When Will Republicans Learn That Government Can Not Be Run Like a Business?

The only thing that matters in business is the bottom line. Fire thousands of workers or relocate a manufacturing plant abroad to a country where labor costs are pennies to the dollar compared with domestic markets and the stock price rises. Wall Street applauds wildly! Executives can then cash in on those richly valued stock options making them more wealthy than they ever imagined. In a way it is a simple, elegant equation - increase profits or decrease costs to increase the bottom line.

Government is dramatically more complex. One must consider the public good. To do so, one must first define the "public good." Democrats tend to define it as increasing the well being of the greatest number of people possible, while Republicans define it more narrowly than their political rivals by focusing on uplifting the wealthy. "A rising tide lifts all boats" is a well worn mantra of the right!

The appeal is aspirational. For example, what is Donald Trump selling with his myriad, schizophrenic policy proposes besides the message that a vote for him is a certain ticket to a lifestyle similar to his, with the beautiful women, material comforts, legions of "yes men," and remarkable lack of accountability. Trump is like a Rorschach test where voters project whatever values they wish upon the candidate. Some see just a ink stain and others see a man who will "make America great again!"

Republicans approach government as they approach business. They have proposed balanced budget amendments, which would be disastrous for the economy for obvious reasons the chief one being that deficit spending is often necessary during economic downturns to stimulate the economy. Also, with an aging, deteriorating infrastructure coupled with historically low interest rates government borrowing at times like these can be very useful and productive. The lifespan of a bridge may be fifty years or longer so it makes fiscal sense to share the costs over its useful economic life rather than to burden one generation of taxpayers with the entire cost.

Recently two conservative Republican governors have demonstrated convincingly what a disaster the private sector model can be when it is applied to government. Both made fortunes in the private sector and have failed equally miserably in the public realm. A glaring example is found in Michigan where Republican Governor Snyder appointed an emergency manager, charged with balancing Flint's budget, who then switched the source of the city's drinking water from the Detroit system to the corrosive Flint River. Astoundingly, officials let the water go untreated for its corrosive properties which then ate into pipes sending lead into the drinking water. To save a few dollars, Michigan conservatives have cost the state millions in lawsuits not to mention the poisoning of an entire resident population.

"The modern vogue for paring services and cutting budgets is an insidious misunderstanding of the foundations of government. Fiscal conservationism is correct to suggest that government should recognize the value of a dollar. But it is absolutely incorrect when it considers the value of a dollar more significant than other values. A dollar saved at the expense of public safety. A dollar saved at the expense of Flint's children. A dollar saved at the expense of the public trust. These are equations that can never balance."

Alternatively, Illinois has a billionaire Republican governor who refused his salary only to reward himself with a far greater fortune in tax cuts. Like Trump, he has a take-it-or-leave-it approach to negotiations. Consequently, Illinois is the only state in the union without a budget and the bills are stacking up. While much of the budget is composed of non-discretionary spending, it is the discretionary spending that funds social service programs where the pain is being felt. Many social service providers are closing down permanently and the state owes one of the largest providers, Lutheran Social Services, $6,000,000 in back payments. The most vulnerable who are not even on Governor Rauner's radar are the ones suffering. Even the business press has turned against the Republican governor. According to columnist Rich Miller of Crain's Chicago Business: "In my opinion, the payoff for continuing this governmental impasse is not worth the price being paid."

When not creating fiscal and even public safety emergencies, Republican officials seem to relish in these crisis because their message is that government can not do anything right. Cynically, they sell failure to the public. As P. J. O'Rourke opined: "The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it!" It is a strange paradox to create crisis after crisis only to then benefit politically from the creation of such a crisis. Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan and Governor Bruce Rauner of Illinois both sell failure and pessimism about government, as well as does the Republican party's titular leader and presidential nominee Donald Trump. The only question is when well the public stop buying it?