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Concerning a political Fallacy

I’ve discussed this before, but given the upcoming election I feel that it at least bears mentioning again. It concerns the role of government and more specifically the role of the chief executive of that government, and why we, as a country, have been drawn into accepting a false dichotomy about the qualification to be president. That somehow a person who has done well in business is somehow better qualified to run a government than someone who has not.

First off a bit of empirical evidence, of the five usual names given for greatest president in the history of the United States, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, and JFK, not one of them were businessmen. Apparently they were all less qualified than any CEO now to run the country, despite the fact that two of those names helped build it, two saved it and the other was JFK. The business man as president doesn’t have precedent.

The idea makes sense when first loked at: business and government have a lot in common. Both involve lots of people, lots of money, and have a relatively centralized form of control. If one were to be good at the one it ought to stand to reason that they would be good at the other. Yet if we delve deeper into the situation, we can see that there are profound differences between them.

The first being the point of each. I overheard during the last week, someone who said that there was nothing wrong with a president that knew how to make money. And that’s probably the major distinction. The goal of a business is to make money, the goal of a government is not that. A business is concerned with profit primarily, in fact some would claim that this is the sole motive of a company. That would have to be taken on a case by case basis. Government, at least this one, is supposed to guarantee the security, safety, and liberty of its citizens. In democratic governments the government is the citizenry.

The second point is that unlike business, government must engage in behavior  that are, as Adam Smith defined them, unproductive; i.e. they produce nothing which can be gained for a return. The three largest expenditures necessary for all governments which are a drain on their resources are: Criminal Justive, Defense, and Education. Those three give little to no material profit yet must be done for a successful state to exist. Defense does not pay for itself, except in some kind of imperialist government where conquered nations are to give tribute to their conqueror, but even then the expense outweighs the cost of the operation. Education benefits the society, but it’s a long term return that would not see a profit in the President’s lifetime. Paying for education in the grade school level now only returns monetary benefit, at the earliest, by the time the student gets a job. There is the enriching of the general knowledge of the society but let me know when a CEO gets credit for non-tangible effects such as that. Criminal Justice, likewise, can bring in revenue through the levying of fines but, like defense, the cost outweighs the gain. In each case we can see that the basic functions of government will be money sink holes. Even if you could argue that the role of government is not to assist in the education of its citizens you still have two very large, very expensive costs that no business could survive if they spent the same percentage of their monetary intake on maintaining.

Thirdly, and this is a question I pose to those holding the theory. What good is that extra money going to do you, personally? Those that are beholden to the theory think that we ought to be cutting government programs (although the ones they pick usually make up less than 1% of the financial expenditure of the US), but where ought that money go? They can cut taxes but that would be like a business slashing cost so that it can cut profit as well. That simply doesn’t make sense. The money is going to sit there to do…what exactly? I have no idea what a government that would turn a profit would be like, except the public work projects that the theorists seem to reject as being unnecessary. So it will just sit in a room. There are no shareholders in government, and any kind of monetary sharing would be cried as Socialism by those same people.

Whether or not a buysiness man makes a good president is cannot be proven a priori, nor ought it be assumed. It appears to me that anyone making this case is either ignorant of the differences between government and business or has some alternate agenda that I am utterly clueless about.

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Categories: politics
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