Friday, February 11, 2011

Businesses and Companies Are Not the Same Thing

This post, celebrating the possible Presidential candidacy of Donald Trump (please!) got me thinking. We hear over and over again that successful business people like Donald Trump, Mitt Romney and Meg Whitman would make the bestest of presidents. After all, they know how to run a business.

That's a bit like saying that Donald Trump would make a great neurosurgeon because he's a successful reality TV star. Countries and businesses are not the same thing. I would think that would be immediately obvious to the casual observer, but apparently it's not.

Consider the case of public schooling v. private schooling in America. (No idea how that plays out in other countries.) Private schools almost always have higher rates of graduation and higher test scores than public schools. Every so often somebody comes across this fact and declares that we should just abolish the public school system and make all schools private. This suggestions makes the public schools freak out, well, publicly, while the private schools freak out quietly in a corner.

Why are the private schools freaking out? There's a reason private schools outperform public schools: they can choose their students. Private schools already have the advantage in that any child with parents who have the money and motivation to spend thousands of dollars a year on their education is starting from a place of privilege, but the big advantage private schools have is that if those children turn out to be poor performers, the private school can boot them out- to the public schools.

Public schools are required to take everyone, poor performers, troublemakers to a certain point, poor children, children whose parents couldn't care less, etc. Of course private schools outperform public schools. Being surprised about that is like walking around at the Olympics and being surprised at the low levels of obesity.

Business and government are the same way. Businesses have the option to drop poorly performing products and employees. Guitar Hero just isn't bringing in the profits anymore? It's gone. Bob hasn't finished a project on time in two years? Bye bye, Bob!

Governing a country doesn't work the same way. Those poor performers? The homeless, the addicts, the poor, the sick? They're called citizens and you can't get rid of them because they're bringing down the bottom line. (Well, you can, but then people start using words like "tribunal" and "crimes against humanity" and suddenly a trip to Switzerland* is out of the question.)

Anybody who thinks a country should be run like a business is under the delusion that they'll be on top their entire lives and misfortune will never happen to them. Good luck with that.

*I originally typed "Sweden", it is Switzerland W. can't visit. (In my mind, the whole north of Europe is lumped together into one big zone of cold, although the Swiss do have the chocolate.)


  1. I'm also pleased to see that war crimes sometimes have consequences, but... even if it was on, it was actually Switzerland he couldn't visit... (That said, I agree with everything else in your piece.)

  2. You may want to edit your title. Companies and Countries are not the same thing either.

  3. Now, now, it's not like I'm getting paid for this. Or like you've never made a typo.

  4. Your point about the schools seems so obvious that I've never been able to understand why everybody doesn't realize the truth of it.

  5. my problem is that we KNOW - we've been told for a couple of centuries, at least - that those who seek power are, invariably, the ones who will ABUSE it.

    and yet most americans TRUST *their* politicians. even AFTER they've done whatever thing that should mean no one trusts them again, ever - the majority will say "oh, look - he appologized, he* prayed to God for forgiveness, who am i to judge" [because seriously this is the ONLY TIME they listen to the "the shall not judge" portion of the Bible?!?!?! really? you assholes can judge ME "evil" because i can't have children, but NOT judge Bush at ALL because he "repented" all the stupud evil shit he did? THE FUCK]


    * to my knowledge, it's only MALE politicians for whom this happens - when a woman fucks up, even if she invokes the "God" card correctly, it's forever a sign that she's REALLY a woman and is thus somehow completely inferior no matter what. Sarah Palin excepted.

  6. A related issue is the misidentification of huge international mega-corporations as "businesses," and those who run them as "entrepreneurs." This is how the Tea Party misuses Ayn Rand. Sure, Atlas Shrugged made a good point - that if you're an innovator, you should have the right to profit from your creation in a truly free-market environment, where the consumer is free to accept it, reject it, or encourage improvement. But today's corporations very often do little more than slurp up smaller companies that DID pioneer innovation. It's not the "guvmint" that's the enemy of small business -- it's BIG business!

  7. Every now and again I see a story which plays on the big-business == government idea. It never ends well. An example is the flight-sim H.A.W.X. (an otherwise mediocre game). In it various countries have started outsourcing their military needs to Private Military Contractors, who do the fighting for them. This ultimately leads to the main PMC Artimus switching sides and attempting to launch a full-scale war against the US, getting their hands on a bunch of nuclear weapons in the process (at first it looks like they're going to try to use the threat of these weapons to declare themselves a new superpower, but then things stop making sense and it becomes clear that rather than being a cynical exploration of the downsides of multinational miliatary corporations in a modern setting, this is "'America: Fuck Yeah': The Game").

    Interestingly, as corporations grow more and more involved with politics, we're already pretty far gone. The Australian Labor/Liberal divide is particularly noticable: Labor is historically backed and funded by the unions, while the Liberal party seems to be backed mainly by large corporations.


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