Saturday, July 9, 2016

Governments are not Businesses

Every day we get to suffer as we watch the political back-and-forth. During election season it just gets worse. In this week's version of the game...

Hillary stands in front of (the former) Trump Casino and criticizes Trump's bankruptcy, saying "he'll do the same thing to America"...i.e., default on debts and screw over the working class.

She's right, but in a way which is much more complicated than the simple optics of the campaign stop.

The Donald retorts that "This is what many elite businessmen do", suggesting that it shows how clever he is, and what a good businessman he is.

He's right, depending on how you define "good businessman". He clearly means the businessman who is able to acquire the most value for himself and his investors. Isn't that an irony? The working man's hero is the guy perfectly willing to screw the common man.

At its heart, this points to one of the biggest problems with a Trump candidacy (or heaven help us, presidency). Because here's the thing.....

Governments are not businesses. And anyone who thinks governments should be run like businesses has no place being a public servant. There are some practices which are of value to both:

  • Don't be wasteful. That's a value which has a place in the Pentagon and at Ford Motor Company.
  • Build employee loyalty/morale. It's always easier to keep an employee, than hire a new one. This is true whether you are in the Department of Education or Google, Inc.
  • Give great customer service. This is how you build brand loyalty whether you are Delta or Amtrak. (For irony's sake I was going to use Comcast as my example, but I didn't want to lose you here).

The difference is in what the GOAL of those practices are.

In the corporate world, the goal is to improve the bottom line. Your company may have great values and do great things for the community. In order to do that the company has to have a healthy bottom line.

In the world of government the reason is to not waste taxpayer money so that you can provide the services which a government is supposed to provide for its citizens.

We can argue about what constitutes the services a government provides. Does protecting our citizens include an invasion of Vietnam? Do we provide health care for everyone? Should we spend $400 billion on the F-35? These are all valid policy questions. But none of them are remotely like the policy questions of "running a business".

This is also a big reason why privatizing the valid responsibilities of government is always a bad idea. If your business is educating children you will probably have a nice mission statement about education. But your function is to make money. The mission and function are at odds. As a society we agree on the necessity of an educated populace. And while we want to do that in an economically responsible way, the point is not to make money. The point is to make educated children.

This is also why we should spend billions on infrastructure. Having a great infrastructure keeps our country economically (and yes, militarily) strong. When we spend money on good roads, businesses do better, citizens do better, and we have the added benefit of pumping money into the economy in a way which helps the middle class. We build roads, airports, train stations, bus rapid transit, locks, and levees for the greater good...not to enrich a specific company or person.

To bring it back to Mr. Trump, declaring bankruptcy to restructure debt may, indeed, make him a good businessman. But his ability to enrich himself and his investors has little-to-no relevance to the ability to run the the Executive Branch of the United States of America. In fact, it argues against him.

The refrain is a common one, "Hire me as your [governor, president, senator] because I know business, and we need a businessman running [this state, this country, this congress]". Here in Michigan we see what an abject failure that has been with Rick Snyder. His government-as-business have decimated social programs. His policies are destroying our schools and our infrastructure (just ask the residents of Flint).

Strip away Trump's business successes and you are left with a narcissist with no real understanding of our constitution. You are left with demagoguery of the worst form, playing on our weaknesses of racism, xeonphobia, and islamophobia. I want a leader who encourages what makes us strongest as a nation, celebrating our diversity, and welcoming the world's tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free.

By the way, for my blog on immigration: