Affirmative action for corporate CEOs

The Politico has a piece pointing out that the underrepresented minority in the Obama administration is the corporate CEO:

In President Barack Obama's Cabinet, there is a Nobel Prize winner, a former mayor and a veteran CIA agent. Surrounding him in the White House West Wing are a former four-star general, one of the nation's most eminent economists and a handful of this generation's most talented political operatives.

This constellation of talent, however, has something of a black hole. There is virtually no one on Obama's team with outsized achievements or a high-profile reputation earned in the world of business.

This doesn't really seem like a great mystery to me. Republicans are historically more sympathetic to the concerns of big business (think about the party's position on corporate income and capital gains taxation) and Democrats are more sympathetic to complaints of crony capitalism. (Think about the party's position on Dick Cheney.) More importantly, populist anger needs to be sated: the impulse behind compensation caps and and congressional hearings/lashings for bankers is probably what's blocking CEOs' access to the cabinet door.

Nor does the lack of a CEOs really seem like a problem. There is a fairly persistent desire to think that success in making piles of money will predict success in other, unrelated walks of life. Merit in business is thought to be merit broadly construed. Indeed, the Politico story reminded me of the very brief pre-election infatuation with making Warren Buffett the next Treasury Secretary. That Warren would be great for the job was just about the only thing that Barack Obama and John McCain agreed on during one of their debates.

And maybe it's true that Obama needs to hear from a "plurality of voices" in the White House, but I don't think that business interests have historically had much trouble making themselves heard. Sure, the First Amendment doesn't give you a right to megaphone, but if you have a ton of money you can get yourself a pretty big megaphone.

And maybe it's true that "management experience" is completely and easily transferable from one sector for another. But you can get management experience in sectors besides the private, and it seems more likely to me that government experience is more relevant to job in government than experience somewhere else. So is the notion that Obama's cabinet doesn't have enough CEOs just a push for "diversity for its own sake"?

Presented by

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Confessions of Moms Around the World

A global look at the hardest and best job ever


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

More in Politics

Just In