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Patricia A. O'Malley
Social Policy & Programs Consulting ~ Community Matters
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You Can’t Run Government Like A Business
It’s a guaranteed disaster.
January 31, 2019
During a Sixty Minutes interview on January 27, Howard Schultz said that he’s considering running for president as a “centrist Democrat” in 2020. Public reaction was swift, loud, critical, and nearly unanimous. But mostly for the wrong reasons.
Schultz is the former CEO, and largest stockholder, of the Starbucks coffee empire. Most of the critics oppose his business record and policies and think an independent candidate will guarantee a second Donald Trump term. He said “I think I can beat the system.” Of course he does. Most arrogant, dimwitted corporatists think they can run a government or a nonprofit organization like a business. I have education and experience in all of them. No. You can't.
But this isn’t about Schultz. It’s about whether just anyone can be the chief executive of any government.
The Constitution requires only that the president be at least 35 years old, a natural-born citizen (it does not mean “born in the United States”), and have lived in the US for at least 14 years.
But Americans have expected more from our presidents. Until now.
APPLES AND HELICOPTERS
Running a government like a business is like trying to drive an aircraft carrier the same way you drive a bicycle.
You will fail.
It’s like an auto mechanic suddenly announcing that she’s going to perform heart surgery.
She may be good at her job, but she can’t be good at every job, especially those for which she has no training or experience.
The purpose of business is to make a profit. The purpose of government is to provide public services.
In business, making money is the mission; public service is secondary at best.
In government and nonprofit work, public service is the mission.
In business, the ends justify the means; ethics are usually a public relations stunt.
In government, the means are just as important as the ends.
While government should be efficient and economical, profit should never be its motive. The states of Kansas and Michigan, especially Flint, are perfect examples of what happens when government is run like a business.
After serving as the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, General Dwight Eisenhower became our 34th president. He was astonished that Congress didn’t blindly follow his orders the way his officers and troops did. Governing is different.
Of course, business, government, and nonprofits should all strive to manage their finances responsibly and efficiently.
But business is about products, not people. Government is about people, not products.
Too many corporatists think that government exists to do their bidding.
They think so because our schools create our political ignorance.
Many Americans think that the Constitution requires capitalism as our economic system. It does not.
Capitalists have gotten away with that for far too long. We must abandon the notion that business is the most important activity and that it can solve everything.
Americans fall for this because they don’t know how government works.
They don’t know how government works because our schools refuse to teach civics properly.
Schools don’t teach civics properly because they don’t want you to know how to control your government.
I don’t want to discourage business people from participating in government. But they shouldn’t reach for the top of the heap on the first day. They must learn the nuts and bolts of the job. House and Senate rules make the legislative process extremely complex. Political parties, legislative committees, and bureaucracies are intricate and nuanced creatures. You can’t barge into their territory and demand what you want, just as I can’t barge into your house and order your family around. Start small. Run for your local school board or city council. No, it’s not beneath you just because you have barrels of money.
Governing is a skill. It is learned, as all skills are learned, by rigorous study, observation, and mentoring from established professionals. The president is the leader of the Executive Branch of our government. S/he runs the nation’s daily business. The Trump Shutdown showed us that government is important to all of our lives.
Why would you want an amateur doing that job?
For More Information
Read the Constitution
What Does the President Do?
The Atlantic: The Difference Between Business and Government
Defective Teaching Methods Produce American Political Ignorance
Term Limits, Gerrymandering, and Campaign Finance Reform
The Ten Biggest Lies in America
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