Should Government be run like a Business

By Anastasia and Michael Tsouroupakis

Canadians are getting ready to elect a Prime Minister, will we re-elect PM Stephen Harper, or will we choose a new path for our country by electing Justin Trudeau or Tom Mulcair.  Let the games begin!!!  During any kind of election, provincial, regional or municipal, the topic of the inefficiency of government always occurs and at least one candidate (usually a business owner or former CEO) proclaims that governments should be run as a business.  To a person who owns their own business this idea in theory is very attractive. The world’s richest business man Bill Gates proclaims, according to him governments are “terribly inefficient” and he regularly criticizes the US government for being dysfunctional because it’s not run like a business.  Gates further explains, it is has no need to function efficiently because there is no competition for the services it provides: for instance there is no need to hire more employees at Services Ontario, because there is nowhere else to go in Canada  to renew your licence, health card etc.  There is no other option BUT to wait in line to get what you need.   A privately owned business on the other hand, cannot afford to have disgruntled customers as they will lose business to their completion.   This in theory is fantastic except for one problem—Government is not a business and its primary function is NOT to turn a profit –the function of a government is to  provide social services and to a lesser degree goods to its citizens and this does not translate into profit.  Libraries, parks, rec centers all provide a valuable  social services but are far from profitable and yet they need to exist as they serve a greater good.  If the government operated services strictly on a profit criteria is ALL business do, these services would cease to exist.  John T. Harvey contributor to Forbes in his article makes an excellent point when he says that many business exists despite their social value, Ashely Madison the dating site for married couples for instance is functional in the business sense because it is profitable, yet its social value is highly questionable.

Recently I found myself at a friend’s house for a BBQ, there were a few of us who were business owners and we began discussing the merits of running the government as a Fortune 500 Business, and while in theory it sounded viable (at this point we had decided to sell off various government assets to improve our bottom line)  a friend of ours who is a social worker joined our conversation and made the following point; not everyone is a small business owner, the government  MUST  represent and MUST benefit all of society not simply the business sector.   This point put a halt to all of our musings for a more efficient government.  She made a good point, libraries and parks do not really turn any kind of profit, so in the business run as a government paradigm they would be the first on the chopping block. Can you imagine growing up or your kids growing up without these community staples?  I know I could not, libraries cultivated my love of reading, and parks are places were the community came to together, children played safely, and parents connected.  Libraries and parks help shape and cement the communities they are situated in, and one of the many roles of government is serve these communities.  The question then is not really “Should government be run as a business?” but rather “Can government be run as an entity which is both moderately cost effective and responsive to its people?”



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