In an amazing coincidence, the negative aspects of the concept “the Best and the Brightest,” got a double dose of attention yesterday.
In “The Brightest are not Always the Best,” Frank Rich of the New York Times reminds us to not get all worked up with high expectations about the brand names being appointed to the Obama cabinet. Many of these people are academics, not business people. That means they believe theories, but have little experience with how reality can blow theories apart. Frankie reminds us that when David Halberstam wrote the book, “The Best and the Brightest” about the geniuses who filled out John Kennedy’s cabinet, it wasn’t a compliment, but sardonic. In this famous book, Halberstam describes how some of the best minds of that generation created the Vietnam fiasco, which destroyed Lyndon Johnson’s presidency and brought us the Richard Nixon era.
And for those of you who think it couldn’t happen again, or that history doesn’t repeat itself so quickly, Peter Cohan of BloggingStocks points out that “Five Harvard MBAs Wrecked the Global Economy.” The most famous and probably the most culpable is non-other than President George W. Bush. However, few can be faulted with thinking this guy was one of “the best.” Great quote on Bush’s pathological lying and ability to deny what he just said.
First runner-up goes to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who I feel is as much, if not a greater economic criminal than Bush. Considering he ran one of the firms that sold the credit default swaps, his inability or refusal to see the destructive force they held, as well as how they were affecting the economy, means his actions are either those of an incompetent or a severe case of malevolence. Worse, I think Paulson, after months of saying nothing was wrong, only decided to get involved in September because his old firm, Goldman Sachs was teetering close to bankruptcy. I suspect Paulson fearing his $500 million savings, most of which is in a blind trust filled with Goldman stock, would become worthless if he let Goldman fail, decided to take action rather than face the alternative of spending his golden years living off of a government pension.
Third place goes to Rick Wagoner, the CEO of General Motors. This genius failed to take advantage of profits from huge sales of gas guzzling SUVs to reinvest in GM and turn that dying behemoth around. Instead, this Einstein lost billions of dollars, oversaw the 95% collapse of his company’s stock and is on the verge of destroying one of America’s largest industries. I could have run that company into the group for one-tenth the salary they paid that guy.
Filling out the list is Stan O’Neal, the man who destroyed Merrill Lynch, the world’s largest stock broker and one of the most respected names on Wall Street; and Jeff Skilling, the CEO of Enron, the architect of the biggest fraud in U.S. history. Skilling’s crimes of energy terrorism are well documented, including his being responsible for the near downfall of California and the real downfall of its then governor Grey Davis. Is Skilling responsible for the current mess? Well, he did help create the model and set the standard for destroying the retirement savings of many people. So, even if he isn’t directly responsible, it’s only because he’s already in jail.