Ronald Reagan got a lot of things wrong. But one of his more outstanding errors was to suggest that “government is the problem.” As with many utterances from Republicans these days, he got it backwards: politicians in bed with corporate managers and wealthy billionaires make business the problem.
This is not a new problem. Government started using business to deliver services before the 18th century ended. The government at that point, and until the early 20th century, was too poor to do much in the way of service. And corporate interests exercised a significant hand in keeping it that way.
But particularly during the last half century, business interests have taken over much of the work government can do and should be doing. Lobbyists argue there are good reasons why business and government make good partners.
Supposedly, it’s convenient for government agencies. Businesses are said to be better equipped to perform certain tasks. Then there is business’s built-in drive for efficiency. This is attractive to public servants trying to show taxpayers their dollars are being used wisely. Some also say business uses highly skilled professionals to do the work. Business also claims to reduce overall expenses and decrease the growth of government bureaucracy.
Consequently, we have corporations in public-related fields such as healthcare, education, transportation, insurance, and environmental control. Practically every government agency uses business firms to do some part of their work. Including a huge amount of work for the U.S. war machine.
But there’s a significant downside to government using business. We don’t hear much about this from the mainstream media, but business isn’t really as helpful as they claim.
While government-corporate partnerships make lots of money for business executives, they contribute to the fast-growing financial inequality in our society. They also make more work for government agencies to do. Government must supervise, regulate and clean up after corporate mistakes, oversights and “unintended consequences.” That’s expensive!
If you want to know what’s really running up the tab for the provision of public services, here’s your answer. Government-business partnerships contribute significantly to the size of government and the growing budget deficit Republicans are always complaining about.
So let’s ask some questions: Why should we let business make money from providing public services? Why not just eliminate their role in the military? Maybe we should kick business out of healthcare, insurance, education, and environment, too.
The biggest reason to get business out of government is that their focus is on making money, not on serving the public. They only solve problems that lead to making more money; they don’t solve problems that enhance our society, except accidentally (example: the automobile), or through “unintended consequences” (example: global warming).
Second, business respects only profits and shareholders. Corporations must grow in size and stock price to satisfy the demands of investors. There’s no value placed on improving either individuals’ lives or society generally.
Third, corporate management runs on authority and hierarchy, rather than equality and group decision-making. This prevents bringing more human values into the market place. It also perpetuates authority and hierarchy in the public service arena, where they don’t belong.
Fourth, corporate accountants and their bankers, insist on viewing labor as an expense, not as an asset to a company. So, managers constantly drive down the cost of labor. But those workers they’re cheating out of a fair and just wage are our next-door neighbors. What kind of “public service” is that?
Therefore, business achieves little for the society in partnering with government agencies to deliver public services.
Government exists to rein in corporate excess. Government’s role in the society is as an enabler of discipline for individuals and groups in the interests of the larger society. Government is not a problem: it is a highly valuable regulatory and social development asset.
In my next column, I will suggest a replacement for business in helping the government achieve its public service mandates.