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President Obama Just Perfectly Explained What's Wrong With the Way We Think About Government

by Matt Hershberger Oct 20, 2016

ONE OF THE PRIMARY REASONS people think Donald Trump would be a good President is that he’s a businessman. And many people think that the skills of running a business translate directly to running a government. This isn’t totally wrong — businesspeople are very good at making things more efficient, which is something the government could use more of — but it’s also not totally right.

President Obama addressed this idea during the Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh last week. The Frontiers Conference confronts issues that America will face in the future. Here’s what he had to say in his speech:

The final thing I’ll say is that government will never run the way Silicon Valley run because, by definition, democracy is messy. This is a big, diverse country with a lot of interests and a lot of disparate points of view. And part of government’s job, by the way, is dealing with problems that nobody else wants to deal with.

So sometimes I talk to CEOs, they come in and they start telling me about leadership, and here’s how we do things. And I say, well, if all I was doing was making a widget or producing an app, and I didn’t have to worry about whether poor people could afford the widget, or I didn’t have to worry about whether the app had some unintended consequences — setting aside my Syria and Yemen portfolio — then I think those suggestions are terrific. (Laughter and applause.) That’s not, by the way, to say that there aren’t huge efficiencies and improvements that have to be made.

But the reason I say this is sometimes we get, I think, in the scientific community, the tech community, the entrepreneurial community, the sense of we just have to blow up the system, or create this parallel society and culture because government is inherently wrecked. No, it’s not inherently wrecked; it’s just government has to care for, for example, veterans who come home. That’s not on your balance sheet, that’s on our collective balance sheet, because we have a sacred duty to take care of those veterans. And that’s hard and it’s messy, and we’re building up legacy systems that we can’t just blow up.

Many successful businesspeople have entered politics and done excellent jobs as politicians. But we should stop assuming that the business world and the political world require the exact same skill set.

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