. . . The heart of Mr Obama’s ploy is his tendentiously narrow definition of the business of business, which allows him to argue that the skill-set of a successful private-equity executive is useful only for profit-seeking, and thus irrelevant to the task of governing. Mr Obama then goes on to characterise the role of the executive branch in terms that would make James Madison flip his powdered wig. The task of the president of the United States of America, as Mr Obama seems to see it, is personally to oversee all industry everywhere in the 50 states (and Puerto Rico and Guam, et al) and ensure that fairness prevails, as the task of the father of a great family is to ensure that none among his children fall behind, that none get too small a piece a cake, that the roof over all their little heads remains in good repair. The president is a one-man countervailing force and dispensary of justice. How does smashing success in business ready a man for this role? It doesn’t!
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How will Mr Romney reply? I think he’ll argue something like the following. First, he’ll ask how well Mr Obama is doing by his own criteria, and make a case that he’s doing terribly. That Mr Obama has botched the recovery is already a pillar of Mr Romney’s campaign, and so we can expect they’ll want to shift the focus back on Mr Obama’s record. Second, Mr Romney will argue that he can do rather better than Mr Obama has done because his private-sector experience is not at all irrelevant. On the contrary, it’s generally useful and obviously applicable to government, as Mr Romney’s successful tenure as governor of Massachusetts shows. Outstanding business management is about a great deal more than maximising profits. It’s about setting goals and then providing the leadership organisations needed to achieve them. If the goal is profit, an outstanding manager will be effective in achieving a profit. But if the goal is, say, ensuring that everyone in Massachusetts has access to affordable health insurance, an outstanding manager will be effective in achieving that goal, too.
If he’s smart, Mr Romney will argue that Mr Obama’s apparent inability to see the relevance of business experience to government just goes to show why he can’t be trusted to achieve either the goal of sustained economic growth or the goal of leaving no one to suffer in the rubble of creative destruction. Efficiency matters, a lot, in business and government. If a business is inefficient, it is eventually either turned around or it is shuttered. If government is inefficient, it doesn’t shut down. Rather, it makes promises it can’t keep. When government makes promises it can’t keep, people suffer; everyone does not get a fair shot. So, who is better prepared to identify and implement the reforms required to make sure government can keep its promises? That’s the question. Mr Obama is desperate to convince voters that a record of success in making organisations more efficient is either irrelevant or nothing but a record of callous inhumanity to man, because it will otherwise become all too clear which candidate has the experience America needs to get back on track.