With the nation polarized and unable to move forward, many people are suggesting that what our country needs is a business model for governing. Forget about the moral issues. Run the nation like a business and everything will come out all right. Find a candidate who gets things done in business and that person will do the same thing for America, Inc. You can’t argue with success.
Such a pragmatic proposal definitely resonates with those who are fed up with government. People are tired of not getting things done. They don’t like running the country in the red. Getting the country on a spreadsheet is an attractive idea.
The problem is we don’t need a business model for governing. We already have one and it’s not working.
Our political system has always had something of a business model built into it. We already find in the literature of the Founding Fathers references to the nation as a “commercial republic,” a union of legitimate self-interest, aimed at providing progress, prosperity and security. American political rhetoric is full of economic references that hold progress and prosperity as the height of well-being. Anyone who strays from this narrative is quickly reminded, as was Bill Clinton in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid!”
If there is an image that corresponds to our political model, think of a thriving farm co-op or public corporation of shareholders. Citizenship is a kind of a co-op membership full of legitimate benefits with distributed risks, voting privileges, few liabilities, and plenty of entertainment. The key to keeping everyone happy is a robust economic order that ensures that members renew their membership with great enthusiasm.
However, this business model for governing depends upon two important pillars. The first is a great consensus to get along and smooth over differences, which is assured by the outward appearance of prosperity and the promise of the American dream.
The second pillar is a vague moral code that ensures some kind of order and serves as the foundation of trust and confidence that allows business to flourish and the rule of law to prevail. As long as these two pillars stand, the system works well.
But when the economic dynamo stalls or sputters over a long period of time, the glue of consensus no longer holds. When the vague moral code falls into decay, trust and rule of law disappear. What we are witnessing today is the breakdown of this cooperative business model.
That is why everything seems like a free-for-all. Everyone wants to blame the other for the failure of the co-op. Our elections have become like shareholder brawls where the officers are frequently changed. Opinion polls serve as quarterly earnings reports to which all scramble to adapt. Who wins is often the one who promises the most in the least amount of time. Americans are seeing a model that used to work so well now working contrary to their interests by not paying out dividends, but distributing uncertainties that cause anxiety, depression, and stress.
All this is reflected in the latest election cycle as candidates woo shareholders/voters with promises of change and benefits. We are again being subjected to the frenetic intemperance of sound bite politics, pandering to political correctness and media posturing. Like it or not, elections have become business ventures, more often decided not by who is the better candidate, but who can amass the largest war chest, employ the most mega data or engage in social media. Such razzle-dazzle elections are now a strange and superficial ritual that is exhausting the nation.
It’s not enough to run the country like a machine controlled by a spreadsheet. Without a consensus and a moral code, any business model becomes brutal and opportunistic, cold and impersonal, fast and frantic, mechanical and inflexible. Such models, whether industrial or political, all lead to bankruptcy.
John Horvat is vice president and a member of the board of directors for the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), head of the TFP Commission for American studies, a TFP Sedes Sapientiae Institute instructor, and webmaster of the American TFP website (www.tfp.org). Additionally, Mr. Horvat is a member of the Association of Christian Economists, The Philadelphia Society, the National Association of Scholars, and the Catholic Writers Guild, as well as an Acton University participant.