Friday, April 26, 2013

Do you want to make government bigger? Try running it like a business.

A few days ago I wrote how Progressives proposed and ultimately turned the veto and budgeting process on its head, by taking that power away from congress and giving it to the executive, despite the fact that that's unconstitutional. There's an interesting fact wrapped up in all this. In "The decline and resurgence of Congress", by James L Sundquist, the following observations are made: (page 40)

When President Taft took office, he made budget reform a matter of major concern. Among other steps, he appointed a Commission on Economy and Efficiency; it recommended that the executive branch be required to prepare a single budget, and Taft in his last week in office did just that, submitting his own consolidated budget for the executive branch as an alternative to the book of estimates.

It's probably true that in many businesses, the chief executive is the one who does this. I wouldn't know, I've never run a Fortune 500 conglomerate, but I do feel confident in saying that it's not the people running the fryolator who are doing the budgets for McDonalds. As it pertains to the chief executive of the United States, this is not what the Founding Fathers said. Article 1, Section 7, Clauses 1 and 2 of the Constitution state the following:

1: All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

2: Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it.

The Founders did not leave any room here. The House owns this task, as a constitutional matter anyways. On page 40 of Sundquist's book, he writes this:

By 1916, a pledge to introduce a "simple businesslike budget system" had found its way into the Republican platform(the Democrats only promised to consolidate appropriations responsibility in a single committee in each house of the Congress). Then came the explosive growth of government in World War 1, and the lack of management became intolerable. ... "The Government has been running wild, the ship has been rudderless, the captain has been off watch, and there has been no head who might be held responsible," declared Representative Martin B. Madden, Republican of Illinois, who served on the House Select Committee on the Budget.

This sounds very attractive, but every single person who will end up reading this has the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Since the President and Congress passed their unconstitutional budgeting act which makes the President the source of the budget, has government gotten smaller or bigger?

It's gotten bigger. Much bigger. The Founding Fathers specifically delegated this power to congress as a way to divest power away from the President as a matter of preventing the rise of a new monarch, among other reasons. Culturally, this has created a scenario where the President gets to set the tone, not congress who is much closer to we the people. Naturally, this leads to bigger government just by observing it and thinking about what would happen. It's no wonder the progressives wanted this to be the case, what do progressives always want? Bigger government. So logically it follows.

I suppose I have probably kicked a hornets nest with this because the modern conventional wisdom is that government isn't run like a business and that's precisely the problem. Well, that sentiment is simply hogwash, and I'm going to use none other than Woodrow Wilson to prove my case:

Jefferson wrote of “the laws of Nature”—and then by way of afterthought—“and of Nature’s God.” And they constructed a government as they would have constructed an orrery—to display the laws of nature. Politics in their thought was a variety of mechanics. The Constitution was founded on the law of gravitation. The government was to exist and move by virtue of the efficacy of “checks and balances.”

The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick co-operation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose. Government is not a body of blind forces; it is a body of men, with highly differentiated functions, no doubt, in our modern day, of specialization, with a common task and purpose. Their co-operation is indispensable, their warfare fatal.

Woodrow Wilson means this as a way to undermine the Constitution, and he is 100% wrong. But apply these words to most businesses, and you have largely accurate statements. No business could survive a system of "checks and balances". How quickly would Google go out of business if Google's research and development department was constantly in an active state of warfare against Google's marketing department? That would be a suicidal way to run a business. I know that plenty of businesses have departments which have their differences, but I mean as an active "first order of business" policy going forward.

Here's the problem. In a lot of ways, modern business is constructed like a totalitarian state. Internally, you're dealing largely with an oligarchy.(sometimes, a monarch) Which is a good thing for an entity which has little to no effect upon the people who in the end only buy it's products or services. But in government, you want checks and balances. You do not want a well oiled machine controlling the levers of power and the laws of the nation. Take a look around the world, where do you see such a government? Communist China. The Soviets were very capable of "getting things done". Venezuela. You could probably name most of them, actually.

Businesses largely are "living things" in that they do have living constitutions that are "shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life". What the Founders gave us is not. It's set in stone, because they believed that liberty is timeless.

History has shown that the only way Liberty can thrive is when government is slowed down. Not just slowed down a little bit, massively slowed down. That's partially what the Constitution does. But if a business was slowed down massively, it probably would not survive. So the next time you say to yourself "I wish government could be run more like a business", be careful what you wish for. You just might get it, and you probably won't like what you get considering that we are already partially down that path. So far, it's not looking very good.

1 comment:

  1. A quote (mis?)attributed to George Washington goes as follows:

    ""Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.""

    Very little of this quote applies to most businesses.