Politics as an Escape Hatch

Reading these news articles that slam more and more nails into the already-dead reputation of Hewlett Packard executive Meg Whitman, I keep thinking: what if she’d won her election a couple years ago and was now governor or senator or whatever she was running for? Then nobody would care that her company was falling apart!

Conversely, when Jon Corzine lost his reelection and reentered the business world, he left himself open to charges of acts of corruption that wouldn’t have been possible in congress or from the governor’s office.

But sometimes the immunity can go the other way. Jack Welch still has the street-cred to write Wall Street Journal editorials despite his history of data manipulation, but it’s hard to imagine he could be elected to public office, even if he wanted to. For another example, Al Sharpton was caught out on his lies in a well-publicized court case but that does not stop him from being bankrolled as a quasi-public figure.

Big names in politics and business get away with so much that it’s notable when the magic dries up and their statements get taken with the same skepticism as would be applied, for example, to leaders of foreign countries that are not our allies.

I have no systematic thoughts on this right now but it seems worthy of study.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

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Andrew Gelman

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.