Week by week, as the inauguration looms the cabinet for our soon-to-be president, Donald Trump, is taking shape. As predicted it includes a number of names from the big world of business; folks with years at the helms of major corporations, steering multi-million dollar deals, and managing global enterprises. Imagine the little Monopoly guy only without the top hat. Or if you’re feeling less charitable, Monty Burns.
And many people are flinging out some version of the following statement as if it is a truth plucked from the tablets of Moses: “Oh, these are great business leaders, and that’s just what our country needs!”
Really? The idea that successful businesspeople inherently make good governmental figures is akin to the notion that great running backs will automatically be wonderful point guards. The evidence speaks against it. Part of the problem is that business and government are entirely different things.
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The chief goal of business is making money. Sure, any given firm may provide a valuable service, create jobs, even fulfill a role in the destiny of our culture… but the main purpose is still to rake in the green. Now consider some of the chief aims of governments: Providing a common defense, a stable currency, justice, education, crime control, public health, environmental safety and on and on. Of course governments use a lot of money, but making it is not job one.
What’s more, CEOs often have nearly dictatorial powers while people in top government jobs are substantially limited by laws, regulations, customs, oversight and political realities.
In short, the idea that someone with a successful record in industry is automatically well-suited for a role in government is ludicrous. There may be crossover skills, and certainly some people have spun their business acumen into political gold. Perhaps Mr. Trump’s picks will prove to be those exceptional souls, and while I’m at it maybe he will too.
But to borrow from the parlance of the bosses and their golf buddies at the country club: it’s not a gimmie.
(CNN’s Tom Foreman is the author of "My Year of Running Dangerously". He's also a lousy businessman or he would have sold a lot more copies by now.)