Two Kinds of Businessmen

by Robert VerBruggen

Most of us on the right like the idea of a businessman running the country. After all, CEOs at large companies do a lot of the same things that political leaders do: They run big and complicated, but basically stable, enterprises; they make hard decisions in a careful and rational way; they make sure budgets balance; they deal with unexpected situations. They also have to keep a large population happy: When plastics manufacturer Ron Johnson — now a Wisconsin senator — visited NR World Headquarters some months ago, he talked to our staff about how important it was to sit down with employees and hear their concerns.

Not all businessmen operate in a way that lends itself to politics, however. Many of them take huge, brash, irresponsible risks. Some finance their projects with sketchy investments, a process more akin to gambling than governing. We need such men in our economy — where would we be if countless entrepreneurs hadn’t staked their financial security on seemingly crazy ideas that worked? — but we don’t want such a man running the country.

Donald Trump is just that kind of businessman. Whatever genius he displayed in rising to wealth and fame, he has been involved in four corporate bankruptcies since — in 1991, 1992, 2004, and 2009 — canceling $1.3 billion in debt the last time alone. This is not an option for our federal government. He financed the Taj Mahal mostly with junk bonds — again not much of an option for balancing a government budget.

And that’s not to mention another favored technique of Trump and many others in the business world: Rather than compete in a free market, they get in bed with the state. Trump became “partners” with the City of New York to build a hotel in the 1970s — a deal that involved a 40-year property-tax abatement that saved him “tens of millions of dollars.” (Libertarians: If you think that selectively letting people out of their taxes is somehow different than a government subsidy, please spare me.) More recently, he’s had the government take other people’s real estate and give it to him. How exactly would this experience help Trump as president? It’s much harder for a politician to balance a budget than it is for a business to use its lobbying power to get favors from politicians, and the last time around, Trump’s big idea on the budget front was simply to confiscate wealth from rich people.

Of course, bankruptcy and the presidency do share some history: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Jefferson, William McKinley. But today, the government is bigger than it’s ever been, and the single largest challenge facing us is the debt. Why hire someone with a history of budget woes to solve that problem?