Does Private Sector Success Matter In Politics?

I recently read an article from Investor’s Business Daily that can be summed up thusly: Bernie Sanders isn’t qualified to be president because he hasn’t lived up to the American Dream.

If you’re inclined to be charitable, you’d say he has struggled all his life.

If you’re not inclined to be charitable, you’d say “haha he’s a fucking loser derp derp look at Trump’s golden tower derp derp”. Also, if you’re not inclined to be charitable, you’re paying attention to the wrong issues.


According to Sarah Palin, this is what qualifies Trump for the presidency. According to her, he also built it himself. With his own two hands. Yup.

Reading an article like this, my natural response is to find a way to deny the information contained therein. If an article responding to a related meme (possibly an inspiration for the Investor’s article?) is anything to go by, I might be justified in trying to do so. An article on Snopes indicates that Bernie Sanders indeed has had a challenging life, but it reveals a fuller picture than the one painted by the Investor’s article.

There’s a time and place for that kind of response. What I care about is the implicit argument of the Investor’s article. It can be teased out not just by paying attention to the tone of the article, but by looking at one of the very last things the author says.

His worthless background contrasts sharply with the successful careers of other “outsiders” in the race for the White House, including a billionaire developer, a world-renowned neurosurgeon and a Fortune 500 CEO.

When you consider the overall tone of the article, along with the quoted line, the implicit argument becomes clear.

  1. People who have achieved the American Dream are qualified to be president.
  2. Bernie Sanders has not achieved the American Dream.
  3. Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina have achieved the American Dream.
  4. Therefore, Bernie Sanders is not qualified to be president, but Donald Trump and Co. are qualified to be president.

I think the first premise (Item #1) is just plain false. Now, there are two ways of understanding the first premise. The weaker, more plausible version way is to say that achieving the American Dream is just a necessary condition for being a good president. In other words, it’s not the end all and be all, but success in other life pursuits is definitely a needed quality for someone to make a good president.

The stronger, yet less plausible version says that achieving the American Dream is both necessary and sufficient for someone to be a good presidency. This means that success in other life pursuits is not only a needed quality, but that we can be sure that anyone with that quality will make a good president. We don’t even need to look at history to know this version to be false. It’s pretty clear that someone could be successful in the private sector but just have shitty judgment when it comes to policy decisions.

We’re now left with the weaker yet more plausible version. However plausible it is, I think it’s false.


I hereby endorse “1950’s Guy In Pink Shirt” for president.

When I refer to the American Dream, I’m not just referring to success in business. It seems like the American Dream simply refers to profitable success in private sector pursuits. Hence why Ben Carson is implicitly cited as being better qualified than Bernie Sanders.

There are problems with the notion that success in the private sector is indicative of political acumen or ability.

  • Being an expert in the private sector is not indicative of being an expert in the public sector, because they are different areas of concern and involve different ways of approaching problems.
  • We Americans seem to have this strange fascination with believing that being qualified in the private sector means we can also be qualified for the public sector. This would seem to imply believing that one can be qualified for some job by being qualified for a different job in a different sector.That doesn’t sound weird to you? Okay, let’s put that principle into action: if that principle is true, then I’m qualified to write novels because I’m qualified to write marketing copy. I’m not? Well, that means the principle is false, so the premise of the Investor’s article is false.
  • If the skills one obtains in the private sector are sufficient enough for transferring into the public sector, that means they both share a common skill set core. That would mean people with mostly public sector experience can step into the private sector and have huge success as business men/women. However, it doesn’t seem like that could actually happen. Why should we think transferring from the private sector to the public sector would work?

One might have recourse against my argument if they can successfully claim that success in the private sector requires the person to do all the things a successful president would do. That’s plainly false.

Do CEOs have to make military decisions? Do doctors have to balance a national budget? Do writers have to engage in foreign negotiations?

Fuck no.

All of this is to say that it’s false that achieving the American Dream is a necessary condition for being a good president. In fact, on the basis of my argument, it is, at best, ambiguous whether private sector success really does contribute to public sector success. At worst, it doesn’t mean horse shit.

Does this mean that Sanders is necessarily a better candidate than Trump or Carson (Fiorina dropped out, sooooooo…..yeah)? No. Does this mean Trump or Carson are necessarily better candidates than Sanders? No. It does mean that we shouldn’t be concerned about whether or not they achieved the American Dream, because it’s irrelevant to their ability to successfully serve as president.


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