Man Without Qualities

Friday, April 12, 2002


An honest and refreshingly remorseless friend recently criticized the Man Without Qualities for earlier Paul Krugman posts on the grounds that there is no point in close analysis of writing which, in my friend’s opinion, was so obviously the work of a hack. Mr. Krugman is back in his more obviously partisan (and hack) mode today, criticizing various members of the current Administration on various grounds. Rather than risk further chiding by my friend, I make only isolated comments. Mr. Krugman says:

“Many of the business executives recently appointed to government positions first entered the private sector after prior careers in the Reagan and Bush I administrations. As Sebastian Mallaby put it in The Washington Post, they are "political types dressed up in corporate clothing: people who got hired by business because they knew government, then hired by government on the theory that they knew business." (Dick Cheney is the quintessential example.) So are they really good businessmen, or are they just crony capitalists, men who have lived by their connections?”

The Gatsby gangster, Meyer Wolfsheim, would have called them “go-nections”

Mr. Krugman appears to view the world as a RICO enterprise on a large scale. The column includes the hints of conspiracy and near-conspiracy that increasingly preoccupy his thinking ("… are they just crony capitalists, men who have lived by their connections?"). Indeed, one’s appreciation of the humanity and tolerance of his former colleagues at the MIT economics department rises with each successive column; it cannot have been easy for them in the long years before they dispatched him to Princeton at last. One truly wishes the man peace.

But the more interesting issue raised is whether the Administration is being packed with what Mr. Krugman calls “crony capitalists” of poor business caliber, a species of which Mr. Krugman says “Dick Cheney is the quintessential example.”

Well, if Dick Cheney is the quintessential example of whatever concerns Mr. Krugman in the context of business competence, then the Administration isn’t doing too badly. According to a capsule biography:

“Cheney moved into private business, becoming chief executive of Halliburton. Cheney led the company to its position as the largest oil-drilling, engineering and construction services provider in the world, with a 1999 revenue near $20 [b]illion. The company acquired its main rival, Dresser Industries Inc., in 1999, a move that was well-regarded in the business world.”

The Wrath of Krugman also falls, strict and particular, on Thomas White, secretary of the Army, a former general who became a senior Enron executive in 1990. Mr. Krugman criticizes Mr. White’s senior involvement with Enron and his failure to divest interests in that company promptly when assuming office. This is the picking of a valid enough ethical bone, although one scoured clean by other media scarabs many weeks ago. But, with respect to the issue Mr. Krugman raises of Mr. White’s business competence, it is instructive to review the resume of Mr. White’s immediate predecessor as Secretary of the Army, Clinton appointee Louis Caldera:

“Louis Caldera became the 17th Secretary of the Army on July 2, 1998, after nomination to that post by President Clinton and confirmation by the United States Senate.

“Secretary Caldera previously served as Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer for the Corporation for National Service [, a] federal grant-making agency headquartered in Washington, DC….”

“Before coming to Washington, Secretary Caldera served for five years in the California Legislature…. He served as Chair of the Assembly's Banking & Finance Committee, Revenue & Taxation Committee, and Budget Committee. He also served as a member of the Intergovernmental Policy Advisory Committee to the U.S. Trade Representative.”

“Secretary Caldera began his public service career as an Army officer and as a lawyer. After graduating from West Point, he served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army from 1978 to 1983. He rose to the rank of Captain and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. His assignments included serving as a military police platoon leader, a battalion intelligence officer, and a battalion executive officer. He later served in the U.S. Army Reserve.”

“After leaving active duty, Secretary Caldera attended Harvard University. He earned a law degree from Harvard Law School and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 1987. He then entered private practice in the areas of corporate transactions and municipal finance at the firms of O'Melveny & Myers and Buchalter, Nemer, Fields and Younger. He later represented Los Angeles County in state and federal court as a Deputy County Counsel.”

I have no wish to criticize Mr. Caldera here, although his “Army of One” advertising campaign has been controversial, to say the least.

But Mr. Caldera’s resume does relate to the question of whether Bush Administration appointees are just men who have lived by their “go-nections”? For it is clear that Mr. White’s predecessor had no relevant business experience whatsoever prior to his appointment as Secretary of the Army. Indeed, he had almost no relevant experience at all. Mr. Caldera had lived entirely by, and obtained his appointment through, Krugmanian “go-nections.”

So if Mr. Krugman can be content with a clear relative improvement between successive administrations, he can at least find peace with respect to the welfare of the Nation.

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