An interesting piece in USA Today asks, “Will the first MBA president alter the world’s course differently than seven generals, 27 lawyers, a peanut farmer and an actor before him?” The answer comes from an unlikely source:

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, usually quick with a joke, begins an interview about Bush by saying that he wants to be serious. What separates those who supported the war and those who opposed it may seem to be philosophical, Adams says. But it’s more than that and comes down to the way they are trained to analyze data and make decisions.

Those who supported Bush, including many in the business community, are more likely to be trained in risk analysis and can weigh the cost of American lives in a war against, say, a 10% chance that Saddam Hussein would one day have used weapons of mass destruction.

Those more likely to oppose the MBA president, including many Hollywood figures and other artists, don’t see why a single life was worth risking for something that had but a 1-in-10 chance of happening. “The artists would be right 90% of the time,” says Adams, who adds that he is not a Bush supporter and disagrees with most of his positions. “But if you have a portfolio of decisions, Bush’s way is right in the long run.”

A very prescient point, and one that had not occured to me. I find it especially interesting in light of the recent debate Megan sparked over how different disciplines perform analysis. (See here and here.) Clearly, one’s analytical training matters. Come to think of it, this may also partially explain why so many perceive Bush’s intelligence to be much lower than it obviously is: Most politicians are trained as lawyers, which is a very rhetorically-oriented mindset. While many businessmen are good orators, it is not a significant focus of their training.

(Hat tip: Reductio Ad Absurdum)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jen says:

    That is very interesting indeed.

    I knew Bush’s business background was going to be good for something.

    And who needs lawyers? They definitely don’t think right. 😉

  2. Gunther says:

    An interesting argument. But if Bush’s analytical skills were as good as you suggest they are, why did he do so poorly when he was running businesses in the real world?

  3. moogirl says:

    And if Bush is so smart, why can he still not pronounce nu-cle-ar right?

  4. James Joyner says:

    Gunther: I’m not sure Bush did poorly in business. He lost some money in oil wildcatting, but that’s just the nature of that industry. It’s very boom or bust. He was a huge financial success with the Rangers, although it never translated into on-the-field success.

    moogirl: A lot of fairly bright folks mispronounce certain words. I don’t know why so many pronounce nuclear as “nu-cue-ler” but they do. I suspect now he does it to piss the critics off, to be honest.