Half a Loaf or Half a Baby?

Posted on Jul 11, 2011 | 2 Comments

Given how many of our readers, in responding to our Friday post, clearly believe that “government matters,” we decided to return to the subject consuming the nation’s capital: the federal debt ceiling.

As the United States nears the deadline to raise the limit on our national debt, President Barack Obama has repeatedly been calling for compromise. Precisely because “Republicans and Democrats don’t see eye to eye on a number of issues,” Obama has said, the two parties must “step outside their comfort zones and make some political sacrifices.”

Peter Drucker believed in the necessity—and inevitability—of compromise. But he also stressed the importance of keeping it in perspective. “With strategy, one always makes compromises on implementation,” he wrote“But one does not compromise on goals, does not pussy-foot around them, does not try to serve two masters.”

Indeed, “because a compromise is always necessary in the end,” you have to know what your most important aims and real limits are. “If what will satisfy the boundary conditions is not known,” Drucker warned in a Harvard Business Review article, “the decision maker cannot distinguish between the right compromise and the wrong compromise—and may end up making the wrong compromise.”

In fact, sometimes making traditional compromises is worse than making no deal at all. “The effective executive knows that there are two different kinds of compromise,” Drucker explained. “One is expressed in the old proverb, ‘Half a loaf is better than no bread.’ The other, in the story of the judgment of Solomon, is clearly based on the realization that ‘half a baby is worse than no baby at all.’”

For politicians, who immediately tend to think in terms of political feasibility, compromise requires particularly ginger handling. Drucker cautioned, “The decision maker gains nothing by starting out with the question, ‘What is acceptable?’ For in the process of answering it, he or she usually give away the important things and loses any chance to come up with an effective—let alone the right—answer.”

What do you think: In the current debt-limit negotiations in Washington, who among the major players has the right approach to compromise? 


  1. Arjun Chandrasekhar
    July 17, 2011

    Universally there is a problem of governance and politics coming together. There is a disconnect between the priorities of the two. I agree with Peter about the futility of politics. Unfortunately, politics or a variation of politics is the only method of selecting a leader and therefore a government to govern the country.

    Till an effective method of identifying, installing and retaining a government is found, governments will be a hostage of the political process. How do we make sure the best people are running the country. We never compromise until we get the best people to do a job / task in a corporate but that does not seem to be the case when we select a leader to run the country. What is the difference – it is in the process of selecting the leader.

    Even a democratic process (considered the highest form of a political process – government of the people, by the people, for the people) of identifying, installing and retaining a government has problems because it gives the right to pass judgement, to people (population) who are not qualified to do so.

    The majority of the population of a nation does know what is required in the good governance of a nation. The majority, knows even less who will be the best leader suited for the nation at a particular point in time. Governance is not not about keeping people happy all the time because people could be happy doing the wrong things. Larger, long term issues are at stake which a good government must understand well and take control of.

    The universal law of; the people of the country getting the leader and therefore the government they deserve will apply always. In having a good government is place, a lot has to do with the maturity of the society in that nation.

  2. Rosecityjp
    July 25, 2011

    What a JERK! So you think we are to DUMB to participate in our govrnment. Wow !! Just for your information it does not take a rocket scientist to know YOU CAN NOT SPEND MORE THAN YOU MAKE!! Yes there is alot of negative BS being thrown around to make it seem ever so confusing. But it is really so simply. BALANCE YOUR BUDGET!! And another thing WE THE PEOPLE would be much more equiped to make decisions if we had TRANSPARENCY !! We need to be able to see everything that OUR MONEY is being used for. This is why there is such a fight going on about this debt ceiling. Its MUCH MUCH MORE THAN THE DEBT CEILING. It is about keeping OUR COUNTRY!! We do not want one person to make all the decisions in our country that is why it is called a DEMOCRACY!!!!!!


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