Friday, 27 September 2013

3 Reasons Why Government Shouldn’t Be Run Like a Business

Here is a video from some friends running a web-site called the Minute MBA. This video I found quick and entertaining explaining the difference between government and business. I would see these concepts applying equally well to Indigenous peoples. Although I see there some fundamental differences between American and Western concepts about the role of business. For example if we take the Aboriginal concept of holism this would allow Indigenous leaders or First Nations to create employment by creating companies. Americans would say the government has no role in creating companaies and the economy should be run and directed by the market place. Because these First Nation or Metis companies operate under a First Nations Government they are owned by share holders or citizens of that First Nation. The common good then becomes that of the First Nation. These companies should never be run without the idea they are owned by share holders and not specific leaders. Dr Wanda Wuttunee talks about First Nation companies and many of the issues that they face.

To see the Video and Learn more
transcript from video
  1.  Profit vs. People: A corporation’s mission is to make profits. This isn’t just good business sense – it’s also a legally binding component of incorporating. Government’s mission is to to provide for all citizens through the “common good” – things like roads, schools, and police protection. In fact, if a government is profiting, then they are probably hoarding tax dollars for no good reason. Microsoft may be smart for keeping $36.1 billion in cash and liquid short-term investments, but the government would be letting people down if they sat on that much money and weren’t using it to keep the country running.
  2. Shareholders vs. Citizens: There are 535 people in Congress, the President, and nine judges. All of these politicians and judges answer to over 300 million Americans. That’s a lot of decision makers, but it’s this system of checks and balances that works to ensure each person’s voice is heard. It isn’t perfect (lobbyists/special interests/and corruption still exist), but consider the alternative. As a minor shareholder in a major company you wouldn’t even have the opportunity to vote on major business decisions—like whether or not to remove a failing CEO.
  3. Customers vs. Constituents: Companies have the luxury of dumping a line of business because it isn’t profitable or choose to streamline their offerings to serve just one sector of the population. Government agencies do not have this option. This is a good thing. Imagine if Apple ran the government. Fire and Police departments would only answer calls to the homes of twenty-something hipsters, we’d have to use iTunes to file our taxes, and all legal disputes would be resolved at the Genius Bar. It would be horrible.


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  2. After reading Stephen Harper’s apology for the Government’s involvement in Residential Schools and Stephen Dion’s (former leader of the opposition), I do see a noticeable difference between the two speeches. First, I want to say that I thought Harper’s apology was adequate and sincere. I don’t think it is just to try and judge Harper’s sincerity in offering an apology. I don’t think it is meaningful to spend time wondering how sincere Harper was in apologizing for Residential Schools.

    I noticed that Harper spoke in the second person when offering his apology; using the pronoun “we” a lot. On the other hand, Stephen Dion said “I” many times when making his apology on behalf of the Liberal party. Dion’s tone was more descriptive and dark when speaking about residential schools. He uses strong terms like “eradicating”, “dehumanizing”, “devastating”, “stolen” “tragic and painful”, etc. I noticed that Dion’s remarks call for strong action for the future when he says “This means that we will have to…” several times in his speech. Dion also includes testimony of former Residential School students to add a more personal feel to his speech.
    Overall, Dion’s words are more personal than Harper’s and they speak more of action, but there is a reason for that. I think that in offering an official apology on behalf of the Government or other official institution, the tone will necessarily be more official sounding than personal. Also, these apologies are in the House of Commons, and that means there is going to be political intrigue behind the speeches of Harper and Dion. Both are trying to attract voters with their words, so having official apologies coming from these two is a really nice gesture, but I wouldn’t put much weight behind their words.

    Ultimately action is needed more than words to repair relations between the Government and aboriginal peoples. According to National Chief Shawn Atleo in 2012, “Harper can either take major, collaborative action to erase the deep and lingering effects of a school system that separated 150,000 kids from their families, or he can persist in chipping away at policy with small, unilateral measures and making grandiose promises that amount to little else besides more procedures” ( Atleo acknowledges the Government is moving too slow, and it seems that is the case, since no major action plans have been put in place since the 2008 apology. My question is, was Harper’s apology meant to be more than just an apology? Did he guarantee swift and affirmative action in his speech? The way I see the purpose of Harper’s speech was it was made to simply offer an official apology. It was never meant to be a call to revolutionary reform. At least he is not breaking any promises, because he never made any. Ultimately, no one can blame him for something he never promised.

  3. I do agree with the idea that government should not be run like a business. The government needs to be in place for the people, the citizens and not for the profit. After watching this video, I do see some similarities in the government and non-profit organizations such as charities, museums, etc. Non-profits operate with a board to make decisions for the collective. In the same way the country elects government officials in order to make decisions for the country. Another similarity I see between non-profits and the government is that they are providing a service for all the people and wouldn't be able to 'streamline their offerings' to serve just one sector of the population.
    Robert stated that First Nation’s “companies should never be run without the idea they are owned by shareholders and not specific leaders” to which I disagree. I think that every business needs to have a leader where they guide the company and provide vision based on the needs of the company and the community it serves. Although I do agree with Robert in that shareholders should play a role in businesses so that people are able to have a voice and choice in the company. A non-profit business has a board that votes on decisions, the companies that may be government run should operate in the same way. This way no one person is in charge however is able to share vision and a clear path for the company and more people get a voice though voting.
    I don’t think that there is a clear answer for how First Nation Government and companies should operate. I do believe that the holistic view defined as “the idea that natural systems and their properties should be viewed as wholes, not as collections of parts” may help when operating a government or business, non-profit or not. (

  4. Personally, I am entirely against the notion of any form of government running according to a business model. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that it is providing for the basic needs of the citizens it is leading. If the government were to adopt a business approach to fulfilling its duties, it would be contradicting itself as the wellbeing and the best interests of the government workers would be placed before the needs of the citizens it is supposed to serve. If the government were to run like a business, its citizens would constantly be questioning whether or not their tax money is being put towards bettering their lives and the city they live in.
    Terry Newell, the founder of the organization, 'Leadership for a responsible society', shared some very striking insights on this matter in his blog post in, The Huffington Post. He suggested that we, as tax-payers of the government, should take a few moments to imagine a reality where our government is emulating the manner in which Google manages and leads its company. The vision I am getting is atrocious, knowing the royal treatment that Google workers receive. Newell mentioned that the working conditions for Google employees are nothing short of luxurious, what with their enormous pay checks, free meals, flexible work schedules and free recreational services. It is OUR tax money, the tax money that citizens pay that Google would be gobbling up. We, the citizens are no particularly concerned with the treatment the government workers receive, but how well they can treat us.
    I believe that an efficiently-run government is one which recognizes the essential needs of its citizens and takes appropriate and fair measures to meets those needs. I don't advocate privatization where government operations are being contracted out to profit-making firms. The government exists to serve its citizens, and running its operation like a business may cause it to lose sight of this ultimate goal.

  5. I completely agree with this video that governments shouldn’t be run like businesses. I think that the idea of what a government should be has change in the past several decades. In the past it was about the government being run for the people and by the people, but now, the government seems to be moving towards running the people by a select few. The government of the United States is a good example of this mentality run amok. Business is so tied into government, with each having their hands in the other’s pockets that the needs of its people aren’t being met. I think one could argue things like this contribute to the societal problems they face – public shootings, incredible amount of citizens incarcerated, etc.
    The private sector often provides many of the same services that the government does, but they do so in direct competition with similar business. The thing about the government is that they don’t have anyone to compete against so they are able to call the shots in a way that suits them. If we want to have a public sector that is as effective as the private sector, we need more choice. I fully support the idea of Canada’s Aboriginal community having the power to create their own ‘crown’ corporations. I think that it would also be important to give everyone the choice between which public sector service they chose. I think this all boils down to giving more authority to local governments which will have a greater investment in the area – as opposed to creating blanket legislation which serves the needs of everyone, but only to a certain degree (please everyone some of the time but not everyone all of the time)
    A good example of giving the Aboriginal population more choice happened just recently in B.C. where control of health programs was turned over from the provincial government. This is important because Aboriginal peoples suffer in different numbers to different ailments, when compared to Canada’s Eurocentric population. An example of such being that Aboriginal peoples face a 40% higher chance of developing diabetes in their life as opposed to the rest of Canada.

  6. The world is run by money. Money is power. These are not new ideas, but they maintain the thought that governments today, in countries across the world, are indeed being run as businesses.
    In this conversation I am reminded of another video I saw in a social studies class from The Story of Stuff project. This video can be found on YouTube at . While this video focuses more on sustainability education than on government structure and role, it does have an interesting segment in which it explains the relationship between government and the major corporations of a country. This short segment is from 1:50 to 2:36.
    The video states that they do believe the government should be “of the people, by the people, for the people”, and that the government’s primary focus should be taking care of the interests of their people. This was the original intention of the start-up of the governments of countries like Canada or the United States. But because major corporations hold more money, and thus, more power, the government’s concern has shifted from the people to making sure the corporations are happy. This is often done at the expense of the people, who have less money, and less power. It is distressing to be realizing this, and I do not know how change could occur to make the government for the people again.
    I do not know how these concepts could be applied to our studies of Aboriginal Education, except to understand how the government is run, and why certain issues are resolved faster or more efficiently than others. I have heard of First Nations companies being run in a holistic sense, answering to the needs of the people rather than tending to the ones with the power. I think governments around the world could take a lesson from the First Nations business model.

  7. When I think of the combination of First Nations governance and business operations, Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) comes to mind. OCN is located across the river from my birthplace, The Pas, Manitoba and I still pass through these communities yearly when I head north to my cabin at Clearwater Lake. OCN is a wealthy, strong band that runs its business operations quite shrewdly. Their business operations are managed by the Paskwayak Business Development Corporation (PBDC), with a mission to “generate wealth through profitable business management and corporate operations, which will provide increased opportunities for training employment and private business ownership.” (

    Whether the PBDC is running Otineka Mall, The IGA, a gas station, the Kikiwak Inn or overseeing their numerous investments, including the Aseneskak Casino, they are focused on turning a profit to further the economic/financial well-being of OCN members. Currently, the PBDC employs roughly 10% of the OCN membership, and they claim to be in the business of lifting their membership up through business venture grants and employment creation opportunities. The previously linked website hints at Friedman’s “Free to Choose” mantra, which is a blatant contradiction of the policy prescriptions drawn from Uncle Milty’s famous Chicago School Neo-liberalist ideals. Friedman says that there are very few things the government should do (basically some market oversight and a bit of policing – to use public dollars to protect private wealth) – he would not have advocated for government ownership and control of a business development operation.

    OCN made a ton of money providing gravel to Manitoba Highways, and they invested these funds wisely, but they are still an arm of the governing body. They are accountable to the OCN membership which meets bi-annually to elect a new chief and council. As the funds under their control are not their own, the Right would argue that the motivation to take special care with these funds/investments is not as great as if they were owners. In addition to bureaucratic bloat, they will not make prudent financial decisions.

    The good thing is that the OCN has misused these Friedman-esque terms. They are aware of the tragedy of the commons, and very aware of the harm that misused funds can bring to the community. The communal, holistic world view can operate in our Western economy, and it these models should be examined by socially conscious corporations. Successful social enterprises and worker commons outside of First Nations are well represented by Aboriginal groups in a world seemingly dominated by one model (Neechi Commons, as an example). OCN, Neechi, and others, are showing that a better world is possible.

  8. I think the most important point made in the minute MBA video is that governments are established for the sole goal of providing for all citizens for the “common good”. Often I feel that our current Canadian government chooses its actions based solely on the effort of “eliminating the deficit”, not based on what is best for the country/common good. This is especially true to academia, where the funding of various national research grants have incurred extensive cuts by the Conservative government over the last few years. In the last few years several key programs were cut from the National Science and Engineering Research Council’s (NSERC) budget, which funded many of the NSERC research facilities, including a medical research facility in Winnipeg and the NRC Solid-State NMR facility in Ottawa. The latter facility is globally recognized as a one-of-a-kind facility, due to its high quality equipment, facilities and most importantly, its accessibility to any research nation wide. The Canadian government has also put pressure on science and engineering researchers to focus solely on industrially relevant/profitable researcher. This type of interference displays a direct opposition towards the intention of government-funded research; the pursuit of profitable research is the goal of the private sector, not the public sector whose goal should be only the improvement and expansion of our understanding.

    When we consider these mentalities with respect to Aboriginal issues and the government, we can see that again, the government should not be looking to make a profit from their treatment of Indigenous peoples. The government needs to be willing to take the risk on investing its money (our money) into its people, including First Nations peoples, with no expectation of return. The government must change its perspective from one where they appear to be concentrating on the micro-managing of their money to ensure that it is all spent “correctly”, to a more open system that trusts its people to use the money in the name of the common good.

  9. I took issue with this video, but I guess I watched it already having a political mindset. I agree with politicians like Ronald Reagan. I think that governments should be run like businesses. This does not mean that the government cannot still be responsive to the needs of people. Different businesses operate to satisfy different needs. So the government can be in the business of securing the country and the people whom reside in it. But perhaps a better comparison on what governments should be like was given by Margaret Thatcher. She once said that “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.” I will refer to her and her policies to make my agreement for why governments should be run like businesses.

    I am not familiar with how Aboriginal people would run businesses with regards to holism, so I will not try and support or be critical of it. But I do not think that governments can create employment by creating companies. Governments do not know what the market demand will be, and it is only natural for companies to rise and fall. The government should ensure fairness in the market place so that competition thrives and so new businesses can be created. This is the way to create jobs in my opinion. Interference by the government in the market place destroys jobs, because entrepreneurs know that they will not have the power or influence to compete against government. Governments can change taxation levels, environmental regulations, and a whole host of other things that give government the advantage over businesses in the market place. To ensure that the market place is healthy the government must keep its involvement at a minimum.

    One assumption made in the video is that if the government is profiting, they are probably hoarding tax dollars for no good reason. This could not be farther from the truth. Our government has been in debt for decades. When the government does have a surplus it uses surplus money to pay down the debt. And if the government forecasts a surplus and there is no national debt, than taxes would be lowered or new (now affordable) social programs would be created. Another “concern” raised during this video was the possibility of Apple running the country and what that would look like. I found it rather ridiculous because just because a government operates like a business does not mean it assumes the identity of any one business. By operating like a business the government simply seeks to ensure that the government is secure and profitable for the majority of people.

    I reflect on England during the 1970s to understand why governments need to operate like businesses. Sometimes tough decisions must be made for the greater good. A government cannot meet the need of every citizen, but it can try and do its best for the majority of people. When Margaret Thatcher became prime minister Great Britain was known as the sick man of Europe. Although Thatcher was elected to lead a divided and troubled country, “there were millions of ordinary Britons who continued to believe that her tough and, at times, distasteful, medicine would eventually work” ( I believe her policies did work, and that because she privatized many government industries she was able to save Great Britain from economic ruin.