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Friday, Oct 7, 2022

Year of the Executive?

Since Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman so easily trounced their opponents last week, some believe this is the Year of the Woman. Others opined that the primary election results in California, as elsewhere, underscore the anti-incumbent mood, so that makes this the Year of the Outsider.

Maybe. But I’m thinking something else. I believe this may be the Year of the Executive.

Think about it. This recession has unmasked the enormous financial problems that have been festering in all levels of government for a generation. Or two.

The city of Los Angeles has a $500 million deficit. The government of California (a.k.a., America’s Greece) has a $20 billion deficit. And the federal government, well, it’s so far in debt that some projections say we may soon need $1 billion a day just to pay the interest. It’s hard to imagine $1 billion a day, but that’s enough money even for Jamie McCourt to live on.

How did we wade into this public sector bog? Career politicians got us here. When there was some problem, they created an expensive bureaucracy. When the employees wanted to retire at 50 or 55, they not only let them, but gave them 90 percent of their salary for life, in some cases. If the government didn’t have enough money to pay for all this stuff, no problem, just raise taxes.

Oh, sure, the private sector couldn’t really support such high levels of public sector spending, but the problem got covered over by a good economy. The career politicians could kick the can down the road.

But now we’re nearing the end of that proverbial road. Various government debt – whether it’s the towering pension problems at the state and local levels, or the Social Security obligations at the federal level – have built up so much that it will become difficult to pay. Even paying the interest on it will be a burden, although for now, that problem has been masked by extremely low interest rates. But how much longer will that last?

Even now, with financial disasters unfolding before them, career politicians find it difficult to make the hard decisions they need to make, and to stick with them. (Don’t believe me? Read the op-ed on the next page.)

You may have seen a fairly recent report by academic economists that says when public sector debt totals 90 percent of a nation’s gross domestic product, that country’s economy hits a tipping point and is in danger of going into a slow-motion death spiral. America’s debt is shooting up and is in the mid-80s. This must be unfathomable for the Greatest Generation, the ones who fought in World War II and worked so hard for decades, only to wonder if they’ll die before or after their country becomes the financial equivalent of a banana republic.

So how do we get out of this? I think Americans know, perhaps instinctively, that they don’t want any more career politicians and glib gabsters. We don’t need a president to feel our pain or cheer us on through a bullhorn or tell us Brownie’s doing a great job.

I think voters today want elected officials who can make hard business decisions. You know, those who know how to convene meetings of bright people, identify the real problems, devise solutions, chart strategies and then break it all down into assignable tasks. With tight deadlines and with accountability.

In other words, I think voters today want their elected officials to have executive experience. And the voters don’t much care what sex they are or whether they’re outsiders. They just don’t want more smiling, compassionate politicians. They want someone who can save us, not schmooze us.

On election night last week, Whitman described herself and Fiorina as “two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done.”

I think that’s what voters want to hear. From all candidates, from all parties and at all levels of government.

Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com.


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