Friday, 27 September 2013

Government is Not a Business

I have a "varied" mix of experience and education -- some might say "unusual", while the less kind amongst you would say "odd".  A Bachelor's degree in Music is not often combined with a Master's in Business Administration.  And the "normal" career path does not typically chart a course from high-end retail audio, to the building services and cyber-security industries with Honeywell and Siemens and TELUS, and back again.  

As a result, my innate humanist inclinations are informed by an understanding of business practice, and this makes for an interesting review of a video recently sent to me by the MinuteMBA, entitled "Why Government Shouldn't Be Run Like a Business".

The mission of the MinuteMBA is to provide a comprehensive resource to online MBA aspirants.  An important part of this mission is the group's set of videos on various topics related to the course of study students will encounter.  And this brings me back to the reason for the post -- the notion that government shouldn't be run like a business -- and why a dilettante like me is supremely comfortable passing judgement.

This short video identifies three reasons to support its proposition, based on three important adversarial relationships: 1. Profits vs People; 2. Shareholders vs Citizens; 3. Customers vs Constituents. The brightest among you (potential MBA candidates) will see the alignment of profits, shareholders and customers against people, citizens and constituents.  As the video correctly notes, the business of business (and its legal obligation) is to generate profits and maximize shareholder return, while the business of government (and what should be its legal obligation) is, perhaps naively, to serve the common good.  This view of business is generally accepted, if not heavily reinforced, through a constant drumbeat in the (corporate controlled) media.  The expectation of government as serving the common good, however, has increasingly come under attack in our increasingly de-regulated and globalized political environment.

The video hints at the notion of benefits sought by people, citizens and constituents that government is uniquely positioned to deliver. This notion is tied to the common good, or the more arcane term commonwealth.  Canada identifies itself as a member of the Commonwealth Group of Nations -- so too the US, Britain and 50 others.  The term dates from the 15th century, and its original meaning is "a political community founded for the common good".  

That meaning has been purposely and inexorably minimized by the rise of corporations and the governments they have captured, and that trend is (imho) at the heart of the MinuteMBA video.  The notion of common good, common well-being, is decidedly at odds with the unfettered pursuit of profit, and the attendant rise in the power of corporations and special interests over government.  And governments (notably the Harper government in Canada) create selective (and often, false) imperatives -- the economy and jobs, crime, the military, patriotism -- to give cover to their ideological convictions over the well-being of the people collectively. 

As governments around the world have been captured by commerce, it is particularly fitting on this day of the IPCC's 5th Report on Climate Change that I post the MinuteMBA video.  We have lost the collective sense of the importance of commonwealth -- the release of CO2 into the atmosphere is the most powerful and timely example of the struggle between profit and people, shareholders and citizens, customers and constituents.  The unregulated release of the fossil-fuel industry's primary waste bi-product is an existential threat to our species and life on Earth. 

Postscript.  I urge you, dear reader, to learn all you can about the science of climate change.  The deniers and sceptics are ill-informed (at best), or willfully ignorant (at worst), in support of the profit vs people motive.  Become aware, and challenge the deniers (especially those in government, industry and the corporate sponsored media) at every single opportunity.  Maybe, just maybe, the IPCC Report will begin to tilt public opinion against the climate change deniers in government, as well as the multitude of corporate and media shills.

And I urge you to access the MinuteMBA at your first convenience. The material presented there is valuable source of reference to everyone, not just those chasing the exalted three letters -- another interesting example of their work is this: "Why Women Make Better Business Leaders".

By David.


Your musical accompaniment for the day: Say What, from Stevie Ray Vaughn's Soul to Soul album.  One of the greatest blues guitarists EVER, and a great way to end the week.  Enjoy. 

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