Why government can't be run like a business

The mantra of every Koch-headed, right-wing politico is that "government should be run like a business."

The mantra of every Koch-headed, right-wing politico is that “government should be run like a business.”

Welcome to Flint, Michigan. This impoverished, mostly African-American city has indeed been run like a private corporation ever since Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an “emergency manager” to seize control of Flint’s heavily-indebted local government. Snyder’s coup d’ etat usurped the people’s democratic voice and enthroned an autocratic CEO who’s answerable only to Snyder.

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As in corporations, Flint’s manager is focused not on serving the people, but on the bottom line. His mandate from the governor was to slash costs ruthlessly, so bankers and other holders of the city’s debt can be paid off. Snyder’s czar proved to be an enthusiastic slasher, including cutting a couple million dollars from the budget in 2014 by shifting the source of the city’s drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River.

Sure, some scaredy-cats worried about contaminants in that river, but Snyder’s health officials poo-poohed them – indeed, the beauty of one-man rule is that you can ignore the people and take bold, decisive action. That’s what corporate CEOs do, and even if there is some collateral damage, it’s the bottom line that matters.

But – oops – the bottom line of thinking you can simply apply corporate methods and ethics to public responsibilities is that very bad things can happen. In this case, Flint’s water supply is contaminated with lead, its entire infrastructure of water pipes needs to be replaced, thousands of the city’s children may be permanently impaired by lead poisoning… and Snyder’s name is mud.

Government can’t be run like corporations, which serve the few, not the many. Despite the shallow sloganeering of ideologues, government has to be run like… well, like a government.

“Would Flint crisis occur in a rich suburb?” Austin American Statesman, January 25, 2016.

“As Water Problems Grew, Officials Belittled Complaints From Flint,”

“Michigan’s Great Stink,” The New York Times, January 25, 2016.

“America The Unfair,” The New York Times, January 21, 2016.

“Flint Wants Safe Water, and Someone to Answer for Its Crisis,” The New York Times, January 10, 2016.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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