The Myth of Corporate-Style Governing 2: Law-Breaking Is BAU

Another part of the mythology around corporations is that a business-owner or corporate manager who moved into govt would have had experience with legal limitations and be less likely to stretch them than a conscienceless politician whose only concern is re-election. It sounds good, but the reality is a little different.From the Washington Post (by way of Calpundit):

House Democrats charged yesterday that the Environmental Protection Agency misused public funds to promote the Bush administration’s premier clean air legislation in Spanish-language media and may have violated federal anti-lobbying laws.The EPA recently began running Spanish-language public service commercials on the Hispanic Radio Network boosting the administration’s “Clear Skies” legislation, which is pending in Congress. On Sept. 30, the EPA bought a full-page ad in a new Spanish-language newspaper published by the Dallas Morning News. The ad promised “cleaner air, better health, a brighter future for the United States” under the legislation.

The campaign was launched to coincide with National Hispanic Heritage Month, EPA spokeswoman Lisa Harrison said, and is meant to help “educate and inform” people about key environmental issues. She denied that the agency violated federal laws

A Calpundit commenter named Tripp responded:

“I think this is another example of treating government as a business. Is there ever such a thing as too much profit for a business? Of course not. Maximizing profit is what business executives are supposed to do.Bush is maximizing his profit.”

I think Tripp is close. It’s the corporate mentality, alright, but it’s the part of corporate mentality that sees everything in life–employees, entertainment, taxes, you name it–as nothing but an adjunct to its own activities and otherwise meaningless. “(Insert name of activity here) either helps us or hurts us. If it does neither, it doesn’t exist.”

It would simply never occur to this layer of the corporate mentality that any dept in its organization could have any function other than doing the bidding of top management. “What, the LAW says I can’t use a section of my own company any way I want? Ridiculous!”

This is actually the part of the corporate brain that fuels anger against, say, environmental regs. It isn’t always about profits; a lot of the time it’s about power: people want to own things because they believe they will have power over the things they own.

I knew a guy who grew his little business until he could open stores in a couple of malls. Instantly, he expected the malls to provide him with cleaning services, advertising space wherever he wanted it, and free coffee when he came to visit. He parked in the fire lane whenever he couldn’t find a space 3 feet from the door because, he said, “I own a store here. I do business here. I have a right to park wherever I want to park.” And if there’s a fire? “Let ’em go around. There’s plenty of room.”

Unfortunately, his attitude is not unusual, and the sense of entitlement he embodies filters down: the whole hierarchy of the corporate pecking-order is based on perq’s. Remember the 50’s and the infamous “key to the executive washroom”? The respect you get is in direct relation to the power you have; the more power, the higher the sense of entitlement. By the time you get to the level of a superstar CEO like Jack Welch, you think you’re entitled to $$$hundreds of millions$$$ in compensation and a private plane paid for by the company and several houses and stock options and the state of Rhode Island (he wanted something small but with a beach) even after you’re no longer working for them.

You also believe that you have the right to destroy millions of lives if it will increase the price of your stock by a few pennies because the only things that count are your supremacy and the Bottom Line. You can destroy the very company you’re supposed to be leading if by destroying it you increase the dividend to your investors.There are no other considerations.

This is another one of the dangers in putting corporate types in charge of government–they think of it as just another power-forum and expect it to do what they want it to do, just like in business. The idea that govt has a separate public function is simply alien to their whole way of thinking. The concept of a “public good” or a “social conscience” or even a sense of responsibility to anyone other than yourself isn’t even on the table; it’s some pie-in-the-sky liberal BS. Junk it. And if the laws get in the way, junk them, too.

One of the clearest examples of this CEO attitude in govt came from Bush himself when he said about the war, “I don’t have to ask anybody. I’m the one who makes the decisions. I like that part of it.”

I bet he does.

The corporate mindset doesn’t recognize limitations on the use of its depts or a public duty to scientific and/or political impartiality (which is what the laws against govt paying to advertise its programs are meant to do). To the corporate mind, marketing and PR are as important–more important–than the quality of the product, and it’s the job of every part of the organization to boost the sales of that product (in this case, Clear Skies) by contributing to the merchandising effort. This is their corporate-trained idea of what “education” is: education=advertising, advertising=sales. “Education” unrelated to either training workers for them or building their customer base is a waste of time and money.

In govt this translates rather quickly, especially with an Admin centered far more on illusion than reality, to selling the image of a successful initiative without bothering too much about the substance. In advertising, perception is everything; convince the consumer that your toothpaste will make his life better than it was without it, and he will buy it. Convince a voter that your program is making the air cleaner and you won’t have to suffer the inconvenience of having to explain why it’s actually making the air filthier–until people start to get sick and die.

Advertising is the key to a corporate administration; everything it does is advertising: image management, slogan development, sales pitches in the echo chamber. The consumers (voters) are sold an illusion that they like in place of a faulty product that doesn’t do what the advertising says it will do, but by the time they figure this out it will be too late.

Thus, in a corporate-run administration, the law is an obstacle to be circumvented just as it is in the business world, every dept is expected to help boost sales of the product whatever way it can (or is told to) just as it is in the business world, and voters are considered to be nothing more than consumers who must be sold products they don’t particularly want and wouldn’t like if they knew how shoddy they were–sold through manipulation, misdirection, and outright lies if necessary–just as in the business world.

It’s not really their fault, poor dears–they’ve been trained to think that way and they can’t help it.

But we can. We can start to understand, finally, that business isn’t really the best training for running a democracy and in fact may be the worst. Constantly confusing the product with the sales pitch may not mean much when it comes to toothpaste but when a war is on the line it can get your sons and daughters killed and bankrupt the economy.

Is this really how we want our leaders to think?

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