Big Heros Don’t Solve Small Problems

Back when I was in commerce we’d watch a young executive making a play for relevance and import and say, “Big heros don’t solve small problems.” It’s a version of the old “make a mountain out of a mole hill” idea, but much more dangerous if you let it get out of hand.

On April 3  Eamon Javers at Politico reported on Obama’s meeting with the nation’s finance executives (Inside Obama’s bank CEOs meeting) One could call it a staff meeting since everyone in the room now works for Obama.

The description of the meeting went…

“Dimon (JPMC CEO Jamie Dimon) also insisted that he’d like to give the government’s TARP money back as soon as practical, and asked the president to “streamline” that process. But Obama didn’t like that idea — arguing that the system still needs government capital. The president offered an analogy: “This is like a patient who’s on antibiotics,” he said. “Maybe the patient starts feeling better after a couple of days, but you don’t stop taking the medicine until you’ve finished the bottle.” Returning the money too early, the president argued could send a bad signal. Several CEOs disagreed, arguing instead that returning TARP money was their patriotic duty, that they didn’t need it anymore, and that publicity surrounding the return would send a positive signal of confidence to the markets.”

But you see all this isn’t about confidence in the economy, is it? The government has its hooks in the banks now and it is not going to let go. They control vast swaths of the American economy, hire and fire executives, (Wagoner was fired by Obama senior advisor Steven Rattner the same day) There is no way they are going to give that up.

I’m reminded of that idea about big heros only solving big problems. The scary second approbation we used to say was, “Every small problem can be made into a big one.”

Obama is a very young and inexperienced president. His future is ahead of him, not behind him – as would be true of a more seasoned leader. He needs to solve really big problems. He certainly does not want this juicy one to get away, or be solved too quickly.

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