November 19, 2019

The Government Isn't a Business

“One enduring thing of value that ought to come out of the Trump administration — ought, but apparently won’t — would be to finally drive a stake into the heart of these deathless twin superstitions: that the skills and talents that enable success in a particular kind of business are infinitely transferable to other profit-seeking and nonprofit enterprises alike, and that the formula for success in governing a democratic republic is to “run the country like a business.”

Our political lexicon does not have a precise term for this theory of benevolent plutarchy.

Call it CEO-cracy.

Ceocracy is mostly a stupid rhetorical tic. No one, including successful businessman-politicians such as former Florida governor Rick Scott (who has a real weakness for that kind of rhetoric) actually tries to run a government as though it were a business — because that’s nuts. Rick Scott didn’t run Florida’s government like he was a CEO — he ran it like he was Rick Perry.

Businesses measure their success in profit. Governments don’t. Businesses offer products and services in exchange for money in voluntary transactions. Governments don’t. Businesses that fail go bankrupt and are disbanded (except for politically sensitive banks, automobile companies, steel producers, farmers . . .) while failed governments keep right on misgoverning in the city and state of New York, in Illinois, in New Jersey, in California, in Connecticut, in the District of Columbia, in Austin, and abroad. Businesses have customers. Governments don’t. Those who profess their desire to “run government like a business” most often mean that they seek to achieve a higher degree of administrative excellence and bureaucratic accountability than Americans are used to seeing from their governments. But that isn’t running government like a business — that’s running government like . . . Swiss government.”

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