Treasury Secretary Is No Job for a CEO

Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Jamie Dimon speaks during An Evening With the Fortune 500 at the New York Stock Exchange on May 7, 2012 in New York City

Photograph by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Time.

Neil Irwin has a good piece arguing that Jamie Dimon would be a terrible Treasury Secretary because generally CEOs have a poor record in the position.

That’s quite right and is one of the reasons I’m confident the political instinct to reach for CEO X won’t control Obama and he’ll pick Jack Lew instead. I do have to say, though, that I find it frustrating that we even have to have these conversations. As I’ve written before, nobody ever suggests replacing the CEO of a large company with a successful mayor. People go back and forth between the business and political worlds all the time, which is sometimes great and sometimes a pernicious revolving door, but the key test for likely success in a high-level political job is success in a closely related job. Maybe something subcabinet at Treasury. Maybe one of the other economic policy gigs elsewhere in the government (Lew ran OMB). Maybe you chaired a relevant congressional committee. Either way, you need to have an intimate knowledge of the practical operations of the American government because, as Irwin says, you’re not Economic Policy Dictator. If you want to just mouth off with what you think are smart ideas, you need to get a blog. If you want to change public policy as the Treasury Secretary you have to figure out what tools are at your disposal and how to deploy them.

I would actually say that familiarity with the corporate world is one of the least important qualifications for the job, precisely because CEOs of big firms are easy to identify and have enormous megaphones with which to broadcast their views. You’re not going to somehow go years at a time without ever learning what the CEO of Goldman Sachs thinks about the impact of your choices on his life. You really might go years at a time without hearing from a busboy or a dental hygenist or the manager of a Foot Locker. But no matter who you appoint, the views of Fortune 500 executives are always heard loud and clear.