For almost three decades, conservatives in both parties relentlessly pushed the idea that America should be governed as if it was a corporation where every activity was means-tested by cost/benefit analysis, departments were made efficient by being made smaller, costs were kept down in the traditional way (layoffs followed by underpaying and overworking those who were left), and any agency or appropriation unrelated to the military or helping business prosper was considered a waste of time and money that should be cut to the bone if it couldn’t be eliminated altogether. The Doctrine of Social/Economic Darwinism held that in the corporate world efficiency was rewarded and inefficiency punished, money was never wasted, management had to be effective, and results had to be positive or the “free market” would operate to weed out those companies who were not. It was a message whose simplicity proved to be enormously attractive to the general public.
Because the whole construct, as I argued in a series called “The Myth of Corporate-Style Governing” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, with support here), was mythology. Corporations in fact often – even usually – reward ass-kissing over efficiency, waste enormous amounts of money in executive perks and bad ideas, produce shoddy and over-priced goods, are almost always satisfied with the appearance of success rather than the reality, have an unswerving faith in PR and advertising as replacements for quality, and have cultures which foster management teams and executives who are so far removed from the real world, so arrogant, and so used to blind obedience that they will deny problems and difficulties right up to the point where the company implodes in its own lies. (See Enron, WorldCom, the S&L’s, and too many other examples to enumerate here.)
If none of that sounds familiar, you haven’t been paying attention. Every standard corporate idea/belief/fad/illusion/technique/management style has been on display in the Bush Administration for the past 6 years. Not surprising given that virtually the whole admin was staffed by ex-corporate executives, lawyers, PR flacks, and lobbyists. We have been given the chance to find out just what “running govt like a corporation” looks like, and it’s not pretty.
Maybe that’s why we don’t hear that mantra all that much any more. The Republicans who used to run – and win – on a platform centered around making govt perform like a business have abandoned that approach wholesale as “corporate-style governing” has come to be synonymous with corruption, inefficiency, and incompetence. Various members of the Bush Admin illustrate the usual corporate management types that are familiar from business literature: Continue reading