Warning: Never Confuse Government With Business

Member Group : Jerry Shenk

In a recent interview, über-confident millennial bartender-cum-U.S. House newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) charmingly declared herself “the boss,” because “I’m trying…,” and that anyone who disagrees, experts included, is “just shouting from the cheap seats.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s “people’s business” affectation clearly assumes “boss” to be a business or executive responsibility. She has neither.

Like Ocasio-Cortez, most politicians are not businesspeople. Nonetheless, many adopt the language of business to conflate their public functions with familiar private-sector business practices, and misleadingly apply it to governance while presenting themselves as “management.”

Officeholders would have us believe that, like seasoned businesspeople, they’re competent to manage government “enterprises.” They tell us that government, like successful businesses, creates jobs and adds value to people’s lives when, often, government is the greatest impediment to private-sector success.

Much of government adds only tax and regulatory compliance pass-through costs that burden consumers and depress businesses’ ability to compete and prosper.

Winners in commercial product and services markets are determined by price, performance and quality. Applying those standards to national government, most of its nonmilitary activities and “investment” choices are money losers: Amtrak, the Postal Service, alternative-energy failures and numerous other politically-favored money pits bleed taxpayer assets.

In reality, little is shared by government and business. The only “commodities” elected officials have to “sell” are the favors, influence and deals many hawk relentlessly to special interests in return for campaign cash and other considerations.

In business, labor reports to management. But many public officials – management, as they would have it – effectively report to labor. Big Labor, especially its public employee union component, constitutes America’s most generous, most powerful political lobby.

In many places, public union employees have received levels of pay and, especially, unsustainable benefits that have impoverished states and municipalities. Governments are failing in jurisdictions where enough of the right elected officials are union-bought, including in Pennsylvania where labor has long called the shots on education, liquor privatization, prevailing wage and right-to-work rules.

Business investments are made to yield positive returns. In government, “investment” is code for “spending,” too often done without concern for value, any expectation of intrinsic return or even productivity improvements.

Competitive businesses must sell more products or services to boost revenues, but, in government, “revenue enhancement” is code for “tax increase.” In business, “spending cut” means exactly that. In government, “spending cut” means only freezing or marginally reducing the rate of increase in public spending.

While deceptively adopting the language of business, public officials ignore the rules and regulations they impose on the businesses they mimic. Few governments and no federal agency could withstand the same audit the government requires of corporations. While businesspeople have done prison time for audit irregularities, offending politicians get reelected and bureaucrats receive bonuses and promotions.

Clearly, governments aren’t businesses, House members aren’t bosses, and, until elected “public servants” treat citizens, especially taxpayers, like shareholders, government has no legitimate claim to being even business-like. Absent such government, responsible stewardship of the public trust and treasure will remain out of reach.