The Moment of Truth — February 11, 2012

A Modest Business Proposal

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You hear it all the time now, but I wonder when the idea that we should run the USA like a business was first floated by a politician. It can’t have been before the 1890s. Seems like up till then there was a gentleman’s agreement that businessmen wouldn’t run for president - unless plantation owners, real estate speculators, mining and oil company executives, and investment capitalists are businessmen. That would make the majority of presidents starting with George Washington businessmen. Maybe the gentleman’s agreement was that it was ungentlemanly or unstatesmanlike for a gentleman or statesman to talk about his business as if it were his most redeeming achievement. Violating that unwritten rule was considered crass.

To us the equivalent would be if you were a good, nurturing father but you felt your real noteworthy activity was all the hot dog-eating contests you’d won.

Those genteel days are behind us, though. There are no statesmen anymore, just politicians, and now the idea that we should run the country like a business is brought up every five minutes as if it’s new and original. While not new, I agree it’s never been tried, except maybe under Bill Clinton, who was not a businessman. He did end his term having endowed the Treasury with a multi-trillion-dollar surplus, or so the story goes, and ending up in the black is supposed to be one of the traits of a successful business, I’ve heard.

But then George W. Bush, who had once sold a baseball team so was definitely a business genius, decided that giving most of the Clinton surplus away to the richest shareholders of USA Inc. and leaving the company in crippling debt was a good idea. That’s not how any good business I’ve heard of runs. That sounds like communism to me. As a businessman, George W. Bush made a great communist.

If you suspect I don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re right. But whereas I am often told I don’t know what I’m talking about, when it comes to business it’s even truer than usual. Still, as a citizen of a representative democracy, it is my duty to participate in our political discourse by wielding my ignorance. I believe it’s patriotic, my evidence being all the role-modeling of this behavior by professional politicians these days, especially the ones wrapped in the most layers of flag.

So if we’re going to run this country like a business, what business should it be? When I was growing up the cool thing was to start a yard care business. Imagine the USA going around cutting the lawns of other countries. I bet we’d be great at it. There are vast grasslands all over the world: the Steppes, the Savannas, the Ghats, the Pampas. We just load all our aircraft carriers with thousands of riding mowers and weed-whackers, man the ships with all the Latinos who cut our lawns now and all the ones who would love to get into the US and do yard work but can’t - notice I’m simultaneously solving the undocumented immigrant problem. I mean, what immigrant problem? They won’t even be on our soil. They’ll be sailing around the world mowing all the other countries’ lawns.

You might say I’m thinking small. We should really be a full-service property management country. We should have landscape architects and interior designers, electricians, carpenters, artists and artisans, entertainment center installers and design consultants on those carriers, and fly them around in airborne transports, too. I say, fine. If that’s the way you want to go, I was just thinking a low overhead, straightforward service business without a lot of insurance requirements and regulations to wade through, that’s what made the lawn care business so attractive to high school kids, but if you’re into a more complex business model, knock yourself out. There’s room for both your white-collar and blue-collar workers in the project. It’d be nice if we all got paid a decent wage, but I’m sure you’re taking that into account. Just as long as we can lie back and get stoned after work and listen to Van Halen.

You know what we could do? Here’s what we do. We open a restaurant. Run the whole country like a big restaurant, American cooks are great, and of course as I mentioned before we have lots of immigrants to clean everything and man the counters and registers. And you know how food trucks are all the rage? Can you imagine food aircraft carriers? Pulling up in Capetown or Marseille or Shanghai? Confetti and streamers and cheering crowds greeting us at the pier. Our chefs challenging the chefs in each port to grand culinary tournaments. Like an international Vaudeville Iron Chef. I predict we would be greeted as libators.

Our lawn care guys would appreciate the food aircraft carriers, too. You know what we lawn care and house painting and maintenance and window washing guys like at around lunchtime? Some kabobs, pad thai, falafel, a little menudo - good old American food off a truck, that’s what we like on a job site.

I think if we add a dog-walking business, we’re really - a dog-walking AND a childcare thing. With some house cleaning and maybe some closet-organization consulting to help other nations get their closets organized. 

This is great: we go around the world on aircraft carriers, troop transport helicopters and C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and cut other countries’ lawns, walk their dogs, babysit for them, do some cheap concrete pouring, light carpentry, drywall and painting, window washing, tuckpointing, maybe give haircuts, and make our transport vehicles convertible into portable food courts. We really need to make sure to have a lot of coffee places in those food courts, too, because American workers make great baristas.

In this way not only will we be running the country like a business, we’ll be exporting our way of life, all our freedoms and prosperity. Because when I see a throng of Latino gentlemen in the Home Depot parking lot clamoring unsuccessfully for an odd job, or when I walk into a Starbucks and look at some retired teacher working behind the counter, I think, that’s prosperity and freedom.

I read one article about running the country like a business where the author said, “What we need as president is one of these turnaround guys.” I think that’s a great idea. Because having someone take us over, change our logo, fire us all, hire some of us back at half our pay, and then sell us again is exactly what we need right now to rebrand ourselves.

We kind of already tried it, though. Bush and Cheney were building on Bush’s business experience of selling the Texas Rangers when they started selling off the USA to the oil companies and private military contractors in the market of the Iraq war. That’s what privatizing is: selling your country off to various companies, usually ones you have revolving-door relationships with. For some reason it didn’t work, though. We didn’t all get rich. A successful business is one where we all get rich, I assume. Right? Or is that communism again?

No, I’m telling you, keep it simple: what we need is to run the country like a lawn mowing business. It’s what some of our most entrepreneurial teenagers do, and the USA is still a young nation, certainly no more than an adolescent on the world stage. Let’s not get too serious right now, we can make our major career choices later. Now is the time of its life when our nation should be enjoying itself, sowing its wild oats.

And when the lawns have been cut there’s nothing wrong with a nation lying back, rolling a doobie and putting on some Van Halen.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!