OFF THE GRID

How to Make it Big in Washington, Inc.

Mar 25, 09 | 8:44 AM   byMichael Wolff
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I asked a man of considerable business stature (there are still some) what he would become if he was getting out of business school this year. He smiled and said: “A crooked bureaucrat.”

It’s surely within the bureaucracy, or by virtue of knowing how to handle the bureaucracy, that the great business opportunities now lie.

Every day, it becomes more and more apparent that the fundamental Obama approach to the crisis is to take over as much of the business sector as it possibly can. This is not necessarily a liberal power grab as it is an absolute dearth of other ideas: Just get these businesses away from the stupids who messed them up.

Treasury secretary Geithner, in part to distract everybody from his role in the AIG bonus mess, asked Congress yesterday for vastly expanded powers to take over failing enterprises in order to “wind them down.” This is on top, of course, of the powers the government has already ended up with as it has bailed out flattened institution after institution, and the mountain of assets it has come to control.

This is going to be an incredible bonanza for somebody—perhaps for a whole generation of the astute and shifty.


(AP Image)
 

“We need to give somebody, somewhere in the federal government the power” to put failing giants “out of their misery,” said congressman Barney Frank, from the depth of his deep management experience, at yesterday’s hearings.

But, more realistically, the process of winding down or putting giants out of their misery becomes, in bureaucratic custom and ways, the creation of vast new subsidized, overregulated, public-private, bureaucracies. The bureaucracy won’t so much wind down businesses as, naturally, create new bureaucracies. Imagine a Pentagon of business—the greatest collection of state owned or controlled assets since the creation of the military industrial complex. This is not just a phase or temporary fix, it’s a whole new culture. It’s not just a shift in control, but the most profound turn in business ethos and management personality, managing a change of equal breadth in institutional and individual profit-making strategies, since the vast deregulation of the 1980s. It’s a new country—and a new opportunity.

Hello, Milo Minderbinder. Joseph Heller’s character in Catch-22 is the mess officer who expands his operation into a great syndicate operating inside the US Army, which comes to control the army. Milo was meant to be a satirical portrait on the amorality of capitalism, but will shortly be a better satire on non-capitalism—on the bacchanal that happens when building power bases is more important than making money.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com

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