Weekend wound-up: Running government like a business

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Free-market extremists say they want to run government like a business, except in one really important way. They don't want government to compete. Odd isn't it? If what they say is true about free markets, the Invisible Hand of Capitalism depends on competition to do its magic.

Let government compete?

Comments

If I ran my agency

the way Bush has been running his government, I'd have been out of a job a long time ago. In fact, I got this job right after 9/11/2001. I've kept the agency's budget in the black, balanced, and though we lost a few positions early on, we've gained them back, and the jobs are more meaningful.

I'm a better manager than Bush!

Wait. Not much to celebrate there.

Oh - but I haven't attacked any other non-profit agencies looking for WMDs or hidden grants or anything either. So - go me!

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

You might consider running for something at some point.

Sounds like you have a knack for good management there, lcloud.

With five (or more) teens helping you, you could run for anything.

Person County Democrats

I have more teens calling the house for me now

than calling for my son. He's getting a little pissed.

And no, it's not for me to run for anything. I'm better at behind the scenes stuff.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

Taxes

Free market extremists focus on the power of government to use taxation as a force, a force they say should rarely be allowed. That use of legal force upsets the magic of the invisible hand. In fact, laws in general upset the magic, which is the whole point of libertarian thinking. Companies, they correctly argue, don't actually have power to force anything. If governments could benefit from using force (taxes) to "compete," there wouldn't be a level playing field.

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We are not amused.

Cherry Picking

I think most people associate the whole "Running Government Like a Business" concept with effectiveness and efficiency (at least, I hope that's the case). The general thought plays out as "if the government is going to tax me, it had better not be wasteful with my money." And when that's the case, there probably are some lessons that government can take from well-managed businesses. Or perhaps it's just a matter of taking lessons from well-managed government agencies (or well-managed nonprofits). I don't think anyone can argue with that.

But, as you mentioned, some free market extremists (usually the ones with an interest in keeping the government out of any given market) will instead focus on the government as "unfair competition" and argue that the government's ability to tax creates an unfair advantage. The municipal battles regarding wireless internet access or other forms of broadband communications are a great example. Another great example is the government's purchasing power when it comes to pharmaceutical products, supplies, etc. Most business are terrified when their top customers start throwing around weight; they get even more nervous when their top customers start talking about getting into the business themselves.

Simply put, we can't let them (free market extremists) cherry pick their arguments, but we can't abandon LCloud's efficient government either.

Thanks, Dan B.

There are lots of sides to the discussion . . . and my own thinking continues to evolve. For example, do we really want government to run like a business when that business is Enron? Also, do we want to mimic businesses in other parts of the world where graft and bribery always grease the skids. Or how about businesses that screw their customers by routinely lying about the effectiveness of products (e.g., Big Pharma).

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We are not amused.

The following is exactly the first thought I had when I

noticed this thread.

... do we really want government to run like a business when that business is Enron?

But let me offer a friendly amendment to the following quote ...

... do we want to mimic businesses in other parts of the world where graft and bribery always grease the skids.

"Other parts of the world"?? Which "other" parts? Outside Chapel-Hill? (no corruption in Blue Heaven afterall) Beyond the sweet, sweet confines of the Tar Heel state? (Bless our pure hearts, cough, Jim Black cough)

I realize what you are getting at, but the good ole US of A has it's share of graft and bribery. We just tend to legalize or institutionalize it somehow, and sometimes we actually get around to prosecuting the corrupt sob's responsible.

Motion to amend by deleting reference to "other parts of the world ..." :)

Person County Democrats

Well, Enron isn't really a

Well, Enron isn't really a fair example... we don't want businesses, let alone government, to be run like Enron! But for every Enron, there is at least one business (if not many others) with best practices that can be adopted in our government. There are probably best practices within government that can be adopted elsewhere in government.

Why should we accept customer service at DMV that we wouldn't tolerate at Best Buy? (And, in fairness, DMV may be as bad of an example as Enron.) The difference, or at least the perceived difference, is that agencies don't have to work for our patronage the way Best Buy does and that affects the level of service that we get from our agencies.

On another note, Big Pharma companies don't lie about the effectiveness of products. (And if they do, the FDA has pretty severe punishment.) You can argue that their products are overpriced given their effectiveness, but the effectiveness claims and supporting materials are reviewed by the FDA. But like any other competitive consumer-oriented business, they will make a big deal out of small differences. (ie) 3x more effective, so we'll charge you 2x more!* (small print: in certain patients fitting a very particular profile). But, you shouldn't be getting your medical information from advertising materials and commercials (no more than you should be relying on political advertising materials and commercials to make an informed decision about your candidates).

I'll give you a good example of good govt. customer service

Why should we accept customer service at DMV that we wouldn't tolerate at Best Buy? (And, in fairness, DMV may be as bad of an example as Enron.) The difference, or at least the perceived difference, is that agencies don't have to work for our patronage the way Best Buy does and that affects the level of service that we get from our agencies.

Our county board of elections. They are always smiling, even on election day, even when things are crazy, even when lines were wrapped around the block at many polling places (in 2004). They never let you know what their personal politics are; they treat everyone the same, with a smile and respect. And I've heard the same from other counties. I don't know where they get their training, but these folks are good, and I'd put their customer service up against anyone in the private sector.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

Goverment should compete, but

Let government compete?

it should compete with itself.

I don't mean different departments vying with each other over spheres of influence (that's already happening, and needs to stop). What I'm referring to is the drive for efficiency that is the hallmark of a successful (private) business.

As Linda said above, if our government were a business, it would have gone bankrupt long ago. The bureaucracy is riddled with so many tiers of management the top and the bottom rungs haven't a clue what to expect from each other. And due to the fact that Congressional appropriations are the only real tools for setting limits on the growth and expenditures of these entities, truly efficient divisions are just as likely to be cut (or sweetened) as the inefficient ones.

That needs to change. There needs to be a paradigmatic shift in the way government operates, so that efficiency and performance are driven at all levels. And it appears that a nine trillion dollar debt is not enough of a wake-up call to bring this about. Could the Democratic Party become the fiscally responsible party, balancing budgets and shrinking the debt like Bill Clinton did, while providing an even better "value" to taxpayers?

I think so, but I also think it will take a lot of fresh faces in Washington.

government as business: alternative?

I recall hearing Jamie Vollmer, a businessman who made his fortune with premium ice cream, who described his reform from being a "running govt. services as a business" believer. He found himself on a committee on education and spoke to teachers on the need to run schools like a business.

The teachers asked him what he did if he received a shipment for blueberries for his ice cream that was spoiled? Oh, he told them, he insisted on excellence and did not accept an inferior supply. Of course, that is when they trapped him. They told him, the difference between schools and business is that they take ALL the kids: sick, well, ADD, learning disabled, non-English speaking, behavior problems - and he came to realize that government handles things that business will NEVER do. Business can focus on profit and results, but government services, while they need to be provided using science and effectiveness (no abstinence only malarkey), still, they will never be able to guarantee outcomes and products because they do not control for real people and the resources and support they bring. You can test kids to death for NCLB but if the kids come from a home where the family does not care and does not support the child, a teacher is not going to wave a magic wand and make it all okay. Where do the kids go? If they don't have what they need for a free education, it is not going to be to their benefit to tell them to go to private school. If the EPA does not do its job, can we get someone else(the Mafia, maybe?) to go to polluters and poisoners and "make them an offer they can't refuse"?

Well, I could rant all day, and honestly, the Bush crowd has shown they couldn't run a Kwicky Mart in a bad Simpsons' episode. But google "The Blueberry Story" and you can read the more eloquent and funny way that Vollmer learned his lesson about government and business.