Giving Government the Business
Sunday, August 29th, 2010
It’s the season for campaign vows. In this week’s Centre Square commentary, Chris Satullo dissects a frequent political pledge that may be less impressive than it sounds.
It’s election time, and the economy is stumbling around like a drunk trying to find his way home.
Yet the hills are alive with the sound of a common cliché: “I pledge to run government more like a business.”
Democrats use this line. So do Republicans. Then they pause for an ovation.
This is a wonderment. On two counts.
The first is exemplified by a candidate for Florida governor who makes this pledge frequently. Before he was fired, the health care company where he was CEO paid a fine of $1.7 billion for defrauding Medicare and Medicaid. In others words, he cheated the very government he now vows to make run like a Ferrari.
These days, you’d think the “run government like a business line” would spur more guffaws than applause. Look at the corrupt, inept, damaging run our corporate titans have had. Enron. GM. Lehman Brothers. I could go on, but time is wasting.
Now, don’t mistake me for some anti-business Michael Moore. America is full of entrepreneurs who risk their all to build a better mouse pad. I admire them.
But “business” is a catchall, just like “government.’ Each comes in multiple flavors; some are agile and admirable, others bumbling or conniving.
That’s point one. Here’s point two.
Saying you want to run government more like a business is like saying you want to run your toaster oven more like a vacuum cleaner. The two appliances have a few similarities – they have electric cords- but they operate differently, to different ends.
Business exists to make a profit, for the benefit of a limited group of owners. It serves customers only so far as doing that furthers its primary goal.
Government’s goal is to break even, while promoting the public good . And in government, your shareholders – the voters – are the same people as your customers. That makes it a lot harder to please the boss by cutting costs.
Plus, thanks to checks and balances, a government CEO has less leeway to call the shots. Running government is in fact a harder gig. That’s why for every successful Mike Bloomberg, there are several floundering Jon Corzines.
And that’s why candidates who tell me they’ll run business more like a government lose my vote.
They don’t understand the job they’re applying for.