Comparing Rotten Apples to Oranges
Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and that affront named Donald Trump all trumpet the supposed virtue of “running government more like a business”.
What would running the federal government be like, under Bain Capital alumnus Mitt Romney? Would we, say, take over the government of Ireland, or Greece . . . ultimately, one would hope, turning those enterprises around, and into, once again, going concerns? Would the “investors” walk away with huge profits and bonuses, regardless of whether those nations sink or swim? (Facetious as this Swiftian metaphor is, it is not so far removed from what we’ve done in Iraq – although, clearly, it isn’t the U.S. government, or we the people, who have profited by our adventure there; it is only a select few private firms, and their select few officers and shareholders. . . and their political patrons.)
As I’ve written elsewhere, demanding that government be run like either a business or a household is a silly and dangerous conceit. Government is a very different thing, with a very different purpose, from either business or households (although comparison of a household to a business is an apt enough comparison; both have to achieve some degree of “profit” in order to survive.) Businesses sell things. Whether goods or services, they sell things. Government does not. It provides services, essential services of all kinds, and is not tasked with making a profit. That is not a proper yardstick by which to measure the success of any government. (And, to the extent that the federal government “loses money”, as reflected by the national debt and deficits, should we not look to the GOP’s own hand in that? It was Reagan and George W. Bush who abetted and encouraged massive Pentagon spending and foreign adventures, arms buildups justified by an exaggerated Soviet capability, a needless war in Iraq premised on lies, and a stubborn insistence on lowering the taxes needed to fund all of the above.)
But let us, for a moment, accept the Right’s government-as-business metaphor, for the sake of argument. Is it an honest proposition that the Right puts forth? Do their spokesmen hold themselves to the same rigorous standards by which they supposedly measure business (in this tough, dog-eat-dog, “men-and-dinosaurs-lived-together-5000-years-ago” socially Darwinian world which, ironically, these flat-earth types imagine that we live in)? Would their pet concept survive the same rigorous gauntlet that contestants must survive on “The Apprentice”? Is it really a “free” market – of either ideas or things – that their policies have engendered, or will engender if further adopted?
In a word, no.
Scott Walker, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are price fixers. They are colluders. They would, if honestly judged by legitimate and accepted rules in place, be found guilty of antitrust violations, pure and simple. They want to run government like a business, but intend to put a bullet into its head at the starting line. Government is encouraged to “compete”, and to better serve its “customers”, but cannot actually do so – because the game is rigged.
The Right hopes to stand linked, arm in arm, from coast to coast, emboldened by their first flush of victory in Wisconsin, their hoped-for first domino in the war against the “special interests” (unions). They stand ready to defend the poor, abused Goliath known as Business from the nasty little Davids bedeviling it. This defense, however, will not be carried out (and has not been carried out) on the “level playing field” so often touted.
This is not to say that they want to cripple government in all respects, or in all of its capacities. True, their ongoing program of “getting government out of the way”, would weaken and eliminate what they vaguely refer to as “too much regulation”. But theirs is not merely the passive, minimal government-shrinking aspiration they would have us believe it is. It’s a peculiar hybrid that is also an activist, government-abetted program of looking the other way while common sense, rational, fact-based protections of all kinds – financial, public health, environmental – are either eliminated or simply left unenforced. It is a program intended to be an expansion of the characteristic GOP fixation: Aiding and abetting ideology-driven preferences of all kinds, such as banks over consumers, oil and coal over solar and wind, religion over science and, most fundamentally (because it is the sine qua non in this agenda), private over public. It would be accomplished with the help of a Supreme Court stacked, for years to come, with predisposed ideologues.
It would be accomplished by using government to foster the anti-science, anti-intellectual worldview that is one of the hallmarks of fascism – actual fascism, as contrasted with the merely trite, semantic label overused by the merely peeved, to describe anything allegedly tyrannical, or otherwise not to their liking.
It would be a government-accomplished, government-abetted restructuring of tax policies that will starve public programs on the one hand, and grant windfalls to the Right’s private sector darlings, on the other. It would be government aiding and abetting the commercialization of all public life, promoting a few narrow private interests to the detriment of the common good.
It would – if we don’t, once and for all, stand up and say “No!”, as Eisenhower urged us to do – maintain, with government care and feeding, the military-industrial complex that profited hugely from the Vietnam war and the invasion of Iraq.
And what of the demonization of the government worker? Studies comparing public and private sector compensation yield a mixed bag of conclusions. Part of the challenge is the fact that many public jobs don’t have exact counterparts in the private sector. It is also admittedly true that, although many public salaries are less on average than private, benefit packages often make up the difference, and then some. However, what the bare numbers don’t account for is the burden placed on public workers in a punishing fiscal and political climate. Fewer teachers, forced to deal with ever-larger classes, are fighting a battle they are doomed to lose, both statistically and emotionally. Moreover, many public school districts must serve the most challenging student populations (with behavioral and learning disabilities) that their private school – and charter school – counterparts do not.
If these government haters/exploiters truly wanted to run government like a business, they wouldn’t artificially rig the game; they wouldn’t make it a self-fulfilling prophecy that government will fail when stacked up against their idealized (and subsidized) private sector counterparts. Lowering teachers’ pay, and laying them off (at the very same time that we fall ever further behind the rest of the industrialized world in science and math achievement), is not the way to allow true market forces to determine winners and losers, successes and failures. Just as no business could attract the best and brightest, vis-à-vis its competitors, if it were forced to hold salaries artificially low, neither can government, in such a climate, attract the best and brightest in a head to head competition with the private sector. (To add callous insult to considerable injury, the Right then blames public schools and their overfed teachers for still-further declines in student performance, and punishes them still more, rhetorically and fiscally. It is a vicious circle devised by the congenitally vicious.)
In Wisconsin, the very agency tasked with serving the state’s unemployment-wracked workforce, and groaning under a caseload of ever more complaints of Minimum Wage and overtime law violations, is doing its job with many vacancies that the Legislature and governor have no intention of filling. The task is corrosive to the physical health and morale of those “coddled” public employees assigned to it. The work is neither glamorous nor lucrative.
The hard-nosed-realist, tough-minded GOP crowd, which labels modest attempts at fiscal parity as “class warfare”, has shamelessly stoked public resentment against the supposedly-overpaid government worker. Instead of committing themselves to improving every American’s quality of life and work, they perpetuate the proverbial, and all too real, Race To The Bottom. While public unions may be a bit too self-congratulatory in purporting to care about all working people, the inescapable conclusion about the Right is that their efforts have degraded the lives of all working people. Arbitrarily and punitively lowering the wages of public employees will have, and does have, the effect of suppressing wages across the board.
And the Right wants to give us more of the same.
Artificially setting caps on government salaries, and arbitrarily cutting them in the unfounded belief that they are already “too high”, are not things a responsible CEO would do, and are not things that an honest, informed politician or economist would do.
They are things that a saboteur would do.
Text and composites © 2012, JDGee, JD