Review: The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

6 Star Top 10%, Best Practices in Management, Budget Process & Politics, Complexity & Catastrophe, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Information Operations, Politics, Priorities, Public Administration, Water, Energy, Oil, Scarcity
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Michael Lewis

6 Stars Presidential Transitions Matter and President Trump Blew It — With Follow-on Consequences

Although I am a huge fan of President Trump — I wrote the first article on how he could win (“Counter-Coup: How Trump Can Win,” CounterPunch, 14 August 2018) and went on to write the 30 piece Trump Revolution Series, I also believe in learning from the mistakes of others — this book has a great deal to offer the next President.

Early on in the book we learn that then candidate Trump did not want a presidential transition team and refused to assign campaign funds for it. When he was persuaded by Chris Christie that he needed one and Christie offered to raise funds separately, Trump assented, only to blow a fuse when he learned Christie had raised $9 million.

QUOTE (21): “Trump was apoplectic, actually yelling, You're stealing my money! You're stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?

The book offers one capstone understanding and five insights that every presidential candidate should take deeply to heart:

CAPSTONE: The US Government (USG) is the most powerful, expensive, complicated collection of capabilities  on the planet, with persistent connections to all state and local communities as well as to global communities. Mistakes (e.g. in cutting funding that provides for clean water in impoverished rural areas) impact on millions for decades.


1. Transitions matter. Do not waste a single second from the date of election to the date of inauguration.

2. People matter. Not only is it vital to understand and respect the professionals — the civil servants — who manage hundreds of billions of dollars while earning a salary roughly equivalent to that of an assistant to the CEO of a Wall Street company (i.e. they are not paid in relation to their responsibility and impact) — but it is essential to select deeply qualified serious people as political appointees, and not assume that a village idiot blindly loyal to the President will do.

3. Data matters.  The USG is the single greatest repository of data in the world — data that is not being properly integrated, harvested, or leveraged to do the good that it could. I am deeply impressed by this aspect of the book, which is rooted in long conversations between the author of DJ Patil, the Republic's first chief data officer.

4. Innovation matters. The author does a superb job of showing the degree to which innovation comes from the USG funding a vast range of pilot projects in areas where industry is not willing to spend the time and money and human capital.

5. Money matters.  While I am among those who have documented the waste that characterizes the USG (an average of 50% with the Department of Defense and the Department of Housing and Urban Development being the worst offenders) the author does a fine job of demonstrating that ideologically-rooted cuts in the budget have human consequences that are clearly not understood by the political appointees and the President they serve. I am especially impressed as the author explores cuts at Agriculture, Commerce, and Energy that place the public at risk and weaken the heartland — the small communities across the country that rely on the federal government for clean water and other essentials.

Not clear in this book is why the federal government is doing things for local communities that should be done by the state.

Not in this book is an index — a serious mistake by the publisher.

The best thing I can say about this book is that it is essential reading for anyone who aspires to be President, and it is an inspiring book, a motivating book, with respect to the vital importance of a serious professional transition, and the vital importance of much of what the USG does that the commercial world is not willing to do.

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