Iowa Businessman Bob Vander Plaats
October 24, 2001 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Iowa Businessman Bob Vander Plaats announced his campaign for governor saying he wants to "run government like a business," according to the Des Moines Register. The Quad City Times notes that Vander Platt says his management experience "forms the foundation of his run for the GOP nomination." Taegan Goddard and Chris Riback say in an essay from their book that you can't run government like a business. Who is right?
posted by flip (17 comments total)
it's all opinion. there is no "Truth".

I think that government *IS* a business. They get income (albiet through a non-standard way.... IRS), and they provide various services. They are simply the largest busniess.

They even have spinoffs! the USPS is nearly it's own company now.
posted by presto at 8:15 AM on October 24, 2001

You cannot run government like a business. The point of a business is to turn a profit. The point of a government is to serve its constituents. The two goals are in direct conflict.
posted by donkeymon at 8:17 AM on October 24, 2001

The federal government here (belgium) is transforming itself to run like a business.

The plan called Copernicus should improve lots of services like taxes, numberplate registrations and the like (many of them, by preprending them a e-) and bring its hierarchy more linear. All that down to local level.

A good initiative in my eyes, but as one would expect, not easy to accomplish (as you can tell by their results so far).

Especially when you know that the country is runned by seven (7) governments.

Ah well, it keeps the people happy. Or so they think :)
posted by sans at 8:23 AM on October 24, 2001

I'm pretty sure Mike Bloomberg will agree with this candidate.
posted by remlapm at 8:24 AM on October 24, 2001

One (good) consequence of running government like a business -- if it truly is run that way -- is that a poorly-run government could then fail. While this would be traumatic to different levels, depending upon the level of government, it would put pressure on a government agency/institution to perform well (by whatever metrics are relevant). So, if you take the "run it like a business" line seriously, then failure has to be a real possibility.

Of course, to really run government like a business, it would have to have competition. Imagine if you had 2 or 3 different IRS's to choose from, or a handful of agencies that can issue a drivers' license. Again, if we're serious about the "run it like a business," then this is a consequence. Otherwise, it's a monopoly (which is more like organized crime than real business).

Since neither of the above are included in what most candidates mean when they say "run it like a business," this should serve as an object lesson for the fact that political language is a poetic variant of normal, everyday language. Unfortunately most people are unaware of this distinction.
posted by yesster at 8:41 AM on October 24, 2001

It's a rather vague and misleading question. When the guy in Iowa says "run things more like a business", people make the instinctive connection to, say, the man who owns the local gas station or the car mechanic with his workshop, rather than, say, ExxonMobil or GM. And as the bail-out of airlines and insurance companies suggests, the line between the economic principles of "business" and "state" can fluctuate pretty damn rapidly, especially when dealing with leviathan corporations that wield the influence of a country.

We've discussed local government lots of times here: it's often stagnated, sustains back-slapping political dynasties, and is usually a cradle of mediocrity. It generally needs a kick up the arse. But it's also often the point at which dynamic, effective work gets done, if there's enough "subsidiarity" to put people in charge who care about local results more than an expense account. But that's the same in many business hierarchies, as anyone who's suffered under layers of middle-management will attest.

Iowa's a funny choice, though, for a candidate whose manifesto reads like an MBA syllabus: isn't it one of the most subsidised states in terms of federal handouts for agriculture and whatnot? In that context, the Governor's job is hardly like being CEO of a profitable company; it's more like leading a humanitarian aid agency. Which, ironically, makes Vander Plaats perhaps better qualified, since he's currently running a non-profit disability rehab organisation.
posted by holgate at 8:41 AM on October 24, 2001

i see some parallels between running a business and a government. donkeymon is right, to an extent, but his remark about a government serving its constituents reminded me of a CEO serving its shareholders. in the case of a publicly run corporation, those two situations are in form not too differerent; of course the shareholders of the corporation are there to make money, whereas the people of the nation simply want their nation to exist in stability and to adapt to social needs.

my concern with running a government as a business, however, is that the capitalist goal of a business -- making money -- should not be the mark by which all things are considered in a government. you simply cannot look at the environment of the nation and judge it according to its practical, economic value (environmental economic value is quite something else, and i would not expect any gov't run as a business to consider that the rocky mountains are virtually worth a trillion dollars).

can you imagine? a secretary of the interior might say that "well, these trees in the state of washington cost money -- firemen to put out fires, scientists to evaluate the land and the animals. we think it'd be worth more simply to cut it down and sell the lumber." it's creepy enough when actual companies say things like that, but it'd be disturbing to hear falling out of the mouth of a governmental official.
posted by moz at 8:43 AM on October 24, 2001

donkey -

ever heard of a non-profit organization? I work for one. we provide a service for a charge. very simple. our organization is run like a business.
posted by presto at 8:54 AM on October 24, 2001

here are some paralells to a government-run-as-busniess and a current business:

citizens = customers
representatives = board of directors
president = CEO
dept. of treasury & IRS = CFO
Dept of State = COO

and the key:

citizens = stockholders with voting power.
posted by presto at 8:58 AM on October 24, 2001

yesster, i couldn't agree more.
I would dare saying your points make a key factor in what is holding the be. government from succeeding.

That and the fact the people working for the government are exposed to a whole different type of work. One they're not so quick to accept.
posted by sans at 9:06 AM on October 24, 2001

presto: a nice glossary, but with one big caveat, reflected in moz's post. The "government as business" model intimates that the state is owned, a freehold; I'd rather see a model that reminds people that it's held in trust. The "values" that are entrusted to the state are often impossible to graph in Excel.
posted by holgate at 9:09 AM on October 24, 2001

Oh goodie.

Maybe we can get Firestone executives to take charge of public safety, and Philip Morris tobacco to handle public health. And maybe those pre-911 airport security firms could get their minimum wage folks to help handle national security for us.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:32 AM on October 24, 2001

Well, obviously you can apply some of the principles that make business successful to successful governments. How's that for a non-statement? (Probably as much of one as "I want to make the government more like a business")

Anyway good luck to this guy, Vilsack is disgusting creep whom I only voted for because the other guy was a religious right-winger. Iowa does not get a very good selection of people wanting to lead it, I guess.
posted by delmoi at 10:48 AM on October 24, 2001

Maybe we can get Firestone executives to take charge of public safety, and Philip Morris tobacco to handle public health. And maybe those pre-911 airport security firms could get their minimum wage folks to help handle national security for us.

And this would be worse than what we currently have HOW? heh
posted by rushmc at 10:52 AM on October 24, 2001

And this would be worse than what we currently have HOW? heh

Well, think of the savings that would come from said corporate execs not having to pay off the politicians to get their way...
posted by holgate at 11:04 AM on October 24, 2001

It doesn't work. Look at what happened in Saskatchewan, Canada
posted by scotty at 11:07 AM on October 24, 2001

One important difference is that the business has an incentive to minimise the amount delivered to customers where it can, maximising its profits. Business can take no account of the public interest; returns on capital are the name of the game.

Also, governments tend to handle services that are natural monopolies. Competition is the incentive that keeps business serving you. Governments have no competition (unless you emigrate).

Finally, I live in a country (New Zealand) where the bulk of public services have been privatised or reorganised along corporate lines. Almost 20 years since the process began, debate rages about whether this has improved matters. Not surprisingly, the rich are happier about this than the poor.

Oops. One last word. Railtrack.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:21 PM on October 24, 2001

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