Run Government like a business? Have you ever used a business?

I hear this saying a lot: They should run the Government like a business! It gets repeated a lot around elections and whenever an audit highlights wasted spending.

But here are some other sayings I have heard before, and I’ll let you guess where I heard them, from Governments or from Businesses:

  • Charge what the market will bear
  • Increasing our prices will lead to higher profits
  • A 500% markup on soda pop is perfectly reasonable
  • We can charge the same amount for these chips, even though the bag is 60% air
  • A pint of beer should cost $15, that seems about right
  • We can save a lot of money by skipping over safety regulations
  • Children will buy more cereal if we put this cartoon on the box
  • We need to inspect your furnace, to save you money
  • Just sign here to save 10% or more on your Water bill
  • We don’t have to pay minimum wage if we put them all on contracts
  • I don’t have to give back your deposit, I declared bankruptcy
  • Oil prices went up, so gas prices have to go up too. Oil prices are down, but Gas prices will remain high for “Reasons”

Governments exist to govern and to provide public services. They exist for the public good to organize and deliver services regardless of how unprofitable those services may be. Businesses that don’t make a profit cease to exist, as does the service they were providing.

Businesses exist solely to make a profit. They do that by reducing costs, no matter what, and increasing prices as much as they can get away with. Be very wary of anyone trying to tell you that all Businesses are modicums of Efficiency, Honesty and Competency. They are probably trying to sell you something. Business go bankrupt all the time. Businesses are caught lying, cheating and stealing all the time. Employees get promoted because they know the boss all the time. Make no mistake, if you were willing to give money to a business with no product of service to be delivered to you in return, Businesses will take that money from you with so much as a thank you. This is not how government should be run.

Should government be efficient?  Should government workers be held to the standards of competency and honesty? Yes and yes. Of course. No one ever argues otherwise. And I believe strongly in a culture of meritocracy and promoting the best and brightest to maximize human capital in order to fulfill government’s mandate of delivery public goods and services as efficiently as possible. I have just never understood what has to do with Business.


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