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If You Think Businessmen Have Any Business Running Government, Think Again

| July 25, 2014

It's not that simple. (Justin Kern)

It’s not that simple. (Justin Kern)

By Marc Yacht

Government is about essential services; business is about profit.  Business types have no “business” running government.  That is the purview of elected officials.

Government’s focus should be on solving problems, not on available dollars.  The challenge is to find the resources, not cut the programs.  It’s a different way of thinking and the best example of a failed businessman-politician is Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott.

By “hook or crook,” he has become a very successful businessman. But as a governor, he will be rated among the worst.  He has been insensitive to the needy, has undermined public education, hurt the environment, and assaulted the health and well being of Florida citizens.

No one likes taxes but everyone wants services.  Private enterprise sells a product or service to customers. Government provides essential services to every citizen.

context floridaIt is not possible to use a business model to run government any more than it is sensible to run a business like a government.  Government programs should not be about profits.

For example, public health communicable disease programs are complex.  The patient must be treated and then those who have had contact with the patient must be found and examined.

This effort is important to prevent the spread of serious disease such as tuberculosis, AIDS, and sexually transmitted diseases.  Florida had one tuberculosis hospital.  The most difficult patients were housed there.  Florida’s Lantana TB hospital enjoyed an international reputation for treatment and training.

A business decision based on costs closed the hospital.  Improper patient placement put communities as risk.  The hospital closed during one of the most dangerous TB outbreaks in the country that centered on Florida’s homeless population.  A concerned governor would have worked with public health officials to protect health and welfare.

The high-speed-rail effort could have connected Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, Tallahassee, and Pensacola.  Scott refused federal money for the train, terminating the project.  Thousands of jobs were lost, a long-term plan fell victim to running government like a fortune 500 company.


Purging talent and politicizing the health department and other state agencies moved money and jobs to patronage.  The health department lost food service and environmental regulatory authority.  Other agency authority was neutralized, putting citizens at risk.

It is difficult to quantify prevention.  Professionals understand this. Businessmen-politicians generally do not.  Not everything of social value is profitable.

The push to privatize education through charter schools and vouchers continues to undermine public education.  It pushes tax dollars to the private sector.

Critical resources to public schools are lost. This is another example of a governor who runs government like a car lot.  Public schools cannot be run like a department store; public health cannot be run like Microsoft.  Public education needs adequate funding and skilled staff.  The “profit” from effective government is better and healthier communities.

Scott’s rejection of Affordable Care Act money (Obamacare) is the most egregious decision of his administration.  It blocked 1 million Floridians from health coverage.  This decision should keep responsible elected officials awake at night. Diseases are left untreated, chronic illness unmanaged, and preventable death unchecked.

A community’s quality of life requires limiting the spread of disease, addressing road and bridge repair, public safety and education.  Essential services must be improved, not cut. Government must protect the common good.  It has never and will never be successfully run as a business.

Marc Yacht is a semi-retired physician living in Hudson, Fla. He was director of the Pasco County Health Department until 2007.

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22 Responses for “If You Think Businessmen Have Any Business Running Government, Think Again”

  1. Outsider says:

    “Government’s focus should be on solving problems, not on available dollars. The challenge is to find the resources, not cut the programs. ” Seriously? What if there are no more dollars left? Oh, yes, the liberal answer is to raise taxes or print money, both of which are destroying our economy.
    “No one likes taxes but everyone wants services. Private enterprise sells a product or service to customers. Government provides essential services to every citizen.” Oh, but if this were only true. I don’t think the bridge to nowhere was an essential service, nor are six Obama phones. These days, the government also provides spying on your phone calls, e-mails, and facebook accounts, for your own safety of course. They will also use the IRS to limit your ability to support a political party opposed to the one in charge. They will happily use the IRS to audit you if you embarrass the president in front of a national audience; why else do you think Dr. Ben Carson got his first IRS audit after speaking unflatteringly of the president at the national prayer breakfast meeting a couple of years ago? Fact check that one. And if you are a citizen who served in the military and you need some essential services from the VA, you might not get those services before you die. On the other hand, if you are a non-citizen and a good swimmer, the government will welcome you with open arms, take care of your kids, give you free transportation to your preferred relative in the U.S., regardless of whether they are a citizen or not, and spend billions making sure your “rights” are protected in a court of law set up especially for you. Even if they have no money to do this, they will find a way, even if they have to borrow money from China. Apparently, this is an essential service, and the government has decided unilaterally that we should pay for it, even if our own children are going hungry. I believe that we do need some business executives in government that actually have experience in managing assets even when the assets are few. Now, does anyone want to discuss the wisdom of electing community organizers as government officials?

  2. confidential says:

    Enough good reasons for Charlie Christ to win!

  3. Sandra Reynolds says:

    Excellent summation of this governor’s failure as a representative “of the people.”

  4. Hallelujah!
    What a good read.
    Thanks for such a clear, timely and interesting analysis.
    Should be required reading in every precinct.
    I especially liked “by hook or crook.”

  5. Steve Wolfe says:

    “Government is about essential services; business is about profit. Business types have no “business” running government. That is the purview of elected officials.”

    This is a contention, not a clear fact. While I agree with the statement that government should provide essential services, I cannot agree that business types have no business running government. As for the purview of elected officials, businessmen and women also become elected officials if the voters want them to.

    Profit usually requires a high level of efficiency, and it is the purview of businessmen/women to see to the profitability of their business, and thus they must maintain efficiency in their business. In doing so they must also maintain efficient administration over their companies. But even those qualities fall short without another business quality: leadership. It is this intimacy with efficiency, administration and leadership that gives business types much to offer government. In contrast, elected officials often come from varied backgrounds, and while they benefit from their previous experiences, those experiences do not necessarily convey to the size or scope of the job of running government. While some have succeeded with on-the-job training in government positions and actually climb the ladder in responsibility and salary, few get the experience with administration, efficiency and leadership that business types do, although there are notable exceptions like Ronald Reagan.

    Another positive aspect of experienced business types is conformity to the concept of success. Success in business is measureable, as it is tied with the growth and profitability of their business. But success in government is harder to quantify due to the products: regulation and services. Growth of government is not the same as the growth of business; it is often the result of annual budget increases, demand for more services and legislative results rather than being efficient. Even though government devotes a lot of labor to statistics, government has in many cases, so much redundancy and built-in waste that their in-house derived markers of success in graphs and pie charts can mask even the worst performance of any task. Add to that the political nature of the most visible parties of government, and there is lots of self-serving career protection built into in-house statistics. Take, for example, the recent statements by the Chicago Chief of Police that, in spite of appearances, violent crime is down. Much of the citizenry disagrees based on their experience, and then available data did not support the Chief’s contention.

    It just happens that the Federal Government diverges from the author’s contention. The Postal Service was spun off of the Federal budget in 1970 and was expected to be run at a profit. How’s that working? The Postal Service is run by “officials” with little outside business experience, typically growing from within (as the current Postmaster General), and as business models go, it is a model of failure. As government goes, it is pretty average. One difference is that the Postal Service keeps track of their bottom line, which is something a police or fire department is not primarily motivated by. But as a hybrid for-profit government agency, it has lost billions of dollars on an annual basis, exercises bureaucratic-style management, and faces some dark realities in the future as its core product declines into irrelevancy.

    “Government’s focus should be on solving problems, not on available dollars.”

    Agreed there, but in practice, government is prone to corruption and inefficiency that wastes available dollars. I know of no one who thinks that our tax dollars are used efficiently. Corruption in business affects mostly customers. Corruption in government affects everyone.

    The bottom line is, government can benefit from the business type, just as it benefits from the attorney, the military veteran, and others with truly valuable life experiences. Not too sure about college professors.

  6. Diana L says:

    Very well written and I believe, RIGHT ON!!! It is very necessary to remove Gov. Scott from his position and then perhaps we can become a state that moves forward. VOTE and get your neighbors and friends out. We all have a part to play in this.

  7. Charles Ericksen Jr says:

    This writer forgets the fact, that Businesses and business people, PLAN, and look forward to prevent surprises. A far cry from Government’s daily practices
    .Government does not plan, they react, causing expensive cures
    Government makes mistakes, and you cannot remove the problem until election time.
    Have you ever seen a government worker removed for questionable actions? IRS
    No one wants to do business with a government. Too must unnecessary paperwork
    Business practices have a place in Government
    The reason Government does not get better, is that they don’t accept an alternative to HOW better to provide services

  8. ken says:

    What flawed reasoning.
    Why not say attorney’s (who are the majority of office holders) focus is setting rapists and murders free.
    It may be part of their job but hopefully, their knowledge of law will work for the good of the people.
    In the same way, business leaders can offer expertise in productivity. No business could survive if their employees performed at the glacial pace of so many government “workers.” Government has limited resources. Maximizing them is exactly what we hope experienced business leaders bring to governance. Instead of profits, they produce more bang for the buck (our buck).

  9. Genie says:

    I’m sorry, but with all due respect to the author, I find this to be one of the most ridiculous articles I’ve ever read.

    Most people in government were first in business of some sort. The best in government are those with budgeting, planning experience. While it is your job to provide needed services, you are also a steward of the public’s money and spending it responsibly.

  10. Sherry Epley says:

    What a great article. . . and right on! If all essential services ran on the “for profit” motive, we would all be uneducated, in the dark, with no clean water, unprotected from fire and crime, and even and no clean air to breathe! ETC! ETC! ETC! We need to get much better at understanding and keeping in mind “the common good”!

  11. Lin says:

    This is silly
    If government building needs a toilet seat just order a solid gold one
    Don’t plan, pay too much, don’t be accountable because you are not a business

  12. Raul Troche says:

    Given a choice I would choose businessmen over attorneys any day. Businessmen are careful on their budgeting, finances and hiring. They make goals and work to cut expenses and improve efficiency. Also the purpose of a business is to provide a product or service, which if done properly yield great rewards. Attorneys on the other hand should not be running governments. Their schooling and experience in no way qualifies them for effeciently running governments. Personally I believe businessmen are the best choice for those positions of leadership.

  13. Sherry Epley says:

    It’s my observation that the “corruption” of government officials IS BY BUSINESS leaders through their lobbyists and PAC contributions! The “for profit” over human being motive is in play all too well and it is serving primarily the 1%! Corruption is created by money and by influence. . . not by the voters!

    Think about it. . . The only reason the government would spend too much money on a toilet seat is because some lobbyist for a company influenced a government leader. Many elected officials enter office with the best of intentions to serve the people in their districts honestly. . . then the business lobbyist ( like those for the Koch brothers) corrupt the officials by waving favors (campaign contributions, etc.) and votes go in favor of helping certain businesses maximize profits.

    • Genie says:

      @ Sherry Epley – Sometimes it is as simple as catering to the local “elite”, which seems to be our problem here. Instead of doing things for the benefit of all, local government seems to constantly reward a few select, well heeled individuals.

  14. Sherry Epley says:

    @ Genie. . . my point exactly. . . turning over essential services to “for profit” companies would just make matters that much worse. Corruption is rooted in business leaders!

    • Genie says:

      @ Sherry Epley – I appreciate your response, but who said anything about turning essential services to “for profit” companies?

      You elect a government, be it local, state or federal to run these services for you. Business experience in politicians is a GOOD THING, it gives them broader experience, especially in budgeting and planning successfully.

      Businesses provide jobs. Without them, you have no tax base, no jobs.

  15. Bill says:

    “Government is about essential services; business is about profit. Business types have no “business” running government. That is the purview of elected officials.

    Government’s focus should be on solving problems, not on available dollars. The challenge is to find the resources, not cut the programs. It’s a different way of thinking and the best example of a failed businessman-politician is Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott.”

    First I don’t like either Choice we will get in Nov. BUT on the same line of thought would not “Government types have no business telling bossiness how to run its business??? Government is like a business in that it provides a service or product BUT that service or product is paid for before or even if we need/use it. Government especially State local should be concerned for “overcharging for its product as its “customers can pick up and move to a place that does a better job with their tax $$$.

  16. Steve Wolfe says:

    Of course we have no examples of corruption in government by “government types.”

  17. Marc Yacht says:

    Enjoyed the discourse. Thank you. Marc

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