The Federal Government Is NOT A Business, It Never Was, It Never Will Be [178*7]
The Impossible Dream
I AM NOT SURE WHY I HAVEN'T TACKLED this subject before for it is something I know a lot about and it has been ubiquitous in the political dialogue for the last several decades; further people seem to believe this myth is true. What is the myth? That the federal government ought to act like a private business. Nothing could be further from the truth in all respects and the Democrats seem to be too embarrassed to make the case against this assault against common sense.
This isn't to say that the government shouldn't follow the best practices of private business ... "where they are able to", and there are many areas where government can,for sure, but in the main it is impossible to run government like large corporations. It simply wasn't designed that way from the outset. Founders like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton did not want government run like normal businesses because they knew that would be dangerous to maintaining liberty for all.
What are the natural impediments to an efficiently run government? How about three branches of government with competing agendas; or a biCameral Congress which responds to different pressures and work on different cycles; or a long, laborious constitutionally designed budget process guaranteed to inject inefficiency; or two Parties who have completely different priorities as to what direction America should go. No, there is nothing in the federal government's design that lends itself to operating "like a business" or "like a family".
A BUSINESS IS A DICTATORSHIP
A well run business is, in effect, a dictatorship; it must be to survive. Is this what those who believe in this catchphrase want the government to be? (actually, a few do.) When businesses are run by committee, they often fail. Well that is exactly what the law making and judicial functions of the federal government is, a committee. Once laws are passed, it is then turned over to the monarch, the President, to implement.
In theory, the executive branch could be run more like a business; but the Constitution will not allow that to happen either. Why not? Because, while the executive branch has the power to enforce the laws, it doesn't have the ability to fund its own operations, that comes from the legislature ... in most cases on a yearly basis. Can you picture any private business being able to operate successfully under these conditions? Of course not, it defies common sense. So why are those, most often on the Right side of the political spectrum, who believe government CAN operate like a business keep insisting on it? Why does anybody believe them??
YOU, THE PEOPLE, ARE THE PRINCIPAL REASON
Yes, you! You are the main reason why the federal, or any government can't run itself like a business because you want a government on the cheap; some of you seem to want government for free, if you could; you don't want to pay for it. Finally, you don't want your government making a profit!
A business who has a successful, well established, elastic (economically-speaking) product, can raise and lower prices as needed without endangering the bottom-line; there are lots of companies like that ... think oil. Let's say it is decided by BP they need to replace several of their remaining gulf rigs in the next 20 years; what do they do? One possibility is to establish a sinking fund of some sort and start funding it. Where do they get the money? They raise prices and you pay them, or at least some of you do. Compare that to the federal government seeing the need to replace several old bridges over the next 20 years, where does it get the money? By raising taxes ... over your dead body! Don't you see the conundrum? How is the federal government supposed to act like a business when it isn't allowed to raise capital like a business.
Another alternative, of course, is for BP to borrow the money to pay for the oil rigs. What if the federal government wanted to do the same thing today for it decay bridges? Do you think the People will let it? Over their dead body! Yes, let's make the federal government run like a business ... over your dead body because you damn well aren't going to let it raise taxes or borrow money; but it is their fault for not achieving your goal of "running like a business". (Is there an emoticon for shaking one's head?)
COULD GOVERNMENT DO BETTER?
Of course it could, lots better!!! When I joined the ranks of the Air Force Comptroller in 1983 with my accounting degree fresh in hand, I was astounded to learn that the federal government does not use "double-entry" bookkeeping; the gold-standard of accountability! Instead, they still used what was used back in the 1700s, single-entry bookkeeping. As far as I know, there is no legal or Constitutional reason the federal government couldn't adopt double-entry accounting, but so far they have chosen not to; and that is a shame. In one fell swoop, you could reduce fraud, waste, and abuse by a few orders of magnitude. Why hasn't Congress changed this? My guess is that they truly don't want the accountability because it would make it too easy to trace responsibility back to them.
Another thing they could do which business does his when you purchase a capital item, like a bridge, you also budget for 1) its operations and maintenance costs for many years out and 2) its replacement. Congress does neither for one simple reason ... you wouldn't pay for it; the total ownership cost will seem too high. Consequently, Congress hides (ignores) these costs so the price appears to be affordable. As a result, we keep getting "surprised" by rising support costs of our programs that we "suddenly" have to fund and then get accused of being a spendthrift Congress.
These are just two, but there are many more examples of things Congress could do. There are things the executive branch could do, have done then abandoned, as well, but, you get the picture.
I promised myself I would keep this short, so I will leave it here with this final comment. You will notice I didn't really bring up conservatives, moderates, or progressives much in this hub. Granted, it is the conservatives when vocalize this myth the most, but belief in it appears to cut across the political spectrum. There is more than ample evidence that it is impossible for the federal government to achieve the impossible dream of those who naively think it can operate like a business and I have presented only a sampling of it. Common sense, on the face of it, screams "you can't do it, it wasn't designed to, it never has, and it never will".
What Do YOU Think?
Do You Truly Believe that the Federal Government Can Operate Like a Private Business?
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