Sunday, July 10, 2011

What is the ‘business’ of our government?

Previously published in the terre Haute Tribune Star

Does the federal government need to be run like a business or by businessmen? According to a CBS News Poll (May 20-23, 2011) 75 percent of respondents said “large corporations” have too much influence on American life and politics today. “Business” is the most common occupation of members of Congress followed by lawyer (corporate lawyers?). Today, former occupation seems less meaningful than party label in working together and finding common ground.

This isn’t the first time that the business model has been held out as the solution to our frustration with the political process. The debate over running government more like a business or by business owners/managers usually centers on the differences in what government does and what businesses do. One thing seems clear, when it comes to debt, government, business, and families, are piling it on and on and on. The national debt might be over $14 trillion, but total individual, corporate and government debt is hovering around $57 trillion (Grand


Our love affair with debt began in the early 1980s.

Nevertheless, serious people running for president hold up the business model as the solution to our various political, economic and social problems.

What is the goal or mission of the U.S. government? The preamble to the Constitution is the mission statement: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Compare that to Ford Motor Co.’s: “We are a global family with a proud heritage passionately committed to providing personal mobility for people around the world.” Lest we forget what the bottom line of business is, I appreciate Dean Food’s no-nonsense mission statement: “The Company’s primary objective is to maximize long-term stockholder value, while adhering to the laws of the jurisdictions in which it operates and at all times observing the highest ethical standards.”

Manufacturing and selling cars at a profit is a more focused and arguably an easier goal to accomplish than perfecting the Union, establishing justice, insuring tranquility, providing for the common defense … you get the point.

The CEO of Ford can fire employees who don’t contribute to achieving the company’s mission. The U.S. president can’t fire Congress or the Supreme Court. We can argue whether the services government provides could be better provided by private enterprise, but an alternative to the current government requires a revolution.

A business owner can borrow money to expand or to invest in new technology to raise productivity. If the investment fails, the owner might be out of business. The U.S. president can borrow, too, but government can’t really go out of business although the president may be voted out of office. A business can try to change its customers by changing the mix of product or services. The president serves all citizens (or is supposed to). And while some in government seem to treat “the people” like employees, no matter how much a president might want to, citizens can’t be fired. CEO’s usually don’t tolerate employees working against them. U.S. presidents have no choice.

In many ways, clergy might have a better occupational skill set for being president than business executives, lawyers, physicians or school teachers (all former occupations of current members of Congress). Clergy head up voluntary associations with a broad and diverse mission similar to government. Managing and negotiating change in the church is challenging and dealing with factions a common occurrence. Experience organizing people for the “greater good” is an ongoing activity for religious leaders, not unlike what a president is expected to do.

President George W. Bush, the first president with an MBA, was an oil executive and owner of the Texas Rangers. His vice president also was a former CEO and at least six of his cabinet members were former CEOs. How soon we forget.

One interest group every Washington politician “owes” is their political party. Seems the primary goal of the political parties is to gain power and thwart the other side. Too many politicians focus on securing their party’s interests over those of the state, over the people, and over any sense of the common good.
Blog Directory - Blogged The Steiger Counter at Blogged