I have never been a big fan of the saying that we should run government like a business. Governments and businesses have different purposes and different priorities. There are different internal and external forces acting on them. For example, governments should not be run on a profit motive. But I think I get where folks are coming from when they say it should be run like a business. What I hear is that people expect good government, run in a business like fashion based on sound economic and business principles. They want a professionally run government, not one run based on corruption, and cronyism. I couldn’t agree more.
But there is one aspect of running government like a business that we seem to forgotten about — competition. In business we have long realized that competition is good for society and monopolies are bad. Competition encourages efficiencies, innovation and getting the best product or service to the consumer for the least amount of cost. We encourage it. We advocate for it. What all business expects is an equal and fair playing field to compete on. We have a whole systems of laws designed to promote it — in business. But we do not do that for government. When politicians and parties have no real competition come election time, across vast swaths of our state and country, they have no incentive to be innovative, responsive and efficient in performing the duties of an elected representative. Why should they? It is not like they will lose their seat if they do a crappy job.
This problem of gerrymandering is not new. It is as old as our republic. It has been allowed to go on so blatantly and so long that it seems normal, just a part of the way things are. Even so, just because that is the way things have always been does not mean that is the way they always have to be. If we truly want government to be run like a business, with the players competing, innovating and challenging each other constantly to be better so as to improve the likes of its citizens (consumers), we must create a system that encourages competition, or at least one that does not discourage it.
Business adapts to changes in consumer desires or tastes by adapting its business, and the products and services it provides to meet those changed conditions. For example, the energy and automotive industry are primarily changing because of changes in consumer expectations about climate change and increasing demand for green energy in the marketplace. If they do not adapt, if they do not come up with alternative products and services to meet this demand, if they do not provide better consumer service, they will not long exist. Every day is election day in business.
Monopolies are slower to change to conditions than competitive businesses because they have no incentive to change. They control the supply and the market and can dictate the products they sell and the price we will be forced to pay. The consumers have no alternative, no one else they can buy from. This has a negative impact on the economy and society as a whole so we have developed a complex system to prevent monopolies from forming and to promote competition in business.
Yet we have developed no system whose sole purpose is to encourage and promote competition in elections like we have in business. Why? Perhaps it is because, for all our free market rhetoric, we do not really want anything to be free and fair. We only want what is to our own advantage. If that is the case, then we should stop expecting that government be run like a business and accept that corruption and cornyism are just fine.
We have been content to let our politicians and parties exempt themselves from competition. They create “safe districts” for politicians to run in or districts that give the incumbent (regardless of party) the advantage. This is not a Republican vice, the Democrats are as guilty as well. This does not promote better government or better representation, it only promotes the careers and fortunes of individual politicians.
The system of redistricting and representation must be changed if we are to keep our republic as a government of, by and for the people. Our stated policy goal must be to promote increasing competition in all political contests, not to insulate certain politicians or parties from possible defeat. It is the competition we are lacking in political races that has resulted in the poor representation (products and services) that many citizens (consumers) receive from their representatives.
Of course, this will never be achieved so long as only elected politicians are the only ones who control how the districts are drawn. Our first start then must be to send a veto proof bill to the Governor establishing an independent non-partisan redistricting commission for the state of Texas. This is the only way to prevent political monopolization of government and encourage political competition. This is not a new idea and has been used with great success in many other states.
No one legitimately argues for the virtues of the monopoly in business. It is time we end it in government.
Jon Mark Hogg is a lawyer in San Angelo, Texas and a former Democratic Candidate for Congress.