(Greetings to you, brave citizens of the post-election future, from me, locked here in the pre-election past! How I long to know what you now know! But since I can’t comment on the results yet, here are some vaguely related thoughts…)
Here’s a suggestion for those of you who spend a lot of time online: it really is a good idea to have folks in your social media feeds (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) who have different ways of looking at the world. Sometimes their perspectives can trigger interesting realizations.
For example: one of the folks I follow on Twitter is a veteran “free-marketeer,” a Washington insider who has worked for outfits like the Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity. Recently he posted this tweet:
“Retweet if you are ready to move FORWARD with a NEW CEO!”
(If this talk of “tweet” and “retweet” mystifies you, by the way, please consult a nearby teenager.)
This notion of the President as “CEO,” of course, echoes that frequently heard refrain “government should be run more like a business,” and reflects the Romney campaign theme that emphasized his managerial and executive experience in the worlds of industry and finance. But when I read this particular tweet, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps this fellow and the folks who think like him do not actually want to live in a COUNTRY – but rather, in a COMPANY.
So, we might ask – what’s the difference? Well, for starters…
- A country exists for many reasons – one of which is to enrich the lives of its citizens. A company exists for only one reason – to enrich the bank accounts of its owners. (Just ask Milton Friedman.)
- In a country – in a democratic country, at least, as ours purports to be –decisions are driven mostly by the will of the People. In a company, decisions are driven mostly by the will of the Market. (“Hey, it’s just business… You know, nothing personal…”)
- A company can choose its members, and cull them as desired if they perform inadequately. Countries generally can’t do that, outside of their visa policies – unless, of course, they’re fascist dictatorships. (Then again, companies don’t put their employees in prisons. Yet.)
- Most companies have very clear, highly structured hierarchies of power. Everyone has a direct supervisor, and knows their responsibilities. Employees may even have extremely specific job descriptions. As citizens of a country, we know some of our requirements – follow the laws, pay taxes – but there’s certainly no one checking up on you to see if you’re doing all those dutiful good-citizen things you were told about in civics class
- In a country like ours, you can be as vociferous and outrageous as you want in voicing your dissent, or protesting your treatment at the hands of those in charge. In a company – not so much. Try organizing a union, for example, and see where that gets you.
- In a company, you as an employee are charged with implementing policies into which you have probably had no input whatsoever. If you’re lucky, you might have a manager who solicits your opinion; but otherwise, buddy, it’s “keep your opinions to yourself.” As a citizen of a country, though, providing such feedback is indeed part of your “job description.”
So under which kind of regime do you want to live?
(Further comparisons are left as an exercise for the reader. Send them along to me at email@example.com, find me on Facebook, or comment below!)