Stop Falling for the Same Tired Old Lines

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When it comes to dating, men and women are familiar with worn-out lines. Pick-up lines are the stuff of jokes which are themselves so overused that they are not funny.

"Come here often?"

And yet in the realm of politics, American men and women appear to fall for the same tired old lines. President Bush’s Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, is said to be set on "running the Pentagon like a business."

The Washington Times reports that

Mr. Rumsfeld’s corporate management approach was underscored by his picks for service secretaries. James G. Roche (Air Force), Thomas E. White (Army) and Gordon R. England (Navy) all have extensive corporate experience running programs and divisions. The White House has not yet announced its nominations to the Senate. The president has tapped Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge, an aerospace executive, as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, a post commonly called "acquisition czar."

Perhaps you remember H. Ross Perot. His campaign for president consisted largely of the plan to "run America like a business."

One large problem: America is not a business. Neither is the Pentagon.

In his short book Bureaucracy (read it at the beach over the weekend), Ludwig von Mises points out that a government bureaucracy can never be run efficiently.

Never.

The reason for this, as Mises explains, is that business operates according to profit and loss. If a business loses money, it must change its wasteful ways or go out of business. Not so with the government. If the government loses money, there is no incentive for it to stop; the government cannot go out of business.

In other words, Rumsfeld and Perot have utterly misconceived the nature of the coercive state and the nature of private enterprise. It matters not one bit that Rumsfeld has hired men with "extensive corporate experience running programs and divisions," because the Pentagon is not a profit-seeking corporation. Similarly, had Ross Perot been elected president, it would not matter that he had run a successful computer company, since the government is not a company. Perot would have been merely another failed reformer.

The government cannot be "reformed" by making it act like a business. By nature, government is not a business.

In fact, government and business are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Their natures are not only different, but contrary. Where a business exists to create wealth by successfully fulfilling the desires of consumers, the government takes wealth from producers and consumers to fund programs which will continue to exist no matter how much money they waste.

Like every government program, the Pentagon will continue to waste money, pursue programs at the behest of powerful political sponsors, and proclaim "reform" after "reform" in the name of putting an end to waste and inefficiency. And this will go on forever, until Americans learn that it is the nature of the governmental beast to be a spendthrift.

To be fair to Rumsfeld, perhaps he has something else in mind other than treating the Pentagon like Microsoft. As the Washington Times reports,

At the same time, Mr. Rumsfeld is sending signals that he wants to loosen Congress’ and the generals’ grip on Pentagon operations, say Capitol Hill and Pentagon sources. "Rumsfeld has a mantra: u2018We have to reassert civilian control of the Department of Defense,’" said a congressional defense staffer who has spoken with Rumsfeld aides. "He believes that under the administration of the last eight years that the civilian leadership was weak and ineffective. And when there is weak and ineffective leadership, the uniform officers will fill the vacuum."

Rumsfeld is correct that there must be civilian control of the Defense Department. Despite this glimmer of sense on the part of Rumsfeld, it is disturbing that he wishes to minimize Congressional oversight of the Pentagon.

Although I will concede that, as a matter of the division of labor, the politicians should not run a war after war is declared (either from the field, as in the case of General Nathaniel Banks, a Congressman who decided to play general and was routed by Stonewall Jackson, or from the Congress), it remains the case that the Congress is practically the only the branch of the federal government which has any incentive to listen to the citizens. If a House member ignores the people of his district, he will be looking for work in only two years. If the Pentagon is to be accountable to the people, then, Congressional oversight of the Pentagon is a necessity.

Rather than waste his time on the Sisyphean task of trying to run the Pentagon like a business, Rumsfeld should give the troops a rest, restore the supremacy of the Congressional war power versus the Executive branch, and strive to craft an American military suited not to the task of policing the globe, but to the task of defending America’s shores.

Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2001 David Dieteman

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