Being Rich Doesn't Mean Being Smart


In American culture, being rich is often equated with being intelligent. While it certainly takes particular skills to attain financial wealth, the notion that those with lots of money are somehow equipped to do other, vastly more complex jobs is completely unproven.

In the world of politics, there is an assumption that the ability to horde vast sums of money means you are capable of running for political office, and maybe even the Presidency.

Witness the sudden rise of Donald Trump in the pre election season media frenzy. Trump is a successful real estate developer from New York (although he has gone bankrupt a number of times) and one of the richest men in the country. Trump has used his family connections and monstrous ego to climb the vicious world of buying and selling property, and he has carved out a fearsome reputation that has translated into several billion dollars, a reality TV show, and now a possible run at the Presidency.

In the modern corporate world, being ruthless and looking at the bottom line makes you a successful CEO. While you must be a good team leader and have a vision of where you want to go, the only thing you have to be really good at is delivering a profit to your shareholders. And more often that not, this means squeezing as much labor out of your workers as possible, downsizing, and outsourcing labor when it is cheaper to do so - the exact opposite of what you need to do when running a country.

To a modern CEO, workers are expendable and replacable. The flexible labor market means there is little job security, little incentive for the corporations to take care of their employees and big rewards for the leaders who hire and fire at will. The greatly worshipped Jack Welch, credited for restructuring GE in the 1980's fired 100,000 people in four years - a move that horrified working people but propelled him into the corporate hall of fame. Welch went down as a pioneer of new American business practice and is still revered in corporate circles as a shining example of cut throat capitalism.

Do we really want people like Welch in charge of the country, when their claim to fame is putting people into welfare lines?

Running a country is very, very different to running a business. A government manages people, not employees, and its primary aim is to provide services for its citizens, protect them from internal and external threats, ensure they have access to food, health care and transport and generally make the country a stable place to live. While Donald Trump can certainly flip buildings in down town Manhattan, build ostentatious hotels in Vegas, and dramatically fire people on television, understanding complex foreign policy problems, delicate trade agreements, the intricate relationship between different branches of the federal government and the nuances of political deal making may not exactly be his strong suit.

I know many CEO's. I was brought up in a family connected to some pretty powerful people around the world, and I'll say this about them - while their business acumen is incredibly impressive, I wouldn't want them anywhere near government. This isn't to demean their intelligence, but the skills that took them to the top of the corporate world are not necessarily the skills you'd look for in a political leader. Their views on the world are shaped by a desire to grow their business and increase profit, and they are paid according to their ability to do so. Issues like the environment, labor rights and social policy are secondary and often optional concerns, and sadly in modern times, rarely even an issue.