I am certain that we have all heard at least one-dozen times or more how Mitt Romney’s private sector experience will pay off in cleaning up government. It’s the thing he stresses relentlessly, and his campaign generally can’t wait to get to that subject. Naturally, any candidate will seek to push his virtues, and downplay his weaknesses, and so it is with Romney or any of the other candidates in this race for the GOP nomination. As discerning voters, however, it is incumbent upon us to examine their complete records, and not simply cherry-pick which parts we like or dislike. We must consider the bad with the good, and part of this process includes deciding what parts of their records are relevant. The Romney campaign loves to talk about his business experience, but during this primary, they’re mostly avoiding his record as Governor of Massachusetts, and this is an important sleight-of-hand we ought not overlook, because it is the relevant part of his record that will be most important in this election.
We all like to imagine that if we could somehow bring the work ethic of the private sector to government, we could some how improve its efficiency. This stems in large measure from our natural observations of how wasteful our government is with abundant resources we provide it, that still never seem to be enough. Who among us wouldn’t like to see government become more efficient in this regard? Four-hundred dollar hammers and six-hundred dollar toilet seats are just two of the historical examples we can identify in an endless sea of waste. Unfortunately, however, businesses waste money too, and in many of the same ways. Walmart wastes tens of millions in accepted returns they ought not to have permitted, because it’s easier than making a scene. Taking back six-months used shoes on the basis that “they don’t fit quite right” is probably a sure way to eventually hurt your business. Of course, businesses do things far more wasteful than this, but my point to you is merely that business is only presumed to be less wasteful in most respects, but in the facts, it isn’t always this way.
Another problem is that government really doesn’t function like business, and you wouldn’t want it to do so. In business, there is a profit and pay-seeking motive that militates in the direction of preserving capital, and that motive generally works to make the company stronger. In contrast, government turns no profit, and you wouldn’t want it to seek one. If so, it would stop making medicare payments and simply cut off social security. After all, there’s no profit in those programs. “Death Panels,” anyone?
Consider your own local government, and how often its policing seems more thoroughly motivated by writing traffic tickets in the name of revenue than in apprehending criminals who are rampaging through your streets, committing theft and burglary and other property crimes. They would expend a good deal of money investigating such crimes but they wouldn’t generate any revenue. On the other hand, writing speeding tickets is relatively easier work, and it brings in revenues to cash-strapped municipalities and their courts. Do you really want your police motivated by the profitability of their particular crime-fighting?
Realizing that government doesn’t and shouldn’t seek profits, it is therefore much more important to consider Governor Romney’s experiences in that capacity. When he ran a state, what was his record, and how did he perform in that office? Did he cut spending, or expand it? By any measure of which I am aware, it must be the latter, as his health-care program alone is costing the state of Massachusetts a fortune it does not have. In business, it would be normal to expand operations to provide new products or services, but is that what government should do? At least 65% of Americans don’t want their federal government taking over health insurance, but we’re well on our way to having done so with Obamacare. Yet this is precisely what Romney did in his own state.
Another important difference between government and business is that business is forbidden a captive clientele. If it doesn’t serve you to your satisfaction, you need only find one of its competitors. This competitive nature in free markets tends toward keeping businesses more honest. Obviously, government has no such restrictions or competition. The closest we get to that is the differences between the local, state and federal levels, but in recent decades, the federal government has all but erased the differences. What had once been the best check against overpowering government authority is mostly gone, and in its place, a network of co-dependent and cooperating layer-cake of government that simply acts without reference to any constitutional restraints. There is no longer any healthy competition, but instead mere delegation among the levels. In this sense, government has taken on a corporate structure.
So where does Mitt Romney’s private sector experience fit into this picture? At Bain, or any other company, the CEO effectively acts day to day as a dictator of sorts. Of course, that’s natural enough, much as in your own castle, you are King. The problem comes in when you take this theory over to government, and find that you are not and must not be a dictator in that office. You have a Congress to contend with, and courts that will countermand your dictates from time to time, and the response we’ve seen from Obama is probably not unlike that which Romney would offer: “How can I circumvent these constitutional checks on my directives?”
When he was governor of Massachusetts, he implemented programs without input from that state’s legislative branch, for instance in the area of environmental concerns and regulation. This hints strongly that in the most important ways, he is likely to make the same sort of power-plays as Obama. Do you want who is merely another anti-constitutional politician with an “R” next to his name rather than a “D?”
When we view Romney’s records, it isn’t his alleged “job creation” we should examine, because that has very few applications in government, except as Obama has practiced them, whereby he merely created new departments and staffed them, calling this “job creation” while you and I are now left to pay for these too. Remembering that the growth of a business is constrained only by its revenues in many cases, what sort of business would it be that had revenues as large as it could dictate at gunpoint?
I don’t think we need a businessman for President, but instead a statesman who understands the real nature of government, and what its limits ought to be. I don’t think anything in Mitt Romney’s resume demonstrates that sort of suitability, and obscuring this fact won’t make our government any better, and threatens only to make it worse.