Must government operate like a business?

Government is tightly associated with public and social services. Marketing is tightly associated with business. By advocating for the application of marketing to public and social services, am I thereby advocating that government can, should, or must operate like a business?

This article from PolicyMic lists some of the recent luminaries who have called for government to be business-like: Bill Gates, Meg Whitman, Rick Scott, Mitt Romney. These four happen to be successful ex-CEOs who have entered into the policy arena, but a quick search query can reveal many others who have echoed their calls.

The PolicyMic article also points out the counter argument: government is intended and created to provide public services at the scale of the whole political unit (city, state, nation); notions of efficiency and growth are different for the public sector; and the private sector isn’t necessarily or always efficient or rational. The 2008 bursting of the housing bubble and subsequent credit crisis nicely illustrates that last point.

I side with the counter argument: government is not a business. It has a different charter and accountability.

However, I think government can still draw on the best of the professional expertise to improve on its performance and results.

When you seek treatment at a public health care facility, you want to know that a qualified professional doctor is attending to you. When you pay your taxes, you want to know that qualified auditors and accountants are working to assure scrupulous spending and accurate bookkeeping. I think we should expect qualified marketing professionals, or at least a professional marketing approach, be applied to creating and delivering the public and social services that add value to our communities.

Where do you fall, philosophically, on the government – business spectrum when it comes to public and social services? Or do you have a different take on this whole topic? Leave me a comment with your thoughts.

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