Home > Uncategorized > Another Possible By-Product of Covid-19: We MIGHT Be Disabused of the Notion that Government Should be Run Like a Business

Another Possible By-Product of Covid-19: We MIGHT Be Disabused of the Notion that Government Should be Run Like a Business

A few days ago, Al Jazeera reporter Andrew Mitroveca wrote and scathing article about President Trump titled “Trump Proves Yet Again that Businessmen Should Not be President“. The article could just as easily been titled “Trump Proves Yet Again that Government Cannot be Run Like a Business“, a premise that is explicitly raised in the opening paragraphs of the article:

Nations should be governed as if they are companies.

Nations should be governed by men or women who have owned a company – preferably a big company.

For generations, this has been the neo-liberal mantra about how nations are organised, who is best qualified to lead and how citizens are expected to play a deferential role at the behest of owners turned presidents or prime ministers.

Donald Trump is the personification of the idea that chief executive officers can slip into the Oval Office from the corner office with ease and acuity, despite the murky means by which they may have achieved their corporate “success”.

The corollary to this CEO to POTUS trajectory is that, once in place, the former businessman will expertly swing a machete to slash the waste, bureaucracy, regulations and duplication that exists in “bloated” governments.

For several years as a public school Superintendent I fell prey to the notions advanced by David Osbourne and Ted Gaebler in their seminal book “Reinventing Government”, a book that both Bill Clinton and Al Gore used to guide them doing their terms of office from 1992-2000. And Osbourne and Gaebler were not the only gurus promoting the idea that business principles could be used to govern democratic institutions like school districts and city governments. Tom Peters lionized the business ethos William Donald Schaefer brought to the management of Baltimore city in his book In Search of Excellence and many periodicals for school administrators picked up on that line of thinking. Indeed, several urban districts, including NYC and Seattle, appointed Superintendents with no background whatsoever in public education on the theory that managing a school district was no different from managing a large complicated bureaucracy like a business or a military operation.

Donald Trump embodies everything that is wrong about the notion that a top-down CEO can solve the complicated problems that face a government… and his character flaws only magnify the inherent flaws of “running government like a business”. Mr. Mitroveca mercilessly illustrates the flaws of electing a business-minded individual to President, especially a seamless self-promoter like Donald Trump:

….No one should be surprised that a businessman who lied habitually would lie habitually as president. No one should be surprised that a floundering businessman would flounder as president. Nor should anyone be surprised by the profound, even fatal, human consequences of Trump’s lies and incompetence.

Clearly, Donald Trump is not the first president to have leveraged the vaunted neo-liberal title of “businessman” into president.

Armed with a Harvard Business degree, a stint as an oil executive and coownership of the Texas Rangers baseball club, former Republican President George W Bush, rode first into the Governor’s mansion in Austin, Texas and then into the White House.

Bush’s tenure as president is defined by one calamity after another. Each one was a repudiation of the sophomoric notion that running a business is remotely akin to running a government with complex, nuanced duties and responsibilities at home and abroad.

A cursory glance at his record confirms this. Bush assured himself, Americans and the world that the post 9/11 invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan would be quick, easy, cheap and effective. He was wrong on every count. The exclamation point of his disastrous geopolitical folly was declaring memorably: “Mission accomplished.”

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana, breaching levees, obliterating countless communities and killing thousands. Bush, America’s then CEO president, grudgingly returned to Washington from his 29-day vacation on a Texas ranch. Detached and aloof, Bush hovered above the carnage in a helicopter and boasted, with Trump-like, reality-defying bravado, that a top relief official was “doing a heck of a job”. 

And, finally, in 2008, a stunned Bush was reduced toa talking mannequin as the US economy collapsed and teetered towards depression after the sub-prime scam suddenly unravelled.

Mr. Mitroveca concludes his article with this blunt assessment of why it is a bad idea to run our nation like a business:

So, taken together, Trump and Bush have established:

Nations are not companies.

Nations should not be governed as if they are companies.

Nations should be not governed by men or women who have devoted their private lives to making money.

This same idea can be universally applied to anyone who sees the profit motive as the best means of achieving efficiency in any level of government.

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