Can Government Be Run Like A Business?

Over the last few months we’ve all heard and read a lot of political rhetoric advocating that government should be run like a business, and that electing a president with extensive business experience would be good for the country. As a business owner, and someone who has dealt with many government agencies and elected representatives over the years, I have trouble subscribing to that theory.

Business and government are two very dissimilar professions – one being based on profits, the other on public service. They require different skillsets and different mindsets.

When most people say, “We should run government like a business,” I think what they really mean is: “We should run government more efficiently.” There’s little doubt that there is, and always will be, plenty of room for improved governmental efficiency. However, unless we’re willing to give up our democratic system and install a dictator, democratic government will continue to be inherently inefficient and, at times, downright messy. The Founding Fathers designed it that way.

Remember all that stuff about the three branches of government and “checks and balances” from civics class in high school? That model has worked for the U.S. government for over two hundred years, but no one in his or her right mind would use it as a business model.

The power to act, and the obligations, of a corporate CEO, is dramatically different from those of the President of the United States. A corporate CEO is empowered to unilaterally make all primary corporate decisions (subject to Board approval, of course). His or her obligation is to make the maximum profit for constituents (shareholders) by being as efficient and competitive as possible. That’s how he or she is judged. Achieving maximum efficiency and competitiveness, however, usually means paying little attention to externalities such as how many workers become unemployed, whether employees can support a family on what they are being paid or how much environmental damage is caused by company operations.

The president, on the other hand, is empowered to do very little unilaterally. In order to get something done, he or she must convince a majority (or in many cases, a supermajority) of 435 congress members and 100 senators to back a decision. Each of those 535 elected representatives has a different viewpoint, constituent base, degree of party loyalty and personal agenda. Building consensus requires diplomatic skill and compromise… not skills required of, or possessed by, most CEOs.

The president’s constituency is comprised of every U.S. citizen (not just the 53% who voted for him, as one current candidate seems to believe) and his or her obligation is to provide for the security and the physical, economic, environmental and social sustainability of the entire country. Among other things, that means being concerned with all of those externalities those CEOs can ignore. The president can’t fire or lay off inefficient, unproductive citizens who are infirm or too senior to work; is obligated to provide a safety net for those in poverty; and has to ensure that the infrastructure and environmental protections are in place that will support a sustainable society. Efficiency is still a goal, but within the framework of public service.

Very few of our presidents have come from the business world, and three of the more recent ones, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, have not had what most people would consider successful presidencies.

The father of modern political economics, Adam Smith, once wrote, “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from people who make money by the employment of stock, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention.” spt

One Vote, Your Vote

In 2008, the nation came out in record numbers to vote during the presidential election. All across the country, voters lined up for hours to exercise their right to vote and the change that many hoped for happened.

Among the many questions that have been asked during this presidential campaign, one in particular is whether or not this is the change the nation expected. After all, unemployment is still hovering at 8%, gas is at $4.50 per gallon, food prices continue to rise, median incomes are lower, and in general our economic recovery continues at a snail’s pace. The government is more divided than ever and it seems as if the extreme sides of each political party are holding the rest of the country hostage. It is now in our hands to decide whom we send to Washington and Sacramento to change the gridlock that is so desperately needed.

Our decision is for us to determine which presidential candidate has the best policies, right approach and clearest vision to solve our nation’s problems. At the core of the debate is what the role of government should play in our daily lives. An example of this debate is that of trickle down economics vs. trickle down government.

One side argues that tax cuts provide businesses the opportunity to invest and create jobs, provides more money in our pockets that enables personal spending and in the end increases tax revenues. The other side believes in leveling the playing field, distribution of wealth and deficit spending to help stimulate the economy. What has transpired is that neither approach seems to be the sole answer to address our economic issues.

For example, although the Bush tax cuts provide a little more cash in our paychecks it did not appear to help grow the economy and the Obama stimulus package hasn’t created the millions of jobs that were promised. The answer resides somewhere in the middle of these two fundamental philosophies in order to turn our economy around. Our decision is to vote for the candidate that we believe can reach across the aisle to restore the belief in America and move our country forward.

Looking to California, propositions again make up the bulk of the November ballot. In many cases, it’s the propositions that we have approved over the years that have created new fees and increased our taxes. Many Californians question whether or not the state really needs more tax revenue or should focus on doing a better job managing the tax revenues it already receives along with working to bring new businesses back to our state.

Case in point, with the state’s parks department operating in the red, Governor Brown had planned to close a quarter of California’s natural attractions over this past summer. Generous donations from businesses, private citizens and cities allowed the parks to remain open only to find out later that $54 million in park revenues had been hidden in separate trust funds over the past ten years. This was not only embarrassing but also created a breach of trust with the taxpayers. Such a lack of trust with our state government’s ability to make sound financial decisions, balance the state budget and allocate proposition monies as promised may be a key factor on whether or not this year’s propositions get passed.

In the end, it is our duty to elect those who we believe represent our core values and will make decisions with the best interest of the nation and/or state in mind. We must do our homework when it comes to voting on the propositions so that we make an informed decision. Together we can put the country on the right track. After all, “we the people” determine the direction of the United States of America and one vote – your vote – can and will make a difference. So make sure to vote on November 6. spt

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR: Vote Your Heart

It’s all coming to an end soon.

I know this particular issue’s shelf life is much longer than the lead up to the presidential election, but it’s tough to shift focus on anything else these days. Especially since I’m writing this column on the eve of the third presidential debate.

I mean, I could write about some of the great fall television shows premiering this month, or some of the amazing films coming out for awards season. (Go see The Master, it’s amazing!) Or maybe I could write about the new street paving on Gaffey St. and Western Ave. and how interesting it was to navigate those streets without any street lines for a few days.

I could also recap the day when the Space Shuttle Endeavour flew right over our homes last month on its final flight. I could easily write about all of that.

Maybe you’d want to read about my thoughts on the Channel Street Skatepark, which celebrates its ten-year anniversary this year. I could write about how inspiring it is to see a project built with the blood, sweat and passion of a group of guys who just wanted a cool place to skateboard – permits and permission be damned – and how that spirit is so symbolic of what San Pedro is all about.

I could also write about the eight developers who have thrown their hats into the ring to (finally) renovate Ports O’ Call. Oh wait, I wrote about that last month. Never mind. (But seriously, eight developers! How cool is that?)

I could write about a number of subjects this month, but I know it would fall on deaf ears and blind eyes because all anyone is talking about at the moment is the presidential election, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

So in regards to the election, rather than force an ideology upon you and arrogantly tell you who you should vote for, all I ask of you to do – the smart and savvy readers of this magazine – before you enter the voting booth or fill out the absentee ballot, please do your homework on the candidates and the issues, and vote what you feel is right.

In other words, vote your heart.

Don’t let the partisan television pundits, newspaper editors, celebrities or strangers in the coffee shop sway you one way or the other. Take the time to look up the facts and do your homework. Information has never been easier to access and disseminate. By doing so, you may discover that you have stances on issues you never knew you had because you never took the time to learn about it. Well, now’s the time.

So on Tuesday, November 6, no matter who your choice is for president or what propositions you are in favor of, the most important right you have as a citizen of this great country of ours is to let your voice be heard in the voting booth.

So please, get out and vote. The worst thing you can do is stay home and be silent.

In Memoriam

On a more serious note, I’d like to extend my condolences to the Perkov, Blaskovich, Agisim and Greenwood families. In one week’s time, we lost four beloved San Pedrans – Tony Perkov, owner of Ante’s Restaurant; Dr. Jerry Blaskovich, the beloved dermatologist; sea chantey singer Geoff Agisim; and former LAUSD School Board member and Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council founder, John Greenwood. Each one of them made our community a better place and touched the lives of so many. San Pedro owes all of them a debt of gratitude. They’re all going to be sorely missed.

Lastly, I want to send a special message of thanks to all our San Pedro veterans. It’s because of your hard work and sacrifice in defending our freedom that we are able to have this crazy election circus in the first place. Thank you.

 

Until next month…

Joshua Stecker
Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, San Pedro Today