Politicians as Ministers

Paul Krugman mentions, with regard to the UK election, that “there’s a personal rejection of Gordon Brown; I actually admire him as a policymaker and have liked him in person, but he’s not a natural politician.”

This is a very interesting contrast between the US and many foreign political systems. In the United States it’s conventional for a cabinet to be a mix of technocrats and politicians, with the Treasury Department typically the agency that’s least likely to get a politician. But in any country, the equivalent of the Treasury gig (normally called Finance Minister) is one of the most important jobs out there. And the dynamic of these things abroad is that you often become party leader in virtue of having previously held an important job, often as finance minister. So you end up with a series of situations in which a party ends up being led in a general election fight by a distinctly uncharismatic finance minister—Brown in the UK, Paul Martin in Canada, Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Germany, etc. And if you think those guys were bad at politics, just imagine Larry Summers leading a political party in an election campaign.