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You can’t run the United States like a business, former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker says

Pritzker says the Trump administration’s message on trade has been “threatening and vitriolic,” not to mention inconsistent.

Donald Trump promoting “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2015 Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images

Before and after she served as President Obama’s Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker was a businesswoman, most recently founding PSP Partners. And she’d be the first to tell you — or, if he asked, President Trump — that serving in government requires a completely different mindset.

“Unlike running a business, you can’t just decide what you’re going to do,” Pritzker said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “It’s a democracy, and a democracy means you have to bring other people along.”

Pritzker is the co-author of a new Council on Foreign Relations report, “The Work Ahead,” about how American political leaders can rethink education, training and how the workers of the future will collaborate with machines. But she’s also keeping an eye on America’s international trade policies — or trying to, anyway.

“What are the rules now? Nobody seems to know,” Pritzker said of the Trump administration’s shifting proclamations on trade. “I don’t understand the strategy, I can’t make sense of it. It seems to be that the positioning changes day to day.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Pritzker explained why the “threatening and vitriolic” tone of some of America’s current policymakers is about more than politics. She critiqued the idea that abruptly canceling an agreement like the Trans-Pacific Partnership will do the U.S. any favors with peers like China.

“Our experience with China is you have to have a very steady, long-term hand and you have to be consistent to make breakthroughs,” she said.

And potentially alienating foreign partners isn’t helpful at a time when “seismic forces” are disrupting work at home, Pritzker added. Rather than the “chaos” of the past year, citizens need a government that can be pragmatic about where the job opportunities of the future are — for example, whether everyone should be learning to code now.

“I’m not going to argue against coding,” Pritzker said. “I think you have to understand what is coding, what is artificial intelligence, how do I work side by side with machines? We all work with some sort of iPad or phone or computer — everything is technology today, every job. We have to be trained so that we can do that proficiently, and not be somebody who’s constantly saying, ‘Help, help, I can’t get this done!’”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • On Too Embarrassed to Ask, also hosted by Kara Swisher, we answer the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.

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