Thursday, March 17, 2011

The greatest president


Businessmen have long complained that these onerous labour laws, together with high payroll taxes, put them off hiring and push them to pay under the table when they do. When Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva, a former union leader, became Brazil’s president in 2003, they hoped he would be better placed than his predecessors to persuade workers that looser rules would be better for them.

Note the logic here -- that by electing a labor candidate to the office of president, you don't produce an administration which represents workers, but one that is "better placed" to advocate on behalf of business in the eyes of workers. What changes from one president to the next is not the interests they represent -- this remains more or less constant -- but the audiences they best persuade.

Early on, Obama was similarly embraced as a popular figure who business hoped would sell their concerns to a skeptical public. Since then, both his popularity and his credibility amongst business-types has declined. Less able to persuade, he is less useful to business, who in turn cast doubt on his economic priorities, and by doing so make him less popular. Duly scolded, you will note the president's newest attempts at "reconciliation" with business.

The key to a celebrated presidency in societies like ours is to basically do what business wants while remaining a reasonably popular and unifying figure. Though less true at the time of his incumbency, this explains a lot of Ronald Reagan's revival in the time since: he did whatever business wanted, and so has been rewarded with great popularity and "leadership" in hindsight. Clinton is also notable in this regard.


Anonymous said...


Is he failing at persuasion? Is he failing at shilling on behalf of business?

I would not quickly equate low poll-based approval rates with failing at being a business shill. I don't think the US Chamber of Commerce is unhappy with Obama.

They're more unhappy with regular folks for not continuing to spend money they don't have, I think. And I don't think Obama can be blamed for that failure, nor do I think Obama can successfully persuade Americans to spend money they don't have, once the non-spenders have hit their personally spending/credit/debt wall.

Don't get me wrong here: I agree that in a non-collapsing America, your analysis would indicate what likely would be happening.

Anyway -- I could be wrong here. I'm just offering how it looks to me.

Justin said...

That is an awesome catch in The Economist, J.R.