Friday, March 17, 2017

Business And Government - A New Perspective

Oh, the failure of imagination! Government has been charged with many ills, and failure of imagination is just one of them. There is also failure to institute business methods, and the failure to adopt an entrepreneurial mentality. Add to that the penchant for governments to give sweetheart deals to employees and to cave to employee unions – I'm looking at you, Bay Area Rapid Transit; and at all you firefighters who, rely on you as we do, nonetheless take home up to $400,000 with overtime and then spike your final year to get sweetheart retirements – so why wouldn't the populace look askance at government unions?

So when Paul Krugman lists all the good of government and how cruel and stupid it would be to adopt anything near the Tea Party-Trump “budget,” just as those pundits overlooked the sources of dissatisfaction that led to the Trump election disaster, and just as years ago in California the pundits overlooked the likelihood of passage of Prop 13 that put a cap on property tax rates because of the “decrease in services” it would bring – just like that, even the estimable Krugman looks only at the positive of the ledger and neglects the negative. He cites the pernicious effect of Right Wing talk radio and other scourges for government's unpopularity. He would do better to visit the DMV, or talk to any state employee who is “just doing her job,” for a counterexample for good “customer service.” It's true that many big companies are the same – being “Verizoned” is a self-evident term, and talking to your health insurance company is always a treat – but nothing can really match good ol' gummint. You can switch providers and get ATT poor service instead of Verizon poor service and throw up your hands, I guess, but with government you don't even have the illusion of choice. “Off with their heads” is an understandable reaction.

Note that what Krugman cites for good government is generally simple transfer and funding programs, nothing involving actual direct services.

It's understandable to think why Krugman neglects the negative. What is there to do? Few remember Al Gore's job as VP under Clinton – it was to “reinvent government.” Make it work better. I think he had some successes, actually, although they weren't very visible. But for sure the Pentagon has seen no notable successes; their expenditures are so poorly recorded that no audit is possible, believe it or not, and no upgrade is being contemplated. Throw up your hands, indeed.

We have to accept, I think, that we are a business-minded nation. For all its many weaknesses, business has triumphed in America. Even though I remember how dumbstruck I was after a year in Sweden driving back in from the first American airport I reached and seeing all the billboards, how obnoxious it was. Business, business, it's what we do.

So, if that's the way it is, government must adapt. If commercials raise money for TV shows, commercials need to raise money for government. Commercials are the unseen taxes; we need more of them.

Therefore, with that theme in mind, I have a modest proposal. If American government can't become efficient and customer friendly, which it obviously can't, it just needs to raise more money, and it needs to do it indirectly – Americans hate taxes (perhaps because we know we are funding those people who staff the DMV – “DMV,” be it noted, has become a metaphor for all direct government services.) So, my proposal – start with naming rights. No one really minds that “The Coliseum” has become “The O.Co Coliseum,” right? It's kind of fun trying to remember all the stadium names around the leagues. So, let's name cities and states! “Arkansas” – what's in a name? Some obscure historical references? Henceforth, let the name be: “Walmart Arkansas.” This naming opportunity should be worth enough to fund Medicaid in Arkansas – excuse me, Walmart Arkansas – every year.

Imagine the naming rights auctions! If you changed the name every year, it could be like draft day, or the biggest Sotheby's auction ever. The best day C-Span every had – or maybe, for the sake of expertise, we'd turn it over to ESPN. Billions, I'm talking billions here.

Now, let's talk congressional districts. Do you realize that all they have now is numbers??!! “Pennsylvania's twelfth congressional district”???? My God, what a missed opportunity! Isn't that next to the birthplace of Heinz? “Pennsylvania's Heinz Congressional District” sounds great – and that's only this year! Get a strong candidate and it grows – imagine the enhanced appeal of getting popular candidates, talk about attracting celebrities to the show – out of your TV show? Into a congressional district! Extra pay gets the Representative himself or herself named for your company. They used to call Scoop Jackson the Senator from Boeing – and it's true, he looked out for the company and all the jobs in Seattle, and probably his own campaign funds – but why not up the ante on that?

And cities. I have long wanted Oakland to be “Oakland-Clorox.” Why not?

They say that big business owns the government – certainly pharma does, and so does the NRA. But they are getting off cheap. All they pay for now is campaigns, and that's a great cost/benefit deal for the companies. Let them pay what it's really worth, and let them pay directly to the people.

OK, it would be a big change, and to some of us, it would seem a capitulation. So be it. We need change, and here it is. Just so long as San Francisco doesn't become “San Francisco 49ers.” That would really be a bridge too far.

Budd Shenkin

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