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Steven Paul Leiva

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A CEO Does Not a President Make: Or Romney and the Myth of 'Business Experience'

Posted: 10/22/2012 1:24 pm

At the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney's main pitch for himself-- besides a five-point plan that his opponent, rightly I believe, called rather "sketchy"-- was that, "I know how to turn this economy around," and, "I've been a job creator and I know how to create jobs." He qualifies this statement by telling us that he spent his life in business, seeming to forget his time as a Mormon missionary trying to convince French people that Jesus was an international traveler, and his four years as governor of Massachusetts. Of course, for all we know, he may consider his door-to-door missionary work as not much different than selling insurance door-to-door, and being a governor as just another position as a CEO.

CEO, meaning of course, Chief Executive Officer of a corporation or organization, is a term I don't remember being used widely until about the 1970s, and really coming into prominence in the 1980s. It used to be that the head of a company or corporation was just the "president," who, of course, was the chief executive officer, but not initialed, and not in capital letters, and not so called by one and all. But today it seems that the head of a corporation can't just be the president, he or she has to be the "President and CEO." Some, indeed, prefer to be titled only the CEO. Somehow those initials have had a certain magic, a certain, almost, holiness adhered to them.

CEO has become not just a designation of a person's function within a company. It has become -- certainly in the minds of plutocrats and plutocrat-wannabes -- an aristocratic title of honor. The exponential growth of CEO pay in ratio to the growth of the pay of workers is the most obvious indication of this.

CEO now has more cache and carries more weight than the medieval titles of Duke and Baron and Lord, and even of Prince. A prince these days, especially outside of the UK and certain Middle Eastern kingdoms, is only a good name for a dog or an aging pop singer. In essence then, CEOs are the new princes. But instead of coming from the landed aristocracy, they come from the incorporated aristocracy. And like the landed aristocracy of old, this incorporated aristocracy may well feel that they are privileged, and that their privileges extend to ascension to the "Highest Throne in the Land."

One gets the feeling that there is a subtext when Romney says "I know how to turn this economy around." Possibly he is really saying, "I deserve to be president of the United States, because I spent my life in business making corporations function well." Whether Romney believes this or not is an arguable point, but what is not arguable is that his main pitch is that because of his business experience he will make an excellent president. And that because President Obama did not have business experience, he is not an excellent president. But there is a fallacy in this logic.

Dukes and barons and lords and princes of old who often took part in the governance of the empires or kingdoms they were a part of, might, due to that experience, have been qualified to ascend to the highest throne in the land. But what a CEO does bear little resemblance to what the President of the United States does.

The United States of America was designed by, and functions because of, a constitution of laws, not a charter of incorporation. That constitution tasks our federal government to, among other things, "... establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity... " for all of its citizens. A pretty heady mix of goals. A charter of corporation tasks its officers only to insure the corporation's existence and prosperity by securing profits for the corporation. The CEOs of corporations call the shots, their word is, within the corporation, law. Whereas the president of the United States is head of the executive branch, which is just one of three co-equal branches of government. He -- or someday, She -- can, at best, set an agenda for the shots and try to influence which ones become law and which ones the executive spends time enforcing. Not that the presidency of the United States is not a powerful position, with many aristocratic perks--it is. Which is probably why some CEOs, our new princes of the realm, may well feel they are destined for it. But their experience as CEOs do not automatically prepare them for the job.

Romney calls himself a "job creator" because businesses -- from the small to major corporations -- are the engines of commerce that offer jobs. And that, of course, is true.

But businesses and corporations do not exist to create jobs, they create jobs in order to exist -- not to mention thrive and profit.

General Motors, which President Obama refused to let die, thus saving many jobs, may well be adding new jobs at this very moment. But, if General Motors could make the exact same amount of cars they make, ship, and sale today with only three employees instead of thousands, they would only have three employees. And far greater profits. And even though individuals in corporations may feel bad when they have to lay off employees, there is no such feeling in the heart of a corporation's heart.

It is true that the federal government is not in the business of creating jobs, but it is tasked by our Constitution to be concerned when its citizens are suffering a high rate of unemployment, and to do whatever it can to alleviate the situation -- bringing about greater domestic tranquility -- whether it be through welfare, unemployment benefits, federally funded job training, strong support for education and research, or the building and maintaining of the nation's infrastructure.

The federal government, and the person who presides over it, is tasked with caring about the well-being of its citizens. A corporation, and the CEO who runs it, is tasked only to care about the bottom line. These being two fundamentally different tasks, expertise in one does not automatically insure expertise in the other.

In these last days of the campaign it is time for Mitt Romney to stop relying on his business experience, and give the citizens of this nation some other compelling reasons to elect him president. Whether those "compelling reasons" are convincing or not, is the chance he will have to take.

 
 
 
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