George McGovern: Why Presidential Candidates Should Have a Business Background

Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of of, has written an excellent tribute to George McGovern on Bloomberg View.  Gillespie explains McGovern’s libertarian approach to foreign policy interventions but what interested me most was his explanation of McGovern’s evolution on domestic policy, especially regulatory overkill.  After leaving politics Senator McGovern became a small business owner – the proprietor of a Connecticut inn.  In a June 1, 1992 opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal entitled “A Politician’s Dream is a Businessman’s Nightmare” McGovern described how a “severe” recession and government regulations at the federal, state and local levels crippled his small business.  McGovern’s editorial also revealed his belief that a prior background in business is helpful for a presidential candidate:

I also wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender.

McGovern explained that politicians with no background in business have a naive view that regulations either impose no costs on businesses or that these costs can easily be shifted to customers or workers.  In the editorial he wrote:

the concept that most often eludes legislators is: `Can we make consumers pay the higher prices for the increased operating costs that accompany public regulation and government reporting requirements with reams of red tape.’  It is a simple concern that is nonetheless often ignored by legislators.

It is also revealing that perhaps the most liberal Democratic presidential candidate in history was hopeful that the Democratic party of 1992 was headed in a different direction – a direction to encourage business formation and capital investment:

Today we are much closer to a general acknowledgment that government must encourage business to expand and grow. Bill Clinton, Paul Tsongas, Bob Kerrey and others have, I believe, changed the debate of our party. We intuitively know that to create job opportunities we need entrepreneurs who will risk their capital against an expected payoff. Too often, however, public policy does not consider whether we are choking off those opportunities.

These words of wisdom from a great American and liberal icon are as important today as when Senator McGovern wrote them 20 years ago.

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