|Government is Not a Business
Michael G. Sullivan
"When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses."
- Rep. Shirley Chisolm
THERE IS AN IDEA in our land. It is an idea that has been gaining traction since the 1980s, since the Great Communicator convinced so many that the New Deal had been the wrong deal, that the Social Contract was a pact with the Devil, and that welfare queens, homeless vets, and liberals were undermining that which made America great. The idea, simply put, is that Government should be run like a business. It is a stupid idea, but there you have it.
Reagan, a smiley White man in a dark suit, cemented the idea of the president as CEO, legislators as Middle Management, and the citizens as stockholders. He convinced many that, with Government as Business, careful money management and profit would be the rule of the day. Government waste would be a thing of the past! Surely men who put money first would run our country efficiently -- and anyone who said otherwise was a stinky commie! So it came to pass that where once Congress and legislative houses around the country had been filled mainly with Lawyers, whose training had prepared them to draft and interpret laws, "Government as Business" took hold, and these lawmaking bodies became filled with business leaders who had little or no law study or experience. These elected MBAs and jumped up Chamber of Commerce members worked to get "Government off our backs," deregulating everything they could, and managing the wealth of the county, or country, as they would any for-profit corporation.
But here's the thing: democratic governments are structured and function not as corporations, where profit is the bottom line, but as nonprofit organizations, where the providing of services is their sole function.
This is an important difference, and given our last few Administration's mania for privatization and for submitting the wealth of our nation to the whims of the Stock Market, it is important we understand profit and democratic Government are not only incompatible, they are antithetical.
A: Corporations are legally bound to provide the greatest financial dividend to their stockholders. That's it, that's all they have to do. Really. Look it up. (Oh, they're also not supposed to break the law -- however, let's stay with reality.)
But: Democratic Government is not structured to make a profit. It's job is to spend the pooled contributions of the citizens (taxes) to provide services to those citizens - health, education, defense, infrastructure. There is no profit, as we, the People, are supposed to run this country, and are not selling these services to ourselves. That would be silly. Representative Government is simply a mechanism created by citizens to provide themselves with the necessities of a life unaffordable to the individual. For example I can't afford to build a road, dispense Justice, or make sure my food supply isn't handled by filthy nitwits. But by pooling my money with that of other citizens big things become affordable, and by voting in the No Filthy Nitwits Handling Our Food Party, we won't have greasy fingerprints in our tapioca. That's all taxes and Government are. There is no financial profit. It's sole purpose is to provide services.
Next: The greater the Stockholder in a Corporation the greater his or her influence in that Corporation.
But: There are no stockholders in a democratic Government. Citizens do not buy stock, and reap financial dividends. Even the Richest citizen only gets one vote - and man, do they hate that!
We, the People, hire the government to use our wealth to distribute services, which we all benefit from. Again, it is structured much more like a nonprofit organization, with a Board of Directors - a voting body which elects a team of Administrators. In our case the Board is the voting citizenry, and the Administrator is the Mayor, Governor, President, and the Legislatures. And as a nonprofit Board, the citizens do not expect financial benefit, but expect their money to go to services provided to the community.
Numero Tres: A Corporation will cut costs to achieve profitability, degrading it's product if it must. Remember, a Corporation's job is to make money for it's investors -- the product is only and always a means to that end. If they can make more money selling crap, they will sell crap. SUVs weren't safe for years, but boy, did they make money! And if it is more profitable to junk a stable company, it will be junked.
But: For Government, the services provided are foremost. Like nonprofit organizations, it's primary function is service.
However we, as Americans, have become so hypnotized by the Svengalis of Wall Street -- and their mystical mumbo jumbo about the Market being the pinnacle of Democracy and Freedom -- that not only do we watch them dismantle a Government by, of, and for the People for their own profit right in front of us, we we gleefully chant their Free market Mantra as they do it. We convince ourselves that the profit motive is the purest, fairest arbiter of Truth, and that what is good for the rich must be in the best interest of us all -- because some rich guy said it was.
The Stock Market is simply where gamblers bet which business will make them more money. Not which product is best, but which company will prosper by selling it's image. That's how all those Dot Coms that didn't even make a damn thing had such high stock prices. All they delivered was millions of dollars to their early investors who sold inflated stock to the later suckers. Is that how we want our Government to be run?
Hell, crack is profitable, but I don't want my Government run by drug dealers just because they know how to turn a buck.
Unfortunately what we have now is a government made up of business people who are highly suspect of any expenditure that does not have a positive financial return. People in the halls of Congress who shout "Show me the Money!" when they should be asking "Where are the services?"
And this is the crux of the problem with the current governmental philosophy: profit-driven services. Once profit is introduced as a motivator, it becomes the only motivator. And there is a word for people who profit off the Government, especially in times of war. They are called Profiteers. We used to shoot them.
Here's an example: There was a time when the Armed Forces were a place where a young man or woman could learn a skill besides weapon specialist. Mechanics, radio operators, cooks, truck drivers, and so many more -- all jobs that had a life after service, accompanied by a wealth of benefits from a grateful nation. But to the Corporate philosophy this makes no sense. No one was getting rich providing soldiers with this priceless training. Socialism! And if all those vet benefits are free they must be inefficient, too! So we have Halliburton, KBR, CACI contracted to make these jobs part of the market, where profit, not service, is paramount. Benefits that cannot be made profitable are cut. We outsource Walter Reed Hospital. The result? The costs go up, the stockholders get richer, and hundreds of thousands of vets come home with less training, fewer benefits, and once again the rich get richer, and the poor get screwed.
And Blackwater... why did Americans so readily accept that the Marines are no longer good enough to guard our stuff? Why don't our elected officials trust the Few and the Proud to watch their backs anymore when visiting overseas? Sure, they call Leathernecks heroes, then diss them by looking elsewhere when it's time to pick the honor guards. I guess nobody was making money off the Marines.
The same goes for the outsourcing and "right-sizing" of governmental health and welfare organizations, the terrible failures at FEMA, the FDA... Did you know that most Americans who will receive tax refunds will have them processed and mailed to them by a private, subcontractor at a greater cost than if the Government did it -- which means any refund they will get will be slightly lessened -- to make someone rich richer. That's just messed up.
The philosophy of profit cannot be made to jibe with the Department of Education, so instead free, public education has been underfunded for years, then blasted as an inefficient, money losing proposition. And the idea of free schooling has been replaced with a push for private charter schools -- which always make someone richer, but fail to make our kids any smarter. Studies show the test score are about the same -- the only difference being someone made bank.
This is not sustainable.
Remember -- almost 60% of for profit businesses fail in the first four years. I'd like my Government to last longer than that. And as my friend John says, "If government should be run like a business, and our government is filled with businessmen, shouldn't everything be running better?"
It is not because it cannot. Putting a business person in the position of running government makes as little sense as putting the director of a nonprofit in charge of a for-profit corporation: the tools and skills they have were developed using a philosophy that is antithetical to the new position.
So, to sum up -- let business have all the dog eat dog, profit-worshipping, image over substance, greed sucking, suit wearing backstabbery it wants -- regulated, of course -- while we demand Government become what we, the People need: a vehicle to provide the greatest good to the greatest number, to comfort the needy, to protect the helpless, to encourage the brave, to insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the General welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
And not for Profit.