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Government Should Run Like a Business—But Not in the Way You Think

Regimes around the world are under pressure to deliver more and cost less. Here's a plan for how to actually make that work.

"Government" is, everywhere, an industry in serious trouble. Not only do its consumers constantly complain, but some also are finding alternatives. Its products are failing the tests of quality and innovation, and it costs more than users want to pay. If governments were private firms, they'd be facing the prospect of either a takeover to "rescue" them or death in the competitive marketplace as their customer base migrates to newer alternatives.

Don't buy the government-business comparison? In fact, governments today face precisely those challenges. Start with takeover threats. Many governments -- from a variety of municipalities in the United States (Governing maintains anonline list and map citing at least 31) to several member countries of the European Union -- have been forced to accept one form or another of outside supervision of their fiscal affairs. The Tea Party openly offers the usual corporate raider's solution: dismemberment and liquidation of the hostile takeover target -- in this case, "government" generally.

Look at competitive challenges to governments today: not just a range of alternative public-sector models, from the autocratic to state failure, but also a growing host of private-sector challengers in the provision of every sort of "governmental" service, from the state's traditional province of use of force to such newer areas as social welfare (as we'll discuss in future posts, none-state actors ranging from major defense contractors, responding to former Secretary of State Hillary's Clinton "soft power" initiatives, to terrorist group Hamashave gotten into the social services field). Many businesses have qualities of de facto government (top-down decisions, no consumer voice, little transparency, trampling of individual rights like privacy, and no viable means of escape; as I've written elsewhere, Facebook comes to mind). So it's not too big a stretch to say that governments face pretty much the same challenges as any other business.

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