Here is a very interesting — and, to my mind, persuasive — article from Slate on why the president’s new pick to head the SEC — William Donaldson — is really impressive and why his pick for Treasury — John Snow — really isn’t.
The essence of the story is that Donaldson really built a business, turned profits, is public-spirited, and so forth; Snow was your standard highly compensated CEO who didn’t produce a very good return for investors. More importantly, he was what the author calls an “access capitalist”, less an entrepreneur than someone business brings in from government to shake the Washington money tree for helpful regulations, deals, pork and the like.
The author of the Slate piece, Daniel Gross, makes the apt point that the Snow model is a pretty common one in this administration — including the president, vice-president, defense secretary, and many others.
I think you can take this a bit further though. Critics of this administration often hit it for being full of so-called Chicken-hawks, folks who are all gung-ho to get into wars but somehow never found time to put on a uniform themselves.
On the economic side of the equation, it’s also filled with what I’m calling (in a piece I’m now working on) safety-net entrepreneurs. Those would be folks who talk a great game about markets and risk-taking and entrepreneurship and gumption and such but have actually made their cash in ventures which are almost immune from real risk and where their skill isn’t entrepreneurship but the ability to work the bureaucracy and purse strings of — yikes! — big government. Safety-nets for the poor and middle-class damage character; for the businessmen, they work just fine.
Dick Cheney’s career at Haliburton is almost the archetypal example; Snow’s seems a decent runner-up.
Finally, there’s this piece in the LA Times. It seems former Goldman Sachs Chairman Stephen Friedman’s appointment as head of the National Economic Council is on hold because supply-side activists are worried that he cares too much about fiscal responsibility and not enough about tax cuts.
That’s a fascinating story. But there’s an even more interesting one implicit within it. After the defenestration of Messrs. Lindsey and O’Neill the White House has been looking for people who are really respected on Wall Street and in corporate America — not just think-tank hacks or ideologues. And they’re also looking for people who will support their plans to push the budget even further into the red.
Doesn’t it look like they’re having a rather difficult time finding people who fit into both categories? Donaldson counts. But his position has nothing to do with fiscal policy. Friedman might too; but he may never even make it to the gate.