The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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If Henson were a journalist, he’d be fired

This article is in response to George Henson’s article “If Bush were a CEO, he’d be fired,” published in The Daily Campus on Feb. 28.

First, on a rhetorical note, Henson commits an ad hominem fallacy in his opening line: “For years, I’ve been trying to convince diehard Bush fans (the 30 percent that still think he’s the best thing since twist-off beer caps) that he’s the worst president in history.” In insinuating that all those who support President Bush are beer-swilling rednecks, he attempts to discredit the president by attacking those who support him. This clearly falls under the category of ad hominem attacks; Person A (in this instance, a “Bush fan”) makes claim X (that President Bush is a good president). Person B (Henson) attacks the character of Person A, in an attempt to discredit claim X. Classic example of a logical fallacy.

As a business major, I applaud Henson’s cross-field method of using strategic business benchmarks to measure performance. To be sure, there are many business principles, objectives and measures that lend themselves well to various other applications in decision-making processes.

However, there are two flaws in the analysis of President Bush’s performance. To extricate these, we must first analyze the goals of the two offices in question, and second, how the performance of a CEO and a nation’s leader are quantified.

The purpose of a business can be simply stated. (The following definition may face opposition from those who subscribe to an extreme view of corporate social responsibility, but that is another article.) Business ventures exist to generate profit. Every action, strategic or tactical, undertaken in a business is, theoretically, to improve the bottom line. Businesses are formed as money-making enterprises, no more, no less.

The purpose of a state, however, is much disputed. One view is that of the state as a disinterested arbiter between two parties as described by English political philosopher John Locke in his “Second Treatise on Government.”

Yet this definition is unsatisfactory, as the modern state plays many roles other than arbiter, all of which could be correctly said to be its “role.” The state often acts in loco parentis in cases such as juvenile court, or in a more general sense, when it provides welfare. The state also acts as an agent of monetary redistribution, collecting taxes and dispersing the monies to various projects within its scope. Any one of these could be said to be the state’s role; even more plausibly, all of them are.

This leads us to the first problem with Henson’s approach: You cannot use the same guidelines for measuring two things with separate purposes. If one attempts to do so anyway, the unsatisfying result is of no consequence and is likely so general as to be useless.

The metrics of performance can be objective, subjective or sometimes a curious mix of both. Henson’s approach to assessing the president’s performance employs an objective scale with subjective criteria; that is, there is a definite and concrete scale, but where an actor falls on that scale is subjective. Subjectivity in and of itself is no bad thing if it is applied universally to all subjects without bias. Thus, if the judging of the performances of a president and a CEO were both completely subjective, and the same person were doing the considering and was free of bias, then he could pass decision on which had performed better.

But measuring how well a CEO has dispatched his duties is no subjective thing. These executives’ success is determined almost entirely by the company’s stock price. Indeed, Henson himself acknowledges as much: “…former CEO Robert L. Nardelli [was] forc[ed] to resign for failing to turn around the company’s poor stock performance.”

Companies (and Wall Street) have clear criteria for judging how well CEOs are executing their offices. No such criteria exist for judging government officials or government policy as a whole. To be sure, I could say that this is the best government because it fits criteria A, B and C, which I believe are the criteria for deciding which government is best. Another person could say this government is the worst because it doesn’t fit criteria D, E and F, their personal criteria for what constitutes “the best.” It is impossible to measure, using the same metric set, the relative performance of a CEO and the leader of a nation.

Judgment, whether good or ill, obviously needs to be passed on various elements, including our nation’s leader. But let’s refrain from using fallacious methods and arguments to do so as a favor to ourselves, our readers and those we are judging.

About the writer:

John Jose is a first-year finance, economics and international studies major. He can be reached at [email protected].

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