Column originally published in the Tampa Bay Times.
Today, government is a $7 trillion business and growing.
From quaint hamlets to major cities, and in small states to large, not to mention the annual tab run up by the City by the Potomac, the people’s business has become big business.
To lead this enterprise, you would think we would recruit individuals with experience handling huge operations involving huge dollars, and who are accustomed to the day-to-day pressure of overcoming challenges to deliver bottom-line results.
If this were a job interview, such candidates would certainly rise to the top of the resume pile, right?
That’s what President-elect Donald Trump figured, as he steadily rolls out a stream of Cabinet nominees long on business achievement in a real world that bureaucrats dread but where people tread.
Instead, the peanut gallery of punditry rose in riffs of righteousness as political names went undrafted and career civil servants were passed over.
All of which prompts the question:
To manage America’s multitrillion-dollar enterprise, would you prefer those responsible for the current state of affairs — a feckless foreign policy that’s all bark and no bite, veterans in long lines pleading for care, porous policies and borderless borders — or others sporting credentials like these:
• A financial services genius who helped lead an industry heavyweight with 30,000 employees, generating $39 billion a year, that involved businesses, banks and governments around the world?
• A specialist who turned around distressed American companies in economic staples like steel, autos and textiles, with a no-nonsense attitude about keeping trade fair, and trade deals fairer, with China, Russia and others?
• A former law firm receptionist who, together with her enterprising husband, went from food stamps to putting her own stamp on one of the most successful sporting enterprises in history — and whose branding strategies are studied worldwide?
• Or how about the CEO of the sixth-biggest multinational on the planet, managing 75,000 employees, $268 billion a year in revenue, with major operations in more than 200 countries?
Meet Trump’s nominees to head the nation’s wealth (Treasury), trade (Commerce), small business (Small Business Administration), and foreign policy (State).
In a nation ready to get back on its game, these business-statesmen are a veritable showcase of talent. So why the doom-laden white-knuckled angst, the complaint to the pliant that this can’t possibly work because, well, we’ve never done this before?
To protectors of the status quo, this new state of affairs is heresy.
To the rest of us, it represents something glorious: change.
The Atlantic published an article a few years back, authored by a former member of Congress, proposing and exposing the critical differences between business and government. The central argument? The business of business is to earn a profit; the business of government is service.
This conveniently ignored how businesses must embrace consumer needs and customer service or they perish. Inexplicably, it also turned a blind eye to how government was “serving” the public with higher taxes and punishing results.
In a wanderlust conclusion of idealism, this congressional veteran concluded that government, not business, is best positioned to meet society’s obligations with “efficiency and accountability.”
Government is many things, but “efficient” and “accountable”? When it generates more than $20 trillion in debt as a holiday “gift” to our children? When it spends money on programs that serve no useful purpose save politics and posturing, or allows America’s infrastructure to deteriorate and decay?
A more balanced perspective was proffered in The Oxford Handbook of Business & Government. It read, in part: “Some would see it (business) as a threat to democracy, while others regard (it) as a precondition for the existence of democracy. … Business helps to shape policy agendas (because) the costs of doing nothing can be considerable.”
The cost of doing nothing gave rise to the 2016 campaign narrative, a year of change headlined by candidates preaching systemic transformation. This is why we must all give this new design of governing a chance, to gauge if real-world experience beyond government can truly move mountains within it.
Now, this is not to suggest we blithely hand all government over to the nation’s CEOs, or that we lose sight of the substantive contributions many public servants make every day in the name of public service.
Rather, let’s embrace the obvious. Government is already a big business — we, the people, are all shareholders in that business — and more than ever, we’re looking for, and expecting, a better return on our investment.
Adam Goodman is a national Republican media consultant based in Tampa who has created, directed and produced media for more than 300 GOP candidates in 46 states over the past 35 years. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.