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Letter to the editor

Government is not a business

To the editor: I will admit right off the bat that I am not a politician. I have never run for office or been a government employee. Most of my experience in politics comes from readings on the subject and having lived through 13 presidents, starting with Franklin Roosevelt, 13 governors and numerous mayors.

Over the years, I have heard and read that, “government should be run like a business,” implying that government is wasteful and inefficient while business is not. This is not the case. Those of us who have worked in corporations can recite war stories full of bad decisions and inefficient behavior.

The main difference between government and business is that businesses are organized to make money while government is not. From the preamble to the Constitution, the purpose of government is to “establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

Note that there is nothing in this statement about making money. Hence, politicians who attempt to bring business-thinking to government often fail. Because businesses are by their nature competitive, certainly in terms of market share, they often find themselves in a zero-sum game. “The only way for me to win is for you to lose.” Businessmen often consider themselves to be warriors.

But politics in a democracy should be different. The parties should not be at war with one another. Members of Congress should not see themselves as warriors. In a democracy, politics is not a zero-sum game.

The purpose of politics in a democracy is to find compromise, on a situational basis, that aligns with the above preamble. One of George Washington’s major warnings in his farewell address was “to avoid excessive political party spirit and geographical distinctions.” In other words, avoid excess partisanship. He did not state this lightly. His studies of failed democracies and his experience as president showed him that this could be the rock on which a democracy would founder.

We should take this admonition seriously.

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