Thursday, March 12, 2009

Put Steve Jobs In Charge of Everything!


A few months ago, that was a favorite solution for certain pundits - e.g., "We need a Steve Jobs for the auto industry". Today, after raising some valid points about the financial crisis:
We're still in the Neville Chamberlain phase when it comes to the economic crisis. The government is talking about sacrifice and solutions, but it hasn't yet made the tough decisions that will put the economy back together. Economist David Smick had it right in The Post this week when he said the administration had a three-pronged strategy: delay, delay and delay. The administration announces a rescue package but doesn't deliver details; it promises budget discipline but saves the hard decisions for later.
Ignatius suggests that the problem is that we don't have enough "business leaders with experience managing large organizations in crisis" in government. I'm sure it's as easy as stopping by the House cafeteria....
I'd like a Steve Jobs for the Commerce Department, and a Steve Jobs for Treasury, and a Steve Jobs for State, please. And a side of freedom fries!

Order up!
I'm kidding, of course. You can't buy freedom fries there any more.

Seriously, though, if we had wonderful examples of "business leaders with experience managing large organizations in crisis", do you know where I would put them right now? In business. To run faltering financial firms and banks, the faltering auto industry, one of many faltering retailers, faltering real estate and construction businesses.... There's lots of opportunity for these magic men. But oddly, there don't appear to be many of them.

I'm willing to hear Ignatius identify some of the people he proposes as becoming the magic men of government. But you know, he doesn't even name Steve Jobs. He instead suggests we need the equivalent of "Winston Churchill arrived as the avenging angel" - but last I checked, Churchill was a politician.

I would also like to hear Ignatius explain why he believes that "business experience" is better for people who run government agencies than, say, government experience. Why he would deem the CEO of AIG more competent to run government than the administrators who have bailed out his company? Where does he stand on somebody like Robert Rubin - why not mention Obama's receiving advice from a guy who was "good enough" to get compensation reaching into the hundreds of millions from Citigroup - isn't he a glorious example of somebody with the business creds to lead a financial industry turnaround? What of the dynamic duo of "businessmen", G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who led the country into this hole - Ignatius still perceives a glorious return from their "business experience"?

Let's say we put, say, Jamie Dimon in charge of the financial industry bailout - among the industry giants, he's arguably the financial industry CEO who did the best job in the years leading up to this crisis. What solution does Ignatius imagine that Dimon would serve up?

Really - if I'm to accept that there's a line-up of skilled business leaders, ready to take charge and quickly fix everything that's wrong with government, can we have at least one name? Can we hear about at least one strategy change that they would implement?
Obama administration officials are understandably nervous about taking a leap in the dark - imposing emergency financial measures that could mean bankruptcy and nationalization for big automakers and giant banks. I hope they will find more creative, market-oriented approaches that break up the giants rather than patch them together under government ownership.
No, I guess we're left hoping for a miracle man with a miracle cure.

Ignatius highlights a big part of the problem - nobody knows what will or will not work, and there's serious concern that proposed cures at best throw good money after bad or may make things worse. But there are no business leaders sitting quietly on the sidelines, ready and able to bring about a miracle cure but for the politicians who are leading the government.

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