Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019 — I was talking to a dear, old friend of mine some time ago. She was thinking-out-loud about her current work — for a US food processing giant — and comparing it to the work she did “in the old days” when we were closer. Specifically, she was thinking about her current employer’s procedures for supply and use of resources, finding them unnecessarily wasteful.
“You know,” she told me, “all through the 1990s we heard ‘Government should be run more like a business; government should be run like a business.’ But, working here, I see that businesses are really bad at some basic stuff. They’re bad at just about everything, it seems to me, except making a profit for their owners.”
I began to see where she was going. After experiencing decades of hearing large American organizations convince everyone that ‘government should be more like business’ — and preferably run by people like themselves — we have a government today that shares their goals to an unsustainable degree. Decades of public policy changes have given us a US government that seems over-geared toward making money for American (or global) business owners. And this comes at the expense of all the rest of us — their employees, the people.
It might not be so bad, except so many of us feel like we’ve given more of ourselves to our employers — themselves increasingly beholden to big, systemic owners — every year for decades.
One traditional conservative approach, for example, has been to attack “big government” and, more specifically, “big government spending” as The Problem. Of course, the solution, invariably, is to reduce “government costs” by firing a lot of workers and cutting programs, including — as it turns out — some pretty vital ones. (Another problem: Any further growth in government, increasingly, is farmed-out to the private sector — the so-called ‘privatization’ movement which, for example, saps resources from public education, makes higher ed only for the rich (or deeply indebted), and turns US prisons into something more like private labor camps.)
So, is it any surprise to anyone that American conservatives have managed to get another illiterate B-actor into the Oval Office who’s TV-drama tag-line was “You’re fired!”? With this US Treasury-plundering administration in charge, what else can anyone — especially good, solid American workers running vitally necessary federal programs — expect?
But, no; this really isn’t the direction my friend was going with this. She’s better than that. Before she worked for the food giant, her employer was a small, local not-for-profit agency. (Elsewhere, these are known as Non-Government Organizations, or NGOs.) For decades, NGOs have represented a large section of the American economy, yet their work and societal role often goes ignored — or even criticized. This is too bad, because NGOs occupy an important position between the usual dichotomy of ‘public versus private,’ or ‘government versus business.’ My friend had run one or two small NGOs (for poverty-stricken children and families) before she and they were purged — unfortunately like too many others in the United States at that time.
“Our humanitarian non-profits were so much more responsible,” she said. “We were more focused, more accountable for our resources, and we got a lot more done for people! …How much better for the country if the government were run more like them.”