Nov 15, 2013

Weekly Highlight: 46

Week 46 of this year provided perfect examples of how government is not like business. Nor can it ever be.

As a mean middle-aged woman used to scold her division (of which I was a member), business's first order is "Shareholder Value." That would be corporate jargon for making money for investors. The profit motive is so strong when put into action that you have to have some kind of rules to contain the ambition and greed that goes along with money-making enterprises. (My plug here is that one of my characters from Powder Dreams, the drug-dealing money-laundering Marty, is the personification of this instinct gone awry).

Government at all levels is intended to take care of its citizens and residents, providing basic infrastructure and advanced services for which we pay taxes. The idea that government should be making money off of taxpayers is repugnant. It is called devouring the hand that feeds you. Instead it is supposed to be a fair shake.

The fundamental mistake that so many people make is that somehow government can be run like a business. No one ever seems to want businesses to be run like governments. My favorite rebuttal to this kind of thinking, besides the logic outlined above, is that the first two rules of corporate turnarounds are: 1) Cut costs and 2) Raise revenues. Number three is get on a plane to your best customers and kiss their asses.

But I never hear from the people who want government run as a business any desire to raise revenues. There is a moral instinct that gouging taxpayers is wrong, although let us not forget to pay Caesar what is Caesar's due. Like all complicated problems, taxes are a balancing act that need constant adjustments.

Now this brings us to this week, when Obama has screwed the pooch on a national scale. (I voted for him, twice, once as a symbol and once to keep out the investment banker; I wonder about a political system that is making me vote reactively). The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, might have had the noble intent of providing better health care for everyone in America, but right now the big noble idea is floundering in a botched implementation.

Big ideas take tremendous precision and persistence to happen. At a personality level, the people with big ideas absolutely require the detailed planners to make their ideas happen. This is especially a problem with Obama. Anyone who keeps up with New York Times' Maureen Dowd knows that Obama is not only a big ideas man, but one who is introverted and needs a lot of alone time after minimal people time. So where are his implementers and why hasn't anyone been fired for this mess?

By the way, if you want my vote, all I want at this point is either better health care at the same price or the same health care at a cheaper price. And if you can do both, I might vote for you twice. While you are at it, I would love for someone to explain to me why insurance is necessary for good health care.

The flip side from this week of business vs. government is Amazon's partnership with the United States Postal Service. A government service that coined the term "going postal" and lost $15.9 billion last year partners with a private company that is continuing to redefine every business model it touches. In this case, U.S.P.S. is really looking for Amazon to help them out of their cavernous hole and Amazon sees them as a tool in their continued retail dominance.

The difference is the goal and how the implementers are driven to achieve the goal.