Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Running Government Like a Business

Lots of people voted for Donald Trump because they saw government as dysfunctional and wanted to see Trump run government "like a business."  This is a frequent fantasy about businessmen candidates.

There are a number of problems with running government like a business, most of which amount to that the two are not the same.  A business's goal is to make money.  Most of its decisions are about how best to achieve that goal and do not need to take ideology or complex public policy tradeoffs into account.  Businesses do not have an independent legislature or judicial system.  Their objectives are a whole lot more nebulous.  And so forth.

Nonetheless, in at least one thing running a government and running a business are similar.  They have somewhat similar demands of administrative competence.  Consider, then, how many right-wingers want to run to see government run and ask if you want to see those principles applied to a business.

The business recognizes that success means pleasing their customers. (OK).  The business also recognizes that most customers are not experts in their product and do not usually choose the product after careful deliberation, thorough weighing of the facts, and consultation of experts to guide them. Most customers choose their product on the basis of snap judgments and gut-level intuitions without extended investigation.

The leaders of the business therefore decide that in order to show solidarity with customers and properly relate to them, business leaders should do the same thing.  They should shun all expertise in the product as "out of touch" and "elitist."  They should refrain from careful deliberation and thorough weighing of the fact for fear of being "inauthentic."  They should shun all experts and tout ignorance as proof of virtue.  they should make all decisions on the basis of snap judgments and gut-level intuition and avoid any extended investigation of -- well, anything.

So, based on these principles and the need for fresh blood, they select a new CEO, one with no experience in the field whatever, no knowledge of it, and no interest in learning anything about it. Their new CEO not only knows nothing about their field of business and has neither the desire nor the ability to learn it, he deliberately sets out to "drain the swamp" of anyone who does have any knowledge or experience.  He dismisses not only knowledge and expertise, but even facts and evidence as "out of touch" and "elitist" and insists on eschewing them altogether from the decision making process.

Instead of doing anything so "elitist" and "inauthentic" as learning anything, the new CEO makes a fetish of being "strong," "decisive" and "principled."  Being "strong" and "decisive" means making decisions as quickly as possible, with as little input and preparation as possible, based solely on impulse.  Being "principled" means taking these decisions as far as possible while shunning all nuance and detail-work.  In government, that means making a travel ban take effect immediately without consulting anyone who might know anything about the details of implementation, and without any exceptions, such as current green card holders or translators for the US army.  In business, I suppose, it would mean that if you decide, say, that Atlantic City casinos are the wave of the future, building as many casinos as possible with as little foresight and advance planning as possible, while liquidating all other assets because spreading your risks shows a lack of "principle."

And anyone wanting to run government like a business and also making a fetish of "strong" leadership that ignores the experts and goes with the gut -- consider just how long a business run on those lines would last.

1 comment:

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