It is popular among conservatives to suggest that the U.S. government should be run like a company. There are a lot of obvious good parallels: the government should have to balance its budget, be accountable to its shareholders, and be audited by an impartial third party to ensure unlawful activity isn’t going on. But a company has as its center focus one thing that is not kosher for governments, profit. The government shouldn’t be generating profits (what would that even mean? that we get dividends on our own taxes?). The government should be generating economic activity, sure. But generating a net profit isn’t what we should be shooting for.
That’s why I think we should run the U.S. government like a start-up incubator. Start-up incubators like YCombinator are not outside the profit-driven model, but they are not solely profit-focused. They want to make the next great company. The money will follow. The important thing is that you change the world.
This is exactly what the U.S. government’s position in relation to the states should be, as I see it. We have an excellent federalist system that we neglect to take full advantage of. Policy wars are often waged not at a local level, but at a national level. The reality is that trying to fit all Americans under one umbrella is counter-intuitive. There are too many regional and political divisions to even try to reach a consensus, and as we’ve seen throughout Obama’s presidency, bipartisanship is not the word of the day in the federal government.
Take this to the company model. You’re trying to basically envision dozens of “departments” fighting each other constantly for hegemony in policy decisions. That doesn’t make any sense. What does make sense is the metaphor of lots of different companies trying to do lots of different things to make the world a better place, and a benevolent patron trying to help them accomplish their goals. The idea of one person controlling such a huge entity is ludicrous. It smacks of the ridiculous assertion that Kim Jong Un, the great leader of North Korea, has a hand in arranging synchronized dolphin dances and intricate crop-planting schemes. We know this is bullshit, but we don’t call bullshit on our own government for trying to claim the same things.
The lesson of the 21st century is that, while the world is now on our doorstep, local movements are more important than ever. Grass-roots organizations start with a kernel of motivation and passion, and they spread because other people are passionate about their agenda too. We’ve seen many grass-roots political organizations (the Tea Party being the most glaring example) proliferate in a way that would have been difficult, if not impossible, before the Internet.
Smaller means lower fixed costs. Smaller means less risk. Smaller means greater personalization. Smaller means greater agility. Smaller means bottom-up, not top-down.
Smaller is the new bigger. Smaller is, in a lot of ways, better.
I’ve painted a rosy picture, but I suspect there are some questions burning in the inquisitive reader’s mind. What about the awful, pig-headed legislation that gets passed in state legislatures? Is that where we want to place our hopes? We’ve seen examples such as the recent abortion fracas in Texas where a hell-bent governor has basically strong-armed the process to pass an abortion bill that will benefit himself.
This is exactly why I want to take over the statehouse. No one is paying attention there, and as any entrepreneur will tell you, if there is an opportunity everyone else is overlooking, that’s where the prize is. State governments are much easier to shift, and much easier to see the benefits and detriments of on a more granular scale.
Raised my taxes by 5%. Banned abortions except in certain conditions. Used racist legislation to profile immigrants. These are things people can readily see and react to in a reasoned way.
Changed the debt ceiling so the U.S. government doesn’t default on its monumental debt and tank the world economy. Exempted natural gas fracking from all relevant environmental regulation. Allowed massive surveillance of its own and foreign citizens. Not only is it harder to have nuanced, fully-educated opinions on these things, they’re actually almost impossible to do anything about. Despite all the anger that might surround these issues, what is the average person to do to lobby the EPA to change something? Or the CBO, NIH, NSA, or a dozen other government agencies? The answer for 99% of people: nothing.
But if people start paying attention to smaller and smaller elections, their voice can be heard on the things that actually matter to them. You’re kidding yourself if you think presidential candidates going to town-hall meetings can ever educate them on what people in rural Iowa or desperate ex-factory workers in Detroit care about. But you can drive to your governor’s mansion. You can sit in on those town hall meetings. These aren’t slick, unreachable automatons; they’re people in your comunity.
So I’ll end with this: let’s shrink the government. Not to cut the amazing things that people are doing, but to make it a reasonable model that we can all live with.