Saturday, June 18, 2011

Should Government be Run as a Business?

Some people think that if government were run more like a business that would be a good thing. One strong advocate of that idea was Ross Perot, who despite having no political experience, became a serious contender in the 1992 presidential race. In fact, he had a slight lead in the polls over Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush before withdrawing from the race. Although Perot reentered the race, that temperamental blunder and his dubious choice of a running mate, doomed his chances. Even so he took 20% of the vote as a candidate on the short lived Reform Party.

Perot’s popularity was fueled by a discontent with the two parties on the part of many Americans who held a low opinion of politicians and politics as usual. This feeling was further fueled by Ralph Nader who made the absurd claim that there was little real difference between Republicans and Democrats, even though the two parties were miles apart on most issues. There was this idea that someone like Perot who was highly successful in the business world and independent of both parties could roll up his sleeves and fix the ills of government the way a mechanic could fix a car. That you could simply apply the same methods used in the company board room and use them in cabinet meetings and dealings with foreign countries. It was an appealing notion that difficult problems could be solved by resolutely attacking them head on.

Donald Trump briefly used this same appeal to tap into the anger of Tea Party voters who know little of history and have a distorted view of what the real political problems are. Arnold Schwartzenegger also had this aura of the successful outsider who could come in and make government work because he had great success both as a body builder and as an actor. Did voters think that if you have a record of success that running a government is somehow not all that different?

More recently, in California you had Ebay CEO, Meg Whitman trying to convince voters that her corporate experience was more valuable than Jerry Brown’s long record in politics; including having prior success in the office he was running for. And there was Carly Fiorino who had less than a sparking resume as CEO of Hewlett-Packard trying to convince voters that despite outsourcing thousands of American jobs to other countries she knew just how to create all sorts of good jobs here in California.
Maybe if we look into the past at all of the great American Presidents who were also successful businessmen we could get a better appreciation of how these business world skills can transfer over into good government. So, I did a little research on Wikipedia and this is what I found. Out of the 44 American Presidents 26 were listed as lawyers, 10 had served in the military, 5 were farmers and 5 were teachers and 4 had prior business experience. Some were lawyers who had also served in the military and Thomas Jefferson was listed as writer, inventor, lawyer, architect, farmer and plantation owner. The only two presidents who are listed primarily as businessmen are George Bush senior and George W. Bush, who were both in the oil business. Both were born into wealth and neither built a successful business from the ground up. The other two are Harry Truman who was a farmer and modestly successful haberdasher. Calvin Coolidge was a lawyer who was also a bank president. Coolidge took the position that the government would run just fine by itself if he went off to his farm. This may explain why his successor, Herbert Hoover, an engineer and investor, inherited a disaster called the Great Depression. One major advantage Franklin D. Roosevelt had over Barack Obama in a similar position was that he didn’t have a Republican minority blocking every attempt at improving the economy by excessive use of the filibuster.

Now I’m not saying that someone who has been a big success in the business world couldn’t be a good President, but it hasn’t happened yet. My main argument here is that government should not be run like a business. It should be run efficiently and effectively, and cut waste and fraud, but the goal is not to make as much money as possible. It is not to grow the company and sell a service or product. Government should be run for the purpose of providing a better life for all its citizens, to provide opportunity and justice for all. It should protect its people from foreign threats and be a democratic example for others to follow. None of these things have anything inherently to do with running a business for profit.

Here is where I believe the philosophical difference stands. Ever since Ronald Reagan, the NeoCons, who have now become the mainstream of the Republican Party, have acted as though the government should be run for the benefit of business. That means outsourcing jobs, salaried positions where employees work 65 hours a week and get paid for 40, breaking unions, eliminating regulations for big business, maintaining a military far beyond our means and rigging the tax code in favor of the very rich and the corporations and privatizing schools, prisons, health care, social security and everything else they can take control of and make a dollar on.

it’s the Democrat’s job to expose their true agenda and stop them.

David Silva


Anonymous said...

Ray Irani, CEO of Occidental Petroleum, and one of the wealthiest men in the world said, "We are not in business to employ people. We're in business to make a profit."

Jobs support the many; profits accrue to the few.

I wish someone would tell me how that translates to running a nation of 310 million.

Maybe it would work if the only criterion were, "Can this candidate make 3.1 million people rich beyond their dreams even if it is at the expense of everyone else?"

Good essay! Thanks

Sandy Cook

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