Artists and Accountants

Since I mentioned running for office, some folks have asked “What the heck do you know about politics?”

Good question.

My answer, “Not much.”

Long ago, after reading The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durrell who spent some years in the British foreign service, I thought such a career might be fun and enlightening, so I took the foreign service exam and to my surprise, passed. The surprise was on account of all the questions about international politics. I paid little attention to that, as my mind was cluttered with other concerns, like what was good, what was real, and how should I live my life.

I was called for an interview and probably failed. Anyway, I never got a job offer.

Since those days, I have noticed that the folks who for the most part run the world are, like the interviewers, far different from me.

David Brooks, a New York Times columnist wrote about the distinction between paragraph people and spread-sheet people, which I will call artists and accountants

Accountants (not necessarily in practice but by nature) run the world. This is true because the world values more than anything the acquisition of money, which is understandable since we all need money to survive. Still, that doesn’t mean the accountants should be in charge. I have known lots of them, and though I’m impressed by their grasp of the practical, I notice that they are often restricted by their reliance on the practical, and largely incapable of thinking not of what is, but of what could be.

Artists (not necessarily practicing but by nature) on the other hand, are likely to be possessed by and devoted to what could be. Generally they are far less spooked by the prospect of change.

So it follows that we need artists to find the way out of dark forests and lead folks to a yellow brick road.

With the above in mind, I am considering politics as a way to promote ideas and principles. Deciphering how to make the ideas work in the visible world will no doubt require help from accountants.

I would love to see a world run by artists, by dreamers who are humble enough to hire accountants to assist with the practical side of things.

I heard that President Harry Truman favored a certain plan and an associate asked “What if it doesn’t work?”

Truman said, “Well for Christ’s sake, then we try something else.”

Apparently Truman thought like an artist.



  1. Fascinating dissertation. Just one question: When he says for Christ’s sake, it seems like he’s taking the Lord’s name in vain.

    1. That could be, or not, depending upon how he meant it. Anyway, people say stuff like that. If someone does, should we react to their words, or to what they are trying to express. By the way, you might like to read M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled, in which he expressed some opinions about what taking the Lord’s name in vain means.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *