At least that’s the impression one gets from the campaign being waged against the possible appointment of Mr. Biden’s co-transition chair, Jeffrey D. Zients, a former top official of the Obama White House, who made a fortune in business consulting before his stint in government and later went on to lead a private equity firm. That impression is strong because the bill of particulars against Mr. Zients is so weak — basically, alleged anti-consumer conduct by companies in which his firm has invested, coupled with the accusation that in government he was unduly fiscally conservative and acted as a bridge between the business community and the Obama administration. He stands accused of being, in the words of a progressive organization, the Revolving Door Project, “a management consultant for the executive branch: cutting costs, finding efficiencies and looking at things like a businessman.” We’re struggling to understand what’s wrong with pursuing worthy objectives in the most cost-effective manner.
Actually, during his eight years working for a federal paycheck, Mr. Zients earned a reputation for working in a low-key but effective manner, including on causes progressives backed, such as stronger regulation of investment managers. But our purpose here is not so much to stand up for Mr. Zients or any other individual as it is to stand against a simplistic anti-business mentality.
Unquestionably, the “revolving door” that links corporate lobbying, Congress and the executive branch is part of what’s wrong with Washington, and it should be curbed through vigorous enforcement of disclosure and conflict-of-interest law. For all their excesses and abuses, though, corporations create useful products and jobs, and there is a long and healthy American tradition by which business leaders have put their expertise at the service of the public sector. Admittedly, businessman Donald Trump’s cartoonishly inept performance as president hardly vindicates that tradition. As we read the results of the 2020 election, however, the voters provided a mandate for reforming capitalism, not demonizing it, and certainly not overthrowing it.
In forming his team, Mr. Biden can and should draw on the private sector’s leadership ranks. If anything, he ought to cast his net wider, beyond the Democratic-leaning parts of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Leaders in manufacturing, transportation and commerce often have the most informed perspective on how the “real economy” operates. Mr. Biden needs to resist ideological pressure to exclude people with business backgrounds, and think instead about how he can maximize input from people with relevant experience in every sense of the term.