Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thoughts On Mitt

Andrew Sullivan excerpts a small part of this post from Dan Drezner on his blog today.  I include more of the entry because I find it so relevant.  As far as I can see, the best argument partisans put forth for voting for Mitt Romney is that he has business experience.  Government, the argument goes, should be run like a corporation--with attention to profits and deficits (or something like that).  I find this argument unpersuasive for a number of reasons.  Take, for example, Social Security.  Without being made to, how many companies would pay their workers a living wage (sort of) after they had retired?  If the US was to be run like a company, why would we keep paying out Social Security?  How is it good for the bottom line?  How many companies would enforce onerous safety regulations or use more expensive processes because they were more environmentally friendly?  Companies do those things, in general, because governments compel them to.  If the US itself is the company, however, it sets its own rules.  And if profit is what matters, we can throw away all sorts of institutions and practices that most Americans would, in reality, not want to see done away with (Environmental Regulations, Government Aid, All Entitlements....).  It's a specious analogy.

But, on to Drezner.

The thing is -- and this is kind of important -- governments are not corporations.  I cannot stress this enough.  There's the obvious point that in democracies, legislatures tend to impose a more powerful constraint than shareholders, making it that much harder for leaders to execute the policies they think will be the most efficient. 

There's also the deeper point that it's a lot harder for governments to be "unsentimental" when it comes to the provision of public services.  It's a lot harder for states to eliminate the functions that are less efficient.  Frequently, demand for government services emerges  because of the perception that the private sector has fallen down on the job in that area.  This means that the government has been tasked with doing the things that are difficult and unprofitable to do.  It is precisely because these government outputs are often so hard to measure that Newt Gingrich's claims about Six Sigma sound pretty laughable.  Even libertarians who want the government to reduce its operations drastically will acknowledge the political risks and costs of trying to execute this plan. 

To be fair, there are some policy dimensions where this analogy holds up better.  Cohen implicitly argues that America's willingness to jettison costly and inefficient foreign ventures -- cough, Iraq, cough -- is an example of this kind of turnaround strategy.  Fair enough.  Even on foreign policy, however, it's hard to execute this kind of ruthless efficiency.  Israel is prosperous enough to not need the $3 billion it gets in U.S. aid.  Good luck to anyone trying to cut that.  Africa is not a vital strategic areas of interest for the United States, but I suspect AFRICOM isn't going anywhere.  I've been a big fan of getting the United States out of Central Asia, but critics make a fair point when they observe that the last time the United States tried this gambit, Al Qaeda took advantage of it. 
There's been a lot of bragging in the 2012 primary about candidates that have "real world" business experience, and how that translates into an effective ability to govern.  That logic is horses**t.  Being president is a fundamentally different job than being a CEO -- because countries are not corporations. 


Bryan Guilliams said...

There's really not much to say other than "I agree."

So, I agree.

But I thought you might like to know that someone read all the way to the bottom of one of your posts. Even if Binks wasn't mentioned even once. Which is an unforgivable affront.

ANCIANT said...

Thank you!

It is nice to know someone's reading all this stuff. One person, anyway. Maybe I need to put up some more controversial posts? Or stuff with some violence and sex?

But I did, sort of. Mitt Romney has all of that--and more.

Bryan Guilliams said...

The thing I just can't shake about Mitt, who it appears is not going to have any problem getting the nomination at this point, is how difficult it will be for him to win the general election. Because he is a Mormon and a moderate (in the twisted minds of the social conservatives), he will be forced to pick a Santorumesque running mate. This, I think, will be sufficient to send the rational conservatives, of whom I count many among my friends, running screaming into the night. Or at least to the polling booth to vote for Obama. How can he win?

ANCIANT said...

I don't think he can. Nor, sadly, do I think he's much of a moderate--although I do know what you mean. His past history of taking moderate (some might even say 'reasonable') stances on things like healthcare and gay rights hurts him with today's far right, while his current positions against those stances hurts him with moderates. I, personally, can't stand the guy; he's like John Kerry minus the gravitas. But then, I threw my hat into the Obama ring long ago. The Republican Party has lost its way entirely in my view. There are no intelligent elder statesmen; the Glenn Becks and Rick Santorums seem to have taken over. Alors.

JMW said...

I've been reading your posts. All the way to the bottom.

I think Romney goes the way of the political winds. In Mass., he was a very moderate Republican because that was necessary. Trying to get the Republican nom, he's playing more conservative (though the hard right isn't buying it). I'd care less, except that I don't think there's much of a moderating influence on a president these days.

Anyway, Bryan and ANCIANT, if you haven't already you should both read "Nixon Agonistes" by Garry Wills. It's about the '68 election but a lot more. And both the events of the time and Wills' very far-reaching riffing about them have a lot of relevance to the current day. I think.