Facebook’s Zuckerberg hints at politics move

Brothers in arms: Zuckerberg meets President Obama in 2011. © PA

Mark Zuckerberg has made a fortune at social media giant Facebook. Now his new year’s resolution suggests he may follow Donald Trump from business to politics. Do CEOs make good presidents?

He is worth more than $56bn. The platform he invented has almost 1.8 billion members. He has created a foundation which plans, among other things, to ‘cure all disease’.

Facebook chairman Mark Zuckerberg has achieved far more than most 32-year-olds. Now, it seems, he is preparing to move into politics.

As the new year dawned, Zuckerberg announced he had made a resolution to travel to all 50 US states to talk to people. In a Facebook post, he said he would undertake road trips with his wife, host people at Facebook offices, meet teachers and scientists, and stop in small towns and universities.

Zuckerberg linked his decision to the divisive 2016 election. ‘After a tumultuous last year, my hope is to get out and talk to more people about how they’re living, working and thinking about the future,’ he wrote.

It is the latest evidence that he plans a political career. Last month court filings revealed he had discussed the idea with two Facebook board members. And on Christmas Day he declared he was no longer an atheist, neutralising a potential political liability.

He would become one of a string of business leaders to move into politics. Donald Trump was a lifelong tycoon before he ran for president. The Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, was CEO of a global investment firm before entering politics.

Most US presidents have been lawyers or career politicians. But the first president, George Washington, was an entrepreneur. Others, such as Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding and Harry Truman, have run companies, with varying levels of success; the 1920s economic boom saw three consecutive presidents with a business background.

Business figures such as Richard Branson and Karren Brady played an important part in the UK’s EU referendum last year. And amid public hostility towards traditional politicians in Europe and the USA — most spectacularly shown by Trump’s win — voters may consider business leaders an attractive alternative. So would Zuckerberg be making a wise move?

Face it

Yes, say supporters. Business provides a great initiation into the realities of human behaviour. Successful bosses must understand a fast-changing world and come up with products people will spend their money on. Career politicians have failed to prevent crisis after crisis: why not replace them with high-flyers from outside the bubble?

Bad idea, others respond. Politicians must work within democratic systems, whereas business leaders can be autocratic and insulated from ordinary people’s problems. Zuckerberg gets his own way at Facebook; as president, he would have to compromise and answer to the people. He would be unprepared for the messy business of politics.

You Decide

  1. Would you vote for Mark Zuckerberg?
  2. Should business leaders go into politics?

Activities

  1. Your country is advertising for a president or prime minister in a national newspaper. Write a short advert describing the qualities and experience you think are required.
  2. Think of a successful person in a field that interests you. Would they make a good political leader? Prepare a short talk to your class explaining what advantages and disadvantages their background would give them.

Some People Say...

“Leave politics to the professionals.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Will I even notice if this multi-billionaire decides to change his career?
Politicians have the power to raise or lower taxes and spending; to set policies which change the nature of our societies; and to decide how to relate to other countries. And the USA — where Zuckerberg would run for office — is the most powerful country in the world. So Zuckerberg could have an important impact on both you and the world around you.
But does his background really matter?
Other things, like his views and personality, would also matter. But people’s background has an impact on their worldview. Zuckerberg’s own political positions are not entirely clear — but he could, for example, be expected to have a positive view of the new technology and capitalist system which he has benefited from.

Word Watch

$56bn
According to Forbes, Zuckerberg’s estimated net worth in 2016 was $56.6bn (£46bn).
50
Zuckerberg has already visited about 20 of them.
Liability
Last year, 51% of Americans told Pew they would be less likely to support an atheist for president than someone religious. Just 6% said the opposite.
Tycoon
Trump inherited a large amount of money and ran numerous businesses. Successful examples include towers he renovated and a hotel he owned; his failures include Trump Vodka, Trump Airlines and Trump University.
Most
Many (21 of the 44 US presidents to date) were both. Eight presidents were generals; others included engineers, professionals and an actor.
Varying
Johnson (president 1865–69) ran a thriving tailoring business; Harding (1921–23) a strong newspaper outfit. But Truman did so poorly in business that he went into public service to make ends meet.
Three
Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover oversaw the ‘roaring twenties’. However, in 1929 — the first year of Hoover’s presidency — the Wall Street crash occurred, plunging the world into the Great Depression.

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