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Running our government like a business not a profitable idea.

For the past several years we have heard the refrain that government should be run more like business. Many people when running for political office trot out their resumes as if looking to become CEOs instead of assemblymen, congressmen or governors. "If I ran my business like they run the state I'd be bankrupt," is what your likely to hear.

Well let's think about this concept for a minute. Anyone who knows or has worked for me will tell you that I don't spend money foolishly. I'm very bottom-line oriented and get the most from my buck. In business that may be the right way, but it is not necessarily the way to run the government.

Absolutely, waste should be eliminated and our tax dollars shouldn't be spent unwisely. Fraud, malfeasance and incompetence cannot be tolerated from our bureaucrats or elected officials. However, while in the world of commerce, we measure our success by the accumulation of capital. How do we measure success by government?

With crime we can quantify the role of the police by arrest statistics, but can we measure the number never committed because of increased vigilance? Is the fire department judged successful by the number of lives saved through routine building inspections or by the fires contained? Are the criminal courts efficient by the number of cases adjudicated or by the quality of justice rendered?

When we took at departments such as transportation, buildings or parks, it's easier to apply economic criteria to their management, but how about the schools, libraries or health? Should a teacher be solely judged by the number of students that pass comprehensive exams or by the difference his or her example makes to the betterment of just one student?

I submit that government is not to be operated as a business or from a business standpoint. The philosophy for it's existence is the antithesis of the profit motive. Society's paramount reason for the creation of government is for the betterment of the people as a whole. We pay taxes and fees not for the services we receive, but for the good derived by all members.

In no uncertain terms, government is the collection of all individuals into a cohesive unit to benefit every member regardless of whether they contribute or not. It is a redistribution of wealth from the vast majority of people to every person who needs a service at a particular moment. What government definitely is not is a vehicle for the accumulation of wealth.

Then why is it that voters are so mesmerized by the refrain of politicians who promise to run the country with the efficiency of IBM? In the private sector, when a product or division is a money loser, the company shuts down regardless of layoffs and dislocation. Is that what we will do with unprofitable portions of our government?

The electorate is frustrated by the quality of service. When we hear the refrain of "government like a business" we are looking for the elimination of stupidity from this collective enterprise. From the spoils system of Jackson to the civil service reforms of Cleveland to the unionization of Roosevelt, we have seen our civil service grow into a morass of arcane work rules and inefficiency which hinder the business of government.

In the past, our elected officials have promised to stop the abuses, but the voters have seen that these very same officials, once elected, through inertia or unwillingness, fail to make good on their rhetoric. So, predictably, voters now tend to seek the elimination of government departments and services.

Of course those departments and services that are to be eliminated are the very ones most often associated with the least influential constituents - the poor and children.

So while the checks for social security and Medicare go out to people regardless of need, other services are gutted. Other middle class entitlements are left alone for fear of angering voters. Tax cutting, school vouchers and privatization are the key watchwords - meant to drive wedges through society as a whole, an "us against them" mentality at it's worst.

What we are creating is not one America, but many different Americas. All the school prayer, anti-choice and English-only rhetoric are there to obnubliate the responsibility of our leaders and us to the greater good. The next time a candidate offers his experience in business as a criterion, remember our government is not for profit.

(The author is a real estate consultant advising owners, co-ops and condominiums. Responses are welcome. Write him at 21 West 46th Street, NY NY10036 or call 212-921-8043.)
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Campenni, Thomas F.
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Oct 23, 1996
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