Iconostasis of Capitalism, watercolor and acrylic on paper, 70x100cm, 2008

“Leaders in business have a single overriding goal which must be proven to a well-defined audience of investors:  making a profit, measured every quarter. By contrast political leaders have multiple goals, few of which are clearly stated or predominate over the others. They have multiple constituencies and a plethora of responsibilities measured primarily by the vagaries of political polls and elections. They have a lot of responsibility but, unlike, a corporate CEO, relatively little authority to get things done. Theirs is the realm of persuasion, not power. They can only get done what they convince Congress and others to join in.”

The above quote comes from an article in Forbes (of all places!) written by a conservative writer, David Davenport, which I stumbled upon recently while researching.

Apparently, Davenport echoes a lot of my own intuitions about why business leaders (like Emperor Trump), and their skills (if we can call them that), don’t translate well from private enterprise to democratic politics. I make an even more basic observation than Davenport, though, recognizing that the very claim that governments should be run like businesses (which business leaders love to make) is a gigantic mistake and completely insane! Typical business enterprises aren’t even run democratically for one thing. In a traditional private capitalist enterprise there is a small a group of 10 to 20 people (the board of directors) who make all the basic, day-to-day decisions: what to produce, how to produce, where to produce, and what to do with the profits. Workers are systematically excluded from participation in those decisions that will significantly affect them. The structure of the typical private capitalist enterprise, then, is not democratic, it’s totalitarian. “Successful” business leaders may make really good authoritarians but I’m afraid they may not be the best democratic egalitarians.

Along these lines (and tangentially related to this topic), I would point out a telling inconsistency often seen with regard business vs. government leadership: one would think that corporate business leaders turned politicians would be enormous fans of economic planning (as opposed to market mechanisms), because after all the biggest, most successful corporations get that way largely because of their ability to plan and control financial/economic factors (e.g., allocating resources internally, buying up suppliers, etc.). It’s fine for corporations to plan in such a way that it will gain maximum profits for owners and shareholders but, wow, a government attempting to offer universal healthcare to its people is thoroughly un-American! Because, you know, how are private for-profit corporations going to compete with the federal government who is mission-driven and doesn’t necessarily care about profits so much?!? Not fair!

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Art above by Aleksandar Todorovic

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