The Billionaires Shall Inherit the Earth (Soon, We Hope)
Sanjay Paul

The article appeared in The Etownian, Nov. 11, 2010 under a slightly different title.

November has turned out to be the cruelest month for Democrats. They have lost the House, they have lost a bunch of governorships, and they have been shellacked in state legislatures around the country.

The elections were not kind to the Department of Business either. As the election results poured in, the mood in the department grew increasingly grim, till by the end, a pall of acrid despair hung over Hoover Center. The business faculty tottered around numbly, barely even glancing at the gyrations of the stock market on the flat panel screens in Hoover. Even Chunski, normally given to exuberant assaults on his colleagues, appeared listless. He did kick the department chair once or twice, but you could tell his heart wasn’t in it. He was just going through the motions.

So why this gloom in the normally optimistic, money-grubbing, capitalism-oozing environs of Hoover?

A little bit of history might be helpful. In 1992, when Ross Perot, a Texas billionaire, ran for President, the business faculty were elated. Here was a man who had founded and run a hugely successful business. Who better, we said to anyone who would listen (usually a passing historian or a mathematician), to govern the country? The politicians were all inept, forever trying to raise money, concerned only with their re-election prospects. They were driving the country into the ground. What the country needed, surely, was the firm hand of a billionaire businessman at the helm.

But alas, our dreams were shattered on that November night in 1992. Despite his obvious charms, and the millions he had spent of his own money, Perot failed to convince a skeptical public that he was the man for the job.

How, we said to each other in anguish, could the American public be so ignorant? How could they not see that Perot promised to bring managerial expertise, technical efficiency, and yes dammit!, a charming personality, to the White House? Instead, the American public chose to go with a certain governor from Arkansas.

And they paid the price. With Clinton as president, the economy had to endure eight years of robust economic growth, falling unemployment, and budget deficits that had turned into a surplus by the end of his second term. This, said the business faculty, was a lesson that the country would not forget. Never again would the country turn its back on a billionaire businessman.

But in 2010, that lesson appears to have been forgotten. The business faculty rejoiced when Meg Whitman took on Jerry Brown for the governorship of California. Ms. Whitman had made a fortune running eBay and fashioning it into an e-commerce juggernaut. And now here she was, spending $140 million of her own money, running for governor against an old-school 1970s-vintage politician. Surely, Mr. Brown had no chance. The voters of California would be impressed by the managerial expertise, the technical efficiency, and yes dammit! the Silicon Valley cool, that Ms. Whitman promised to bring to Sacramento.

But if Ms. Whitman’s entry into politics was a godsend to the business faculty, there was more!

Also in California, Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was giving long-time U.S. senator, Barbara Boxer, a run for her money. Ms. Fiorina had left HP in some disgrace (in large part due to the unwieldy acquisition of Compaq under her leadership), but she overcame that blip when John McCain picked her to be his economic advisor during his presidential campaign. Clearly relishing politics, Ms. Fiorina decided to run for the Senate. She stressed her business cred, and with the Tea Party standing behind her, started to move up in the polls.

In the meantime, over in Connecticut, another dynamic businesswoman, Linda McMahon, was spending gobs of her money to contend for the governorship. And it was paying off! As the weeks went by, Ms. McMahon, who used to run the wrestling empire WWE, started to look increasingly like a contendah!

And in Hoover, the business faculty celebrated. They could see a revolution in the making. Simple-minded career politicians would be swept aside. CEOs would rule! The principles of marketing and management and finance, so assiduously practiced in the business world, would be unleashed on the operations of the government. And that old, clumsy, lumbering leviathan would finally be transformed into an efficient, productive, and perhaps even profitable, enterprise.

The voters had so much to gain by electing the ex-CEOs.

But instead, the voters in California and Connecticut went with the career politicians. They said no to Whitman, Fiorina and McMahon. The government would remain in the grimy hands of the politicians. The promise of gleaming efficiency would have to wait for another day.

But there is a ray of hope for the downcast denizens of Hoover. Donald Trump, a self-acclaimed businessman and perennial favorite of the business faculty, has hinted that we will run for the presidency in 2012. We can but wait anxiously for the day that Mr. Trump throws his hat into the ring—and hope that America will finally treat its billionaires with the respect they deserve.

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