It’s one of those refrains we hear from candidates all the time, especially candidates coming from the private sector with little or no government experience, that they want to make government operate more like a business.
Really? You mean businesses like GM? Like Chrysler? Like Countrywide Financial, Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual? Like Bernie Madoff? You mean even profitable, industry dominant businesses like Boeing?
The words “much delayed” are beginning to attach themselves to the Boeing 787 as if they are part of the brand name. On Tuesday came perhaps the most stunning delay of all: postponement of a first flight intended to show the world that the much-delayed Dreamliner was finally ready for prime time.
Yet it’s not.
The latest bungle has badly damaged Boeing’s already-dented credibility. It raises questions about its reliability compared with Airbus. And it sets the company up for a much tougher financial climb.
I can accept the argument that some aspects of government might work better if their operations were modeled more on some aspects of some businesses, but it is silly to assert that a candidate whose professional experience comes entirely from the private sector is more qualified to run a government than a candidate whose experience is mostly in the public. A) We don’t necessarily want to replicate in government, say, the project management prowess of a Boeing or the customer service practices of a Comcast, and B) private sector experience is not always relevant to the unique demands of public office.
For example, T-Mobile exec and Seattle mayoral wannabe Joe Mallahan likes to tout his business experience, but he won’t be able wring efficiency out of city government by outsourcing jobs to the Philippines or by attempting to bust powerful public employee unions. I’m not saying his business experience isn’t valuable, it’s just not automatically applicable on its own.
So enough of this “running government like a business” meme; it’s a crappy metaphor. Government is not a business (for example, it has no profit motive), and there are plenty of businesses, even profitable ones, just riddled with waste, fraud and abuse. What I want in a mayor or executive is somebody capable of efficiently running government as a government, as opposed to somebody intent on trying to turn government into something it is not.