Archive for the ‘The Myth of Corporate-Style Governing’ Category
Chicken contaminated with chicken manure is one likely result to come from the ag department’s dangerous and ridiculous determination to privatize poultry inspection in some 200 processing plants across the country. Currently, government inspectors – who’re professionally-trained in food safety – are stationed along the processing lines in the factory operations of such giants as Tyson Foods. They examine the birds for diseases and visible defects, including – yes – contamination by feces.
But the Obamacans have a “modernization” plan to remove these skilled, independent inspectors and let corporations police their own lines with untrained company hirelings. In addition, the privatization scheme would allow the poultry plants to speed up their lines to an absurd 175-birds-per-minute!
I said almost unbelievable. If I hadn’t, years ago, given up on Obama proving to be something other than a tame corporate shill, this would feel like a betrayal. As it is, I just sighed, “Of course.”
More of the Myth and one of the reasons corporate-owned Pubs spent so much spreading it around. “Govt is bad, corporations can do a better job policing themselves if we just leave them alone” is the kind of thinking that certainly makes it easier for corporations to dump govt inspections (after having paid the appropriate bribes to the appropriate officials and pols, of course), which means, of course, there will be no inspections at all, thus no possibility that profits will be lost due to nasty govt refusing to let them sell – at full price, mind you – spoiled food or food full of, you know, poisons and nuclear waste and shit and what not. Of course.
Apparently it isn’t enough for the Democrats to let agrocorps make our food unsafe, now they have to let them make it lethal. I hope the Dems are getting a good price for poisoning us. Because that’s what’s important here.
Obviously this is less important than it might at first appear.
Among the ostensibly “non-essential” services on hold during the government shutdown is the Food and Drug Administration’s food inspection program. Within the country, as the Huffington Post points out, that means as many as 80 food production facilities each day may be going uninspected (although an FDA spokesman clarified that an unclear portion of those will be carried out by state agriculture and public health departments).
A lot of well-meaning but thoughtless people have been supporting the modern GOP because they believed, despite all evidence to the contrary, in the right-wing myth of corporate efficiency and competence. What all these people refused to acknowledge was that the reality beneath the appearance of corporate success had far less to do with competence than greed, far less to do with efficiency than ruthlessness.
Well they may still be in denial but if they’re paying attention at all they will have realized that we are seeing corporate-style governing this week in the extortion and blackmail the Republican Congress has loosed on the nation in a desperate attempt to get its own way. These are time-honored corporate strategies used by disparate corpos from Disney to IBM to Microsoft to Wal-mart to McDonald’s. Extortion, blackmail, and bribery are the three key components of American corporate success.
So it was no surprise when Robert Reich let it slip in his blog that this govt shutdown was planned and paid for by…tah dah!…the corporate BigWigs of th 0.1%.
The bullies are a faction inside the Republican Party – extremists who are threatening more reasonable Republicans with primary challenges if they don’t go along.
And where are the Tea Party extremists getting their dough? From even bigger bullies – a handful of hugely wealthy Americans who are sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into this extortion racket.
They include David and Charles Koch (and their front group, “Americans for Prosperity’); Peter Thiel, leverage-buyout specialist John Childs, investor Howie Rich, Stephen Jackson of the Stevens Group, and executives of JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, (all behind the “Club for Growth”); and Crow Holdings’ Harlan Crow, shipping magnate Richard Uihlein, and investment banker Foster Friess; executives of MetLife and Philip Morris, and foundations controlled by the Scaife family (all bankrolling “FreedomWorks.”)
Their game plan is to not just to take over the Republican Party. It’s to take over America.
These are the standard tactics of a hostile takeover: threats and intimidation. Do what we want or we’ll burn down the store. I’d say the gloves are off. They’re not even pretending anymore.
Magicians use misdirection to pull off most of their tricks. While you’re watching the hand they’re waving, the other hand is hiding the goodies. American news media used to pride itself on seeing through the distractions to the truth underneath, but that was in the days before Richard Viguerie, Roger Ailes, and the rest of the AEI-inspired right wing noise machine showed everybody how much ordinary people hate anybody who fucks with their precious illusions, and how much more money news media outlets could make if they tossed Truth down the disposal and concentrated instead on feeding into the fantasy.
Now, after 30 years of corporate media whose idea of professionalism is healthy quarterly increases to the bottom line by refusing to challenge the illusions of their “audience” or make them uncomfortable in any way, we have a news media so degenerate that when a conscience-stricken NSA nerd blows the whistle on the largest govt spying operation since the fall of the Wall turned the Stasi into traffic cops, the single element they choose to key on is…the whistleblower. Read the rest of this entry »
Mark Gisleson has a brilliant post up at Norwegianity explaining how standard corporate power-plays are at the bottom of the Gonzales 8 Scandal.
In this matter, and all personnel matters, transparency is key. That which will not withstand scrutiny, of necessity becomes a matter of veils and subterfuge, just as we’re now discovering with the fired U.S. Attorneys. In not one case are we learning that the fired U.S. Attorney in question had done anything but an exemplary job. But therein lays the rub — our corporatized administration has done pretty much what corporate execs usually do: they lied and cheated, and now they’ve been caught red-handed thanks to incriminating emails and lower-ranking officials who’ve seen plenty of examples of people like themselves being thrown overboard by the Bushies when push came to shucking a perjury charge.
In the corporate world, it’s next to impossible to stop top higher ups from doing pretty much anything they like short of raping their administrative assistants in a public area of the building. And ending that “privilege” of rank wasn’t easy, as any woman over forty can tell you. Government, however, is not business, and the Bushies in their consumate [sic] arrogance forgot they were leaving paper trails, and that they were dealing with powerful individuals who have powerful friends.
Frankly, I despair of ever ridding American corporations of the dumbfuck idea that a loyal monoculture is best for business. No, it’s the best way to make sure that at some future point the company goes down the toilet because of 1) lawbreaking by corporate officers, 2) short-term thinking that destroys long-term business, or 3) any of a number of other unforseen consequences of actions that would have been flagged were the decision-making process open to a more diverse group of people, like actual human beings, for example.
So, unsurprisingly the Bushies tried to claim all the fired USAs were fired for cause. Dumbfuck idea #1, as the Bushies failed to plant said evidence in any of the USAs’ personnel files, and all in fact had excellent performance evaluations on record. Further efforts in that regard are also blowing up in the Bushies’ faces because the proper foundation (i.e., planting of phony work evaluations and written criticisms) wasn’t laid.
Go read the rest. And remember it the next time somebody insists that govt ought to be run like a business – when it is, baaaaad things happen.
No one who has ever worked for a corporation could fail to be aware of a certain “turf consciousness” as various departments – and individuals within those departments – compete for attention and power. There are two myths involved in turf consciousness.
1. The “team concept”
That’s the one that portrays corporate life as a sports metaphor, where every individual has a specific job to do but works seamlessly with everyone else as part of a unit with the same goal: winning the game (read: “making a lot of money”). According to the myth, “teamwork” increases efficiency and corporate harmony by honoring the value of everyone’s contribution equally, and subsuming private goals to the overall good of the team. The idea is expressed in one of two ways:
- The only “turf” that matters is the turf of the playing field where the game is being fought. It is common to everyone and no single individual or group controls it. Therefore, fighting over control of it is counter-productive and inefficient.
- The game can only be won if the team works together. Fighting over prerogatives, perks, and power serves to fragment the team effort, weakening it with jealousy, internal strife, and hurt feelings, effectively sabotaging the team’s efforts.
There are a number of corporate fads swirling around the concept of building teamwork. My sister-in-law, for example, runs corporate Team-Building Weekends on ropes-challenge courses in which junior executives learn to work together on an obstacle course consisting of rope-ladders, rope bridges, trapezes, and simulated cliffs. Most of it happens in trees, 20 feet or more above the ground. The course is designed to make it difficult or even impossible for an individual to succeed alone but a snap if the group works together. It’s a very sophisticated version of the kind of obstacle course the military uses during basic training. She makes a good deal of money running these weekends.
Then there was the “dragon boat racing” craze of a few years ago. Adapted from the Chinese, dragon boat racing requires participants to row and steer together. If they argue, they lose.
The latest of these fads was adapted, believe it or not, from acting and improvisational exercises. Two of these exercises were on view last year in tv programs, an episode of What About Brian? and a teaser for Donald Trump’s new Apprentice.
The point of all these is to build trust between the participants and break down the walls of competitive ego by forcing the subjects to co-operate with each other. Does it work?
The short answer is, of course, No.
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: Read the rest of this entry »
Somebody else has caught on.
Kathy at Random Thoughts has an excellent post up in which she analyzes Bush’s management style and finds it’s–ta da!–corporate. And a particular kind of corporate.
My impression of the work culture he creates is that it’s highly structured, unforgiving, and authoritarian. It seems to be the kind of place where what matters is completing your assignment and not making sure it’s the right assignment to complete. More secretarial than executive. It seems to be the kind of place where everyone absolutely understands the status of everyone else. It reminds me of the NY corporate environment I once inhabited.That was a place where you measured status by office location, decor, company-paid magazine subscriptions, whether you were on the To or CC line of a memo, what meetings you attended (or didn’t), how technically illiterate you were (the more illiterate, the higher the level), and where you ate lunch. It was an environment where the question “why” couldn’t be asked at all until you were at a specific executive level, where results mattered more than methods as long as methods that skirted the ethical line weren’t disclosed. It was a place where more attention was paid to being in the office at 8:30 than accomplishing anything once you got there. It was a place where process mattered more than product and the inevitable product failure was blamed on uncontrollable external forces. It was a place where competitors were reviled and disrespected and all was fair in the effort to win. It was a place where bad news was held back in the hopes that it could be dealt with before it got communicated upwards, where executive incompetence was accomodated instead of confronted. It was a place where no-one dared tell the president he was wrong.
Gloriosky, Sandy, but that sounds just like…. No, it couldn’t be.
But it is, of course. Kathy has written a concise and spot-on description of the way this Administration functions, and she lays it right at the door where it belongs, a door that opens onto a certain kind of corporate management style: the prevailing one. Halliburton’s.
Thanks for the support, Kath. CORPORATE TYPES USUALLY DON’T BELONG IN GOVT AND SHOULD NEVER NEVER NEVER BE ALLOWED TO RUN THEM. EVER.
Condoleezza Rice’s testimony yesterday didn’t do much to shore up Admin arguments that they “did everything they could”, not even on the surface. Instead of acknowledging that their focus on state-sponsored terrorism was mistaken and that they corrected it after 9/11, Rice actually seemed to be defending this thoroughly discredited doctrine. Of course, she more or less had to, what with its being the excuse for Iraq and all, but it increased rather than decreased the sense that the BA remains locked inside its own little world, believing what it wants to believe, its thought processes uncontaminated by facts.
The disconnect beteen the Admin version of events and realities on the ground was thrown into sharp relief on the tv screen, as Robert Wright noted in the NY Times this morning.
How did Condoleezza Rice do in defending the Bush administration’s antiterrororism policies yesterday before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks? Better if you kept your eyes on her than if you glanced down at the CNN headlines rolling across the bottom of the TV screen.Just as she said that invading Iraq had removed a source “of violence and fear and instability in the world’s most dangerous region,” the bottom of the screen read, “IRAQ’S INTERIM INTERIOR MINISTER NURIL AL-BADRAN ANNOUNCES HIS RESIGNATION; INTERIOR MINISTRY IS IN CHARGE OF POLICE FORCES.”
You have to admire Ms. Rice, the national security adviser, for so staunchly defending the invasion of Iraq even amid the current turmoil there. But the effect of her defense — and of her testimony generally — was to raise questions about this administration’s grasp of reality.
Not really–I think those questions have all been answered at this point–The Bush Admin is out to lunch. Permanently.
But if there were no surprises in her attempt to defend her boss by supporting standard BushCo fantasies, there were a couple in other areas that are worth mentioning, not so much surprises of views as surprises of tone.
The first was Rice’s apparently genuine belief–that’s how it came across on the radio–in the Clinton Admin’s responsibility for 9/11, and her matter-of-fact contempt for the Constitution. Not once but again and again she called it a “structural problem” and took credit on behalf of the BA for finding a way to circumvent it. She was talking about the PATRIOT Act, which dismisses all those uncomfortable Constitutional separations between domestic and international surveillance that used to keep the CIA from spying on dissenters and the FBI from eavesdropping on embassies, and pretty much allows them to cross any boundary that happens to get in their way. Given that someone as inherently anti-democratic as Ashcroft is in charge of the Justice Dept, one suspects that the same contempt runs through the whole Administration.
Early in her opening statement, she said that the “only thing” that could have stopped 9/11 was better information collection which legal restrictions due to laws against the invasion of privacy made difficult or impossible, and hinted rather strongly that this intolerable situation was the fault of the Clinton Administration, implying that 9/11 might not have happened if only they had ignored those pesky laws like the BA had.
If that weren’t chilling enough, we have the spectre of a National Scurity Advisor unable to recognize a threat report when she sees one, and insisting that nothing could possibly be done unless the terrorists told her in advance the details of their attack: “It was not a warning — there was no specific time, place or method involved.” Oh, sorry. We’ll try to do better next time.
At the root of Rice’s blithe acceptance of the dictum that without specific information nothing much could be done and that in any case, nobody asked her to do anything, is a corporate mind-set that is yet another reason why corporate executives don’t belong in govt. In the corporate world, change is dangerous–you don’t move or adjust until and unless you’re forced to do so. CEO’s are prized for their “steadiness”–which tranlates in the real world to “stubbornness in the face of external pressures”–because it’s a quality that makes investors feel good; they think their money is safer in the hands of people not blown away by every little fad or difficulty. They’re probably right, but it’s a quality that leads, in govt, directly to what we’re seeing now: officials challenged by new circumstances who are both unable and unwilling to shift gears when confronted by new information or changing environments. All their training and experience tells them to resist doing any such thing.
Another problem arises from a managerial skill that you would think would be a plus: the focus on problem-solving. That it isn’t is due to the differing nature of corporate and governmental cultures and a different level of expectations. She wasn’t kidding or making excuses when she said this–it’s the way corporate managers think:
[S]he suggested that if terrorist threats were not brought to the president’s attention, it was Mr. Clarke’s fault. “All he needed to do was to say, `I need time to brief the president on something,’ ” she said. “But Dick Clarke never asked me to brief the president on counterterrorism.”
It sounds, as Philip Shenon notes, like she’s playing into the Blame Game. But the reality more likely is that this is simply her management style: your job as a supervisor is to solve the problems and expedite the requests of your subordinate staff; if they don’t tell you the problems, how can you solve them? If they don’t make the request, how can you grant it?
Richard Clarke, by contrast, is a career govt official, and the govt paradigm is significantly different: when a situation develops, you tell your principals and make recommendations, the assumptions being that the principals will then act on it without you having to “ask them” to do so. That is, presumably, what they came to govt for–to do things.
Indeed, that has been our expection of and belief in govt activity lo, these many years–govt does things: things that protect us, that better our lives, that make us safer. We don’t expect people in govt to sit on their hands in a crisis and hope it blows over. But that’s exactly what corporations demand. Where a govt warning in a crisis might be, “Don’t do too little”, in a corporation it’s “Don’t do too much.” The cultures are entirely apposite.
Finally, there is the corporate manager’s instinctive faith in delegation of authority. Her otherwise inexplicable refusal to help bridge the gaps she acknowledges existed between the intelligence services due to the “structural problems” she was fully aware of, can be understood only in the light of her contention that she didn’t need to do anything because the FBI was already doing it.
“The F.B.I. was pursuing these Al Qaeda cells,” she said. “I believe in the Aug. 6 memorandum it says there were 70 full-field investigations under way of these cells. And so there was no recommendation that we do something about this. The F.B.I was pursuing it.”
First, one of her departments was dealing with the situation, so why did she need to get involved? Let them do their job. Second, there was “no recommendation” that she do anything, and in the corporate world, you don’t initiate anything if you want to survive.
There is a caveat to all this, and it needs to be said: In the corporate world, lower-echelon managers are responsible to upper-echelon managers; every boss does what her boss told her to do. Orders come from the top. No orders, no action. Condi’s boss is George.
Unwittingly, Rice gave us a pretty clear picture of Bush’s incompetence as a manager. We can now understand, if we didn’t before, why Arbusto went busto. As Randi put it yesterday, “When Bush says they did everything he knew how to do, believe him.”
The Myth of Corporate-Style Government, Part 3
There is a general belief, spoon-fed to us with our Wheaties from the time we can chew, that running the govt “like a business” is a Good Thing: it means better service, lower costs (read: “lower taxes”), more attention to the needs of customers (citizens), more efficient management of resources, and less bureaucratic fol-de-rol. Businessmen have been fairly successful selling this idea in the political arena and pointing to their business backgrounds as the right preparation for making a messy, corrupt behemoth of a govt into a lean, mean, corporate-style machine that will finally provide all those things we think govt lacks. We believe this because, after all, isn’t that how businesses survive? Aren’t those things what they’re good at?
As it turns out, no. These supposedly bedrock business fundamentals are as much a myth as Sysyphus or St George and the Dragon. Most businesses, especially corporations, survive not through providing better or cheaper products and services but despite providing neither. Instead, they usually rely on a combination of sales tricks, industrial theft, lies, the unethical or even illegal destruction of their competition, and cozying up to the local political machine in order to obtain special favors that will give them a competitive advantage.
While corporations are infinitely more sophisticated at these games, they are as common with small, local businesses as they are in giant global corps; the level of involvement is merely a matter of degree. One representative example:
In the town where I used to live, there was a restaurant next door that specialized in breakfasts and lunches. It opened at 5am and closed at 2pm. It was the only place in town that did so. The food wasn’t very good and the service was abominable but it was the only game in town if you wanted breakfast. The owner was also a landlord–he owned several apartment buildings as well as the restaurant–so he was, in that little village, a power; what you might call the Big Frog in the Small Pond.
One day, the owner of the other restaurant in town (which had opened at 3pm and served only dinner) decided to try competing for the breakfast market and began opening at 6am. The food was better, the menu had much more variety, the service was sharp, and the prices were almost identical. People began to shift over and Owner A started losing business. He didn’t like losing business.
Now, the myth would suggest that A’s next move to counter this new competition would be to improve the quality of his food and speed the quality of his service, right? But that’s not exactly what happened in the real world. In the real world–
***Within a month, Owner B was getting visits from the Health Inspector nearly every day and was being cited for one bogus or picayune violation after another each time.
***The police started towing cars parked behind B’s place, claiming that it was now a short-term (15-min) lot and any car that stayed longer was staying illegally and would be towed–this despite the fact that there had been no notification, weren’t any signs to that effect, the lot had never been “short-term” before, and the meters all had 2-hr limits on them.
***Owner A went to the Town Planning and Zoning Boards to complain about the extra traffic downtown that was being generated by B’s new hours. The Chairs of said Boards, not to mention several of the members, had been recipients of A’s largesse in the form of political contributions–an area of concern B had neglected–so nobody was surprised when the Zoning Board announced its intention to re-zone that part of Main Street–just that part–to eliminate “public eating facilities” in order to ease the “traffic congestion” invisible to everyone but A, and the Planning Board announced a proposal to annex B’s property for a new police station.
There were hurried meetings between all participants and an agreement was struck: B went back to his original hours and both the re-zoning and the proposed annex died quiet deaths. To this day, the community has been deprived of a decent place to have breakfast and A’s sub-standard joint is once again the only place in town to get one.
I could relate similar tales about practically any business in that town, as well as many other businesses in many other towns with which I have been acquiainted over the years. If you’re honest, you could do likewise.
My point is that business is not and never has been the bastion of efficiency, honest competition, and a level playing field that it claims for itself. The fact–not the myth–is that business is always looking for short cuts, is unconcerned about the effect of those short cuts on the community, believes that govt is nothing more than a tool to enforce their interests and uses it that way, and that they compete far more often on the field of political favoritism than they do on the field of product or service superiority–which is usually an afterthought at best. Putting people with that background and those beliefs into govt is the same as putting a fox in charge of your henhouse, and anyone who thinks otherwise is living in a corporate-sponsored fantasy. The reality is that they bring the same habits, attitudes, and practices to govt that they used to foist their businesses on an unsuspecting public, chief among them the use of that govt as if it were a wholly-owned subsidiary of their corporate selves.
All you have to do to prove this to yourself is look at the present Admin, loaded to the gunnels with ex-corporate leaders, promoters, lobbyists, and spokespersons. Staffed by corporate types, its decisions are almost universally pro-business even when they are clearly and obviously destructive of the public interest.
Environmental protection under the Bush administration often seems to refer to the political environment and not the stewardship of the nation’s precious resources. In the latest attack on existing safeguards, the Interior Department is quietly gutting yet another legal safeguard against the wholesale pollution and burial of streams in Appalachia by the strip-mining industry.In 2002, the administration essentially repealed a longstanding provision of the Clean Water Act prohibiting the dumping of mining wastes in streams. Now, under what is advertised as a “clarification” of the law governing surface mining, the administration is eliminating a ban dating from the Reagan era against mining activity within 100 feet of a stream.
Taken together, these two rollbacks can only encourage and accelerate the horrific process called mountaintop removal, which has already buried about 1,200 miles of Appalachia’s vital streams under mammoth piles of bulldozed waste. This serial decapitation of the coal-rich hills has long been a matter of furious conflict between the mining industry and the residents and environmentalists defending the life and beauty of the Appalachian hollows. Hundreds of square miles of mountaintops have been dynamited away, and dozens of communities bought out and buried.
The new regulation changes a standing prohibition against mining within 100 feet of a stream if it will degrade water quality. In the future, mining companies will be required to respect the buffer zone merely “to the extent practicable.” This is an open invitation to industry to ignore a rule that, as a practical matter, has been routinely abused as regulators looked the other way.
Result of the conflict between industry interests and public interests? You might want to visit the Appalachians soon if you want to see them before they disappear. If you live there–move. Or fight. There’s no third option.
If you insist on putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, you’ve got no right to be surprised when your chickens die, one by one:
Now that the first case of mad cow disease in the United States has been confirmed, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman’s subservience to the agribusiness interests she once served as a lobbyist is no longer merely troublesome. It’s dangerous.Veneman was put in charge of the Department of Agriculture by President Bush because he knew the longtime advocate for the genetic modification of food, factory farming and free trade policies that favor big agribusiness over family farmers and consumers could be counted on to choose the side of business interests over the public interest.
Veneman did just that when she announced that mad cow disease had been found in the United States. Instead of offering a realistic response to the news, she was still doing public relations for agribusiness. She declared the case was isolated, praised the USDA for a “swift and effective” response, and discounted any risk to human health.
Unfortunately, because of the USDA’s lax approach to inspections and regulation, Venemen has no idea whether she is right.
Neither, needless to say, do we.
We don’t live in the corporate myth, we live in the real world. In the myth, strip-mining–which is highly inefficient as well as destructive–would have been replaced by better methods in response to economic and social realities. It wasn’t. In the real world, the strip-mining industry used its govt connections to avoid any such changes. In the myth, FDA inspection procedures would have been tightened to protect the health of the govt’s customers. They weren’t. In the real world, the industry used govt to duck responsibility and provide itself with some needed PR while it ignores the improvements it clearly needs to make.
What we must learn to remember when corporate types rave on about the “virtues” of running govt “like a business” is that they’re speaking from an extremely narrow perspective–their own–and that our interests are not only secondary, they’re not even on the list. To a corporate type, “What’s good for us is good for the country” is a sacred, unchallengable mantra, an article of faith, and a rule of life. They bring it into govt with them, and they run the govt on the basis of it.
Stop kidding yourselves. A fox is always a fox and acts according to his nature, no matter what he claims when he wants your hens. If you believe him, he will take what he wants and you–and your children–will starve. And he won’t even say, “Thank you.”
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?
The United Nations produced reports on Iraq regularly from 1998 to 2001. The documents painted a picture of a troubled system and cited the need for improvements, some of which are now being proposed by Mr. Bremer, like the $125 million repair of the Qarmat Ali water plant in the south.
In April, when Vice President Cheney was asked about Iraq’s oil during an appearance before newspaper editors, he cited higher numbers rather than the task force’s more sober findings.
While noting that Iraq’s oil fields were in “bad shape,” Mr. Cheney said, “With some investment we ought to be able to get production back up on the order of 2.5, 3 million barrels a day, within, hopefully by the end of the year.”
“Why can’t they run the government like a business?” is a refrain we’ve been hearing for almost 40 years. The assumption behind the question is that govt is wasteful and inefficient, full of do-nothing bureaucrats and faceless, paper-pushing functionaries whose only goal in life is to waste taxpayer dollars making mountains out of molehills and sows’ ears from silk purses, and who are so incompetent they couldn’t run a lemonade stand and make a profit.
The companion assumption is, of course, that business is govt’s antithesis: a mean, lean machine full of purposeful, competent managers who make every penny count, produce 2.5 times their weight in productivity, and and waste nothing. The thinking (such as it is) comes from the Free Market Fantasy Handbook, which claims that competition (which govt doesn’t have any of) is the lifeblood of efficiency and success, a ruthless taskmaster whose ultimate punishment for wimps and wastoids is bankruptcy and their consequent elimination from the corporate gene-pool.
Nowhere in these assumptions do you run up against the rather obvious notion that the goals of these two institutions are apposite: business exists to make money, and the how or why of it is irrelevant; govt exists to serve and protect its citizens, and the how and why are critical to judging its success: who exactly are they serving, and how? who are they protecting, and how? “Profit” never enters into the equation because it’s not supposed to make one at the expense of its citizens.
So while the comparison may sound compelling at first, if you think about it calmly for 4 or 5 seconds, it quickly becomes clear that it’s not a valid comparison–it’s apples and oranges, or worse: apples and lightbulbs. The trouble, of course, is that we haven’t thought about it calmly at all. We have looked at our tax bills and thought: “My dear god, there has to be a better way.”
I have nothing against the idea of making govt more efficient, and Al Gore’s work during Clinton’s first term showed quite clearly that this can be done and that with a certain amount of application and fortitude, govt can do a better job of providing services and do it less expensively and more quickly than you would have expected or even imagined.
No, my beef is with the oft-expressed mythology around corporate execs in government. That mythology, like all mythology, is based on a stereotypical image that doesn’t hold together very well in the real world. In point of fact, studies have shown that govt provides community services way cheaper than any business could (no profit to make, get it?) and that they’re better at it, too: they serve everybody, not the select few, and–with some notable exceptions of which no one is proud–reasonably equitably.
I’m not going to get into a discussion (yet) of comparing examples of, say, govt-run public school programs with privatized public school programs, or the costs of govt-run public utilities as against those of their privatized cousins, either of which comparison would blast the mythology into little unrecognizable and bleeding pieces. My intent is to talk about the attitudes corporate managers and executives bring with them to govt, attitudes in which they’ve been trained and to which they’ve been committed for years before coming to govt service, and to ask bluntly, “Are these really the qualities we want to see in our government?”
It has been said–and I’m not arguing–that corporate figures don’t belong in govt because their inherent greed–the mindset that govt exists to enrich them and their fellow corporate travelers and for no other legitimate reason–inevitably ensnares them in webs of collusion and a narrow-eyed blindness to the differences between the goals of a corporation and the goals of a govt. It has been pointed out that their training in profit-making skews their perceptions of the role of govt by making the bottom line the one and only measure of success–spend less, more success–ignoring completely concepts outside corporate reality, concepts like “social good” and “community goals” which are alien and even antithetical to business goals.
But for the sake of argument, let’s just remove “profit” from the direct mix and move it into the background as a foundarion stone of the attitudes built on it. How do those attitudes play out in the very different world of government?
The answer is, Not very well. And in fact, even inside the corporate world they have their problems. One of the worst of these attitudes is a relentless optimism born from the necessity of believing that formidable obstacles can be overcome despite all apparent evidence to the contrary in order to realize your goals (or those of your company). The line between real hope and hyped-up spin is perilously thin, and it is a line that is crossed daily by marketing and PR depts.
In the days when Enron was riding high, its optimism was so great that it began project after project without bothering to ask the basic question: What’s the downside? Corporate values and beliefs didn’t allow for a downside; even to talk about it was considered traitorous: negativity is betrayal of corporate goals, even corporate reality, when the reigning command structure’s motto is, “We can do ANYTHING!” All “but’s” and “what-if’s” were quickly shuttled to the back of the bus and covered over with red tarps emblazoned with a huge tippy-E while sneering execs threw rotten eggs and squishy tomatoes at them.
If you worked for Enron, the message was impossible to miss: If you think you see a problem, keep it to yourself because we don’t want to hear it and we’ll punish you severely if you make us listen.
A different, less active version of relentless optimism caused IBM and Xerox to turn their backs on the personal computer revolution of the 80′s because they couldn’t believe that some upstart kids working out of a garage could possibly have an effect on the business they held at that time in a stranglehold. Excessive optimism doesn’t just make you greedy and slap-happy, as at Enron; it can also make you blind. IBM and Xerox sniffed and looked down their noses: “Nobody can challenge US,” they said, “and nobody ever will.” Their certainty damn near destroyed them.
Unfortunately, the stakes are much higher in govt than in business. Where business hubris can cost jobs, govt hubris can cost lives. One is bad, but the other is terminal.
If you think back to the days before the war when Administration heavies like Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Cheney were making the rounds talking up their rationale for invading Iraq, whenever it was suggested to them that things might not go as smoothly as they thought it would, the most common theme in their responses was: “Don’t be so negative.” Their versions of the future were always relentlessly optimistic: nothing could possibly go wrong, they were absolutely certain of the results of their intelligence (which was coming from Chalabi and his INC, remember), and anybody who said otherwise was a witless, wimpy Cassandra lost in the totally irrelevant land of Viet Nam, which everybody should just forget about as quickly as possible because it had NOTHING in common with Iraq.
We now know that this same blind optimism poisoned their post-war planning, particularly in regard to expecting the oil fields to pay for reconstruction, a scenario they tossed off as blithely and off-handedly as if it were so obvious it didn’t even need to be mentioned. Except it turns out their own experts were telling them otherwise:
The Bush administration’s optimistic statements earlier this year that Iraq’s oil wealth, not American taxpayers, would cover most of the cost of rebuilding Iraq were at odds with a bleaker assessment of a government task force secretly established last fall to study Iraq’s oil industry, according to public records and government officials.The task force, which was based at the Pentagon as part of the planning for the war, produced a book-length report that described the Iraqi oil industry as so badly damaged by a decade of trade embargoes that its production capacity had fallen by more than 25 percent, panel members have said.
With such information in hand, and from their own people, you would think that the Admin would have adapted their post-war plan to deal with the problems that were outlined. But they didn’t. Relentless optimism doesn’t allow for bleak forecasts:
Despite those findings, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told Congress during the war that “we are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.”Moreover, Vice President Dick Cheney said in April, on the day Baghdad fell, that Iraq’s oil production could hit 3 million barrels a day by the end of the year, even though the task force had determined that Iraq was generating less than 2.4 million barrels a day before the war.
The result of their standard corporate optimism-in-the-face-of-any-obstacle is a chaotic situation which is costing our soldiers their lives and our society a crippling deficit that is bankrupting the economy, both of which might have been avoided–or at least minimized–by realistic planning that took actual facts as its base rather than optimistic fantasies fed by corporate-style cheerleading.
Is relentless optimism in the face of all ration and reason really an attribute we want those running our government to have?