From Accounting Technology editor Bob Scott’s most recent popular e-letter “Consulting Insights" comes this Random Thought: “I’ve decided if I were a public official, I would run government like a business, meaning I would invest in financial instruments, treat my employees as disposable, and pay out enormous and unmerited bonuses.”
I grew up in Maine, and about the time Americans were realizing that Watergate was a very real thing that they were going to have to live with for the rest of their lives, Maine decided to shuck both political parties like cracked clamshells and elect an independent governor. The candidate’s mantra: He was going to run government like a business.
He kept his promise, I guess. I say, “I guess,” because I have no memory of anything Gov. James B. Longley did (granted I was in high school at the time, and my days were consumed with worrying about college and hiding a dizzying crush from a brunette in the class behind me). Wikipedia asks we not confuse Gov. Longley with James B. Longley, the documentary maker (Gaza Strip, Iraq in Fragments, Sari’s Mother), nor with James B. Longley, Jr., former congressman from Maine and son of the guy whose accomplishments I must now check Wikipedia to remember.
Wikipedia doesn’t list any. But I do remember that Longley swept into office on the idea that the storefront commonsense of Main Street should flow all the way to the government. “Sounds good to me,” everybody said up and down Main Street in Bangor.
That idea, or some variation of it, in turn has governed American politics for most of my adult life. Politics seemed to be more about ideals before I was born, but more about expenditures after. The idealistic became mindful of the wallet, and, seemingly echoing the desires of the people, whoever they are, politics as a model of social advancement seemed to take a back seat to politics as business. That seemed to be where we stood until last fall, when the economy joined Iraq in fragments and suddenly it became apparent that business didn’t have all the answers – nor much of the money it claimed to have had, either.
“People say, ‘Let’s run the Post Office like a business,’” Bob adds. “Yeah, let’s phase out mail delivery in states where it’s unprofitable…”
Government and business do not fulfill the same functions, but the pendulum has apparently swung back. Neither cures all ills. Tell clients to regard them both like Triumph and Disaster in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If,” and we should “treat those two impostors just the same.”
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