutting coupons.

In my opinion businessmen’s difficulty in truly putting real people and their real needs at the center of their thinking has been further impaired by the homogenized training they now receive from such MBA programs as Mitt and Dubya’s alma mater, Harvard Business School.

The techniques of the modern “master of business” are supposed to enable him or her to administrate any sort of business using its methods of analysis and action, therefore making the human equation in business even more abstract. You would only have to compare a passionate “car man” like George Romney with his son Mitt to see how things have been changed by this study program in a relatively few years.

The reason then that businessmen fail in the presidency is that nothing in their training and experience, and perhaps even in their personal temperament, has prepared them for the challenges that will confront them once in power and the values involved in judging their performance in facing those challenges.

Cross posted from:

David Seaton

David Seaton