It’s Not a Business, Governor

I think there are very few people in this nation who are not at least aware of Governor Romney’s comments last week about poor people.  When asked to clarify his comment that he was not worried about poor people because they have a safety net, he re-iterated his comment, which further put him in a hole.

Of course the internet lit up with reactions.  I note that maybe the rich should give away all their money (that’s what Jesus said to the rich man) because since the safety net is good enough for the poor, it’s good enough for the rich.

Not that I’m defending Governor Romney.  I didn’t like him when he was my governor and I like him even less now.  While he wasn’t as bad as Sarah Palin who bailed without finishing her term, it was obvious that Romney was running for President at the start of his third year in office.  He was already tacking to the right and running away from the positions he campaigned on.

But, I honestly don’t think Governor Romney has no compassion for poor people.  True, it’s mighty hard to detect compassion when he along with most of the GOP want to cut programs that help the poor while preserving the grossly unfair advantages our current tax policies give to the rich.

His comment though betrayed something else that no one seemed to get.  You’d expect his response from someone steeped in business.  Business leaders recognize that there are limited resources, which makes maximizing those resources for the best possible return as a major priority.

Romney was referring to his campaign.  He planned to concentrate his campaign resources on the middle class because he feels confident that the rich will vote his way and that the poor will probably not.  Furthermore, voter participation among the bottom of the economic ladder is less than in the middle and the top.

And that thinking is the problem.  We can’t equate government to a business.  I know that sounds pretty naive.  We have to be honest and acknowledge that government also has to operate within the limitations of resources (forget that the government can print money – that can lead to problems too).  But government and business do not have the same mission.

Business has significant advantages government does not.  Business can fail.  It can go bankrupt.  Business can merge or be bought by other companies (think Rambler, the car company his father once ran).  Business can change its products.  Think about IBM – its name is no longer synonymous with computer manufacturing.

Government, however, doesn’t have the freedom to fail or go bankrupt.  It can’t stop providing services, such as law enforcement, public education, bank regulations, and a court system.  Government is necessary for stability so that a nation can function.  That stability includes ensuring that those who are poor have a modicum of economic dignity in order to preserve a semblance of public peace.

Granted, government needs to operate with good business practices, such as competitive bidding, a competent and honest workforce, and solid financial accounting.  It also needs to evaluate programs periodically to ensure that they are delivering upon the intentions when they were formed and make adjustments as necessary.

However, government cannot always operate as efficiently as businesses because government by its mandate must serve all the people.  Some people require more resources than the average person because of their plight.  An example are children in our public schools who require additional services because of their physical conditions.  Others might be adults who simply cannot hold a job that pays a living wage because they have psychological or emotional problems that keep them from holding a steady job.  And government helps to make them our collective responsibility – that concept known as the common good (something Jesus alluded to a lot).

We might argue about specific government programs and agencies and whether or not they are best privatized.  But overall, the government’s mandate makes some programs more appropriately operated by government than private industry.  Those programs ideally would provide basic services to sustain the common good AND to ensure domestic tranquility.

So, Romney keeps talking about his business experience as a qualification to run this country.  He has created companies (Staples), but he has also allowed for the demise of companies, too (Kay-Bee Toys, right here in Pittsfield).  But that’s the problem.  He can’t run this nation with the mindset of a business executive; it would become a huge problem.

Having worked for government (City of New York and the State University of New York) as well as public agencies for the first decade plus of my professional life, I can attest that government agencies work about as efficiently as anyone can imagine within the mandate of the legislation.  (If the legislation was messed up by politicians… well, that’s a different story.)  We used good business practices at the micro level.

It’s the macro level that doesn’t work if government is perceived as a business.  He can’t wish the poor away because they’re a drag on the bottom line.  He can’t stop funding a program because it’s not working well.  He will have to find some way to replace it so as not to hurt those who rely upon the program.

Romney’s words were not of someone who lacked compassion for the poor, but reflected a person who will approach government in a way that will further tear the already fragile community fabric that holds us together.  Romney needs to see the tattered and worn fabric as the only fabric we have and that thinking he can order up a new, bright one may one day make him realize in his drive to maximize our resources, he didn’t make it big enough.

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About Quentin Chin

Eclectic interests: religion, technology, food, music, current events. I live in the reality-based world.
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