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rant about cant

When it comes to monotonous monologues filled with platitudes, those “run government like a business” people take the cake, and I’m sick of it. Face it, people: government is not a business, is not intended to be a business and should never be a business. A business has the goal of making money for each of its stakeholders, and government has the goals, among others, of organizing communities, providing justice, fairness and public services. A rising tide may lift all boats, but some of those boats need patching.

The big cant-driven movement in the Postal Service these days is all about being able to compete with UPS, FedEx (what do you get when you merge those two? Fed-Up. errrrgh.), commercial receiving agencies and the like, but they don’t have the mandate to deliver to every address every day, so competing with them is like asking  a single person and a family of five to live comfortably on the same wage. The point being that the postal service, like rural electrification, was envisioned to serve all Americans equally, regardless of where they live (urban or rural). They were designed on the principles of fairness, and with the foresight to see that improved communications and modernization are good for the nation in many unquantifiable ways. UPS’s vision is to make money by avoiding the costly deliveries to rural locations. Who can blame them? The difference is in ideology; government’s being “for the people”. This doesn’t mean you can’t use some of the management techniques that have been honed in business to increase efficiency in the way public services are provided. Of course you can, and you should, but our governments, being “for the people” can’t always follow a top-down decsion-making model.

A good example of when top-down decision making fails (I know you think I’m going to mention “The Shrub – The Decider” here, but think again!) is in planning for development in a small town. If the Mayor and Council decide that they need more customers for the local water district to optimize it’s efficiency, they can act like a business, and just vote amongst themselves to approve a subdivision without putting the issue up for public comment or input (if their bylaws allow that, but many small towns don’t have bylaws covering subdivisions because they’ve never needed them, being small towns). Or, if they act like what they are – a government – they wouldn’t even need bylaws to tell them that its in the town’s best interest to get input from the community before making decisions that effect the community. Maybe the locals would rather pay more for their water and retain that small-town feel. Maybe they really want to attract new residents because they feel the town is dying.  You can’t know until you ask. The town officials want the people’s input now, rather than later, at the ballot box. Even more, they want the public’s opinions to be heard because it gives them ownership in the town, which makes them more responsive to requests for volunteerism and willing to contribute in whatever way they can. Governments are- or should be- representative of the people. CEOs  are – except in the case of Enron and the like –  representative of their stakeholders. So there.

Call me a pinko-commie, bleeding heart, head-in-the-clouds, tree-hugging, naive, secular-fascist if you like, but if you do, know that you’re also calling the founding fathers of this country names.  Some American general recently said something like ‘the truest expression of patriotism is not in defending your country, but in making your country worth defending.’  The best way to make the Nation of Neihart worth defending is by acting like a community with common goals, not by circling the council wagons and making decisions behind closed doors.

There. I’ll just step off my soap box now.


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