Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Business of America is Business . . . but What of Politics?

Charles Kesler in the LA Times (or better yet, so as not to serve the interests of that rag) see it in the latest Claremont Review of Books demolishes--for all time, one can hope--the argument that leads Republican types to call for so-called "business experts" to run our government. In so doing, he distinguishes between MBA types and entrepeneurs in a way that shows the clear superiority of the latter. Everyone should read it but you should read it, especially, if you are inclined to sign up for an MBA program. Not that there’s anything wrong with that . . . but you should know about the origins of that kind of program in the Progressive movement. Guess my dad was right to tell me years ago that training in business was little more than training to be somebody’s "boy."

Discussions - 16 Comments

Yes, it was a splendid piece by Kessler. He’s been good on the defects of President Bush as a leader and President, which is important for us conservatives to hear and consider.

Hurray for Warren G. Harding, a self-made man!

Professor Kesler nails it.

The Republican party tends to denigrate "mere" politics and to place too much faith in businessmen as candidates and political leaders. The two spheres are very, very different -- if one aims to change anything in politics.

Does this mean that the GOP really is dominated by libertarians? As far as I know, social conservatives tend not to trust business people over all others.

Libertarians don’t necessarily trust or admire business people over all others -- many regard them as people who seek favors from the state. Social conservatives, like everyone else, are often in business and in any case often share the illusion that businessmen in politics are ipso facto better than "career politicians." There are also a lot of Republicans who are neither libertarians nor social conservatives. Arguably, it is these Republicans, vaguely conservative on both issues but with no clear ideological identity, who run the party.

The problem is that many Republicans--and our president is one of them--think that they are helping the free market when they do favors for particular corporations. David Frisk is right--most of the libertarians I know aren’t business executives. Most of them don’t even like business types, for the reason David mentions. The big business types represent the establishment wing of the GOP.

Generally a disgraceful work by Kessler. What a joke; is he actually a "conservative?"

First, I missed where he clearly distinguished between MBA’s and Entrepreneurs. Second, the Katrina disaster was not Bush’s fault--at all! If you all want to wait around and dream about a philosopher king--fine, but please leave us common conservatives free to pick successful businessmen with common sense as our leaders. Business does not explain all, but it does most. The government is about life and liberty, but clearly today’s progressive government is mostly property (redistribution) focussed. If this were not the case, Kessler might have a point. As it is, clearly any businessman with a little basic human goodness (ie not Scrooge) is about as good as we can get.

And well, we have him...

"Business" is a pretty big term. There are businesses that are corporations, where stock-holders own them and they are managed and no one is really responsible. In most small businesses, someone owns the business and is, therefore, responsible for everything. Is this John’s distinction between MBAs and Enterpreneurs? Almost every small business person I know is a libertarian, either openly or at heart.

The corporate model is much closer to the way our government is run today. The chief executive as figurehead is "in charge" but not really capable of managing Leviathan. I’m sorry, Bush critics, but who could? At least the civil service had similar goals to Clinton and so the monster always seemed to be swimming in the same direction he had indicated. That is never going to be the case for Mr. Bush, who always appears like - oh, I do know the picture - remember Mike Dukakis in the tank? He appeared small and ineffectual in relation to the machine? That is George Bush in charge of the administrative bureacracy. Adding Homeland Security, which he sees an accomplishment, just made huge, unmanageable thing bigger.


Much political skill must be devoted to persuading people where, exactly, their interest lies. Was my favorite line in the Kesler article. Was George Bush ever going to be able to persuade the American people to change the general direction of the federal government? Given the evident "NO" of the last few years, couldn’t we begin to focus on who we choose next?

The origins of the MBA are somewhat insignificant. I think once again that educators make the mistake of thinking something true either because they fear it is true or because they want to believe it is true.(In regards their ability to be foundatinaly formative) Most business types will be glad to accomodate the view that they are concerned with issues outside of the scope of the bottom line...it is good P.R. and good P.R. impacts the bottom line. As a token Libertarian I would have to agree with David Frisk...we don’t trust business people anymore than we trust politicians. In truth they are cut from the same cloth.

This isn’t to say that Business executives and politicians aren’t necessary...this is just to say that you should be carefull what you swallow. Business executives and politicians alike are in the positions they are in because they have done the best job keeping apperances. And appearances are not entirely vacuous...like any good lie they must contain a substantial grain of truth and be held together by a consistent framework of half-truths(a single lie requires 20 more) In fact the idea that business people or politians are corrupt is probably the innevitable consequence of bad results...the top dogs didn’t suffer these bad results on the way up and thus became the top dogs...but at the top there is only one way to go. In poker parlance, business executives and politicians fail when they bet draws that don’t come...(is bluffing lying? is betting a draw bluffing? or are you simply telling an expected truth?) George Bush’s war in Iraq being the distinguishing feature of his presidency is his largest gamble...it is also a bet on a draw...given his adversion to nation building during the 2000 campaign it is perhaps a risk he didn’t want to take...but circumstances delt him his hand, and the necessity he saw seemed to dictate that he play it.

Business leaders and politicians share the essential in common. The largest among these deals with the necessity of risk taking and being under fire...you are perhaps over-praised for success and over- blamed for failure. Politicians and Business people are overpaid/praised or overvillified because of the superhuman role they undertake in maintaining the concept of responsibility, without which as Aristotle would say everyone would live as beasts or gods.

Of course Charles Kesler is right in a lot of what he says...but if the essential element of leadership both in the political and business world involves reaching a definative position among a myriad of competing possibilities and accepting the mantle of responsibility for the resulting action...then essentially business experts and politicians are in the same creek. Charles Kesler is right to say that the system crafted for one situation may not translate smoothly into another...but then again this is just saying that there is a time and place for systems analysis technique...A CEO shouldn’t be paid for simply giving over to blind faith in a system...rather the businessman or politicians is paid to decide when it is appropriate to use these tools. As Machiavelli says, you must know when it is appropriate to use the lion and the fox.

And this goes to my point, if the Businessman can learn from Machiavelli...or perhaps Churchill(Dr. Hayward has a good book on this) then certainly the politician can learn from the Businessman.

I think the point is, in the best sense, there is little difference between the best entrepeneurs and the best statesmen. Or, at least, that they have much more in common with respect to their character than not. But today’s MBAs are trained emphatically NOT to be entrepeneurs. They are cogs in the wheel like other bureaucrats and experts. They don’t read Machiavelli and Churchill--they attend jargon filled seminars and discuss with mind-numbing earnestness the meaning of "teamwork." A good entrepeneur, however, (provided he is also a good man and has a grasp of the ends toward which our country is aimed) might be capable of the type of statesmanship Kesler calls for. Indeed, such a man might be better than most. I just wonder whether you will find this man with an MBA attached to his name. Most entrepeneurs are too busy working (read: conquering) to have time for silly little seminars and classes purporting to teach them things that they already know by instinct or habit.

The best account of this phenomenon is still William Whyte’s The Organization Man.

Julie--so according to you Bill Gates would make a better President than W???

I wonder what the result would be if the Dems nominated a Gates/Buffet ticket. I would consider voting for them...and I am not even impressed by the philantropy side of that equation...althought I think it probably requires more talent to run an effective non-profit than it does the profit side.

Gates by the way is a college drop out...and Buffet was largely self-educated...although his annual reports to Bershire Hawthaway stock holders are always full of wit and philosophic citations. So of course I agree with Julie. Neither the MBA nor the Business major itself seems very impressive...but even if you go the entrepreneur route most of the time you need some sort of start up capital...not to mention a viable vision, and elbow grease. In the end the sad fact is that the MBA it is just a means to an end... namely getting a foot in the door, that say a philosophy/political science degree wouldn’t yield. No one really swallows all the crapola at these seminars...it is all a ruse...a game... but then again I should suppose that a career in politics has games of this sort as well...So maybe an MBA and a business degree is a good background for dealing with complaining constituents, interest groups?

Gates is certainly a more impressive business figure than Bush ever was and I think that not having a business degree explains alot about that, yes. And I suspect Gates could not have done what he did in any other kind of regime. But to be a good statesman he would still have to be "a good man and ha[ve] a grasp of the ends toward which our country is aimed," as I said above. I don’t know that Gates is a "good man" though I also don’t know that he isn’t. He’d have to prove that one way or another. As for having "a grasp of the ends toward which our country is aimed," I also cannot speak authoritatively about that but my impression is that he doesn’t. Given that huge fact, Bush is still better since the substance of what he means to do will ever be more important that how effectively he does what he means to do. And sometimes, frankly, I’m happy that Bush can’t do what he means to do.

Fair remarks--I think this conversation shows that the whole MBA/business point is pretty meaningless. And what really matters is ones understanding, which is not effected by MBA/business

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