I am always hearing conservative commentators talk about how government should be run like a business. This is not a perfect analogy, but suppose we were to take it for granted for a moment. Are conservative political policies good business practices?
Today I was listening to the Sucky Fill-In Host (henceforth “SFIH”) for the Rush Limbaugh show, and I heard this conversation:
Caller: The problem that I have with the proposed oil pipeline from Canada is that it could have problems. I happen to know people who work in the industry, who tell me that the existing pipelines are… under-monitored. Under-watched. There are now maybe four people doing the job of twenty…
SFIH: Well, maybe they have just cut back on staffing because the technology has improved, and they realize they don’t need that many people watching the pipelines. Look, the solution is to put forward legislation that will fine and penalize companies if there is a problem. If something happens, slap a fine on them. The solution isn’t to regulate the companies out of existence.
Caller: I understand. I mean, I like to think of myself as a conservative, but I also care about the environment. I like to think that I’m an… an environmentalist. And the fact is that we already have lots of pipelines here in the U.S., and leaks do happen. So if there is a leak…
SFIH: Well, the problem with environmentalists is they put regulations to solve problems that don’t exist. These pipelines are safe, there is just no need to have this burdensome red tape…
Caller: Well, if there is a leak…
SFIH: I tell you what. When there is a leak, if it happens, you give us a call here on this program, and we’ll take care of it then. Thank you for your call. (GOES TO BREAK)
I kind of assume that the host’s last comment is facetious, but one can never tell on these radio programs. But whether he was joking about the Rush Limbaugh show “taking care of” the leak or not, the overall philosophy is clear: take care of problems after they arise by punishing companies for infractions; do not try to prevent problems from happening ahead of time.
But wait a moment. Something sounds wrong about that.
Working in the corporate world I have been exposed to endless seminars, certifications and training programs on business process improvement. One of the fundamental keys to success that is always ground into people’s minds is the “get it right the first time” principle. In any business process, each step should be checked and confirmed and constrained so that the end result is as likely to be “perfect” as possible, because no matter how much time or money it might cost at that moment, going back and discovering and fixing a problem later will cost more.
Complementing that is the idea of front-loading your use of resources in your business operation. For any business project, the vast majority of your time, money, and work hours should be put in at the very early stages of operation: planning and development. A well-designed and well-executed project spends more resources early on, so that the project will require very few resources to fix and maintain later on. Poorly-planned and poorly-executed business projects are the opposite: they skimp and try to save on time and money at the beginning, and as a result they end up over-spending both time and money at the end of the process (when the project should theoretically be completed) maintaining the system and fixing all of the problems that come up.
These are basic concepts in project management and project improvement. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It costs less to do it right the first time than to pay people to fix problems after the fact. Anyone who has actually learned anything about running a business understands these things.
So what are we to make of “business-minded” conservatives who claim that the government should be “run like a business,” but that it’s better to pay for a judicial system that litigates problems after-the-fact rather than for a regulatory system that prevent problems from happening in the first place?
Maybe they should actually take a class on how to run a business.