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Niedner: Running the country like a business will never work

Frederick Niedner

Frederick Niedner

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Updated: March 5, 2012 8:02AM



‘At the end of the day, it’s a business,” mused Skip Schumacher when Cardinals teammate Albert Pujols signed with the Angels. Maybe so, but tell that to any 10-year-old in St. Louis who sweat blood throughout last October’s World Series. Baseball is the stuff of beauty, metaphysics and hope. Only a twisted heretic would think about who pays the light bill while watching a deftly turned double play or a perfect throw to the cutoff man.

One can hardly name an institution today, no matter how serious or sacred, that hasn’t become a business.

Historically, colleges and universities pursue truth, open minds to the arts of inquiry, and inculcate virtues such as humility, sacrifice and charity. These days they also hire legions of marketing personnel to help them establish a brand, and along the way they have converted students into customers and clients. Not surprisingly, the customers, who are always right, scatter semicolons with abandon and view degrees as commodities one can purchase.

People have gathered in synagogues, churches and mosques over the centuries so that things like forgiveness, reconciliation and hospitality can happen in this bloody, broken world. Since the days of the Good Samaritan, mercy has involved money, but religious groups have lately entrusted the cost of discipleship to financiers. In a move typical of our age, Moody’s Investors Service last week gave the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago its top rating, which will allow the sale of $150 million in bonds to replenish the church’s coffers. Perhaps the only pious folk who needn’t fret today over whether they serve God or man are those who meet for prayer in someone’s garage and take turns buying the coffee.

Little wonder that in current politics we repeatedly hear the question, “Has he ever run a business and balanced the books?” If everything else is business, isn’t government, or the country, the biggest business of all — and our president the CEO?

Indeed, we have a light bill, a really big one. Highways, air traffic control and the military might cost a few shekels, too. But do we elect a president merely to make sure we meet the payroll and don’t overextend ourselves with too many product lines?

Our Constitution gives the president several specific tasks, among them serving as military commander in chief, appointing judges and ensuring enforcement of federal laws. In other words, the president oversees national security and the administration of justice so that as much as possible, we dwell in peace, and minorities as well as majorities enjoy freedom from discrimination and harassment.

That hardly sounds like a business leader’s portfolio. Indeed, George W. Bush, the only president ever to earn an MBA, didn’t let his business instincts concerning the cost of launching a war in Iraq deter him from doing so. He cared only for national security and, for better or worse, trusted that somehow we would all pull together and find a way to ante up a couple trillion extra in revenue to pay the tab.

A business-savvy CEO in the White House these days would likely sell off several shamefully unprofitable states and maybe two of the Great Lakes (who needs five?), outsource costly operations such as Amtrak, the IRS, VA hospitals and our postal system, lease our highways, waterways and national parks to multinational corporations, and effectively brand the nation so everyone knows who truly belongs here and who does not, all for a compensation package of, say, 300 times the country’s median income.

United States Inc. — Would you care to live there? Or relish teaching 10-year-olds the meaning of corporate citizenship?



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