Why You Can’t Run Government Like a Business


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

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Donald Trump won the presidency with a promise to make great deals and bring business smarts to Washington. He’s not the first to argue that the federal government needs an injection of private-sector management savvy, writes Charles Duhigg (The New York Times). But with his cabinet full of billionaire business honchos and his disdain for the conventions of government, Trump is likely to give the old “President as CEO” concept its most ambitious field-test yet.

Don’t be surprised if it goes awry. As one former business person who served in George W. Bush’s cabinet puts it to Duhigg, “In government, you can’t fire anyone. Your board of directors is 535 people in Congress, and half of them want to see you fail.” Running the government simply demands a different set of management muscles than running a corporation. Former Treasury secretary (and, before that, Goldman Sachs CEO) Henry Paulson explains, “You succeed in Washington by collaborating.”

Can Trump and his billionaires learn these new tricks on the fly? Their ability to accomplish much of anything will hang on the answer. The intransigence of the federal bureaucracy is a problem for impatient reformers, but it’s also a bulwark against incompetent or ill-intentioned leadership.

Big Question Mark for Tech’s Foreign Workers

Silicon Valley and the broader U.S. tech industry employ large numbers of engineers from abroad, especially from India. With the advent of a new administration that has trumpeted its hostility to immigrants and promised to wall off the border, both the industry and its workers from abroad remain in the dark about how U.S. immigration policy will evolve over the next four years — and what that will mean for tech’s multi-national work force (Caroline O’Donovan in Buzzfeed).

It’s not as if there was that much to cheer in the pre-Trump system, with its limited number of H-1B visas for skilled workers and its even more limited access to green cards, which can take decades to obtain. But at least the current system has had the virtue of some consistency and predictability. Now, the uncertainty that surrounds the new administration’s opaque policies is making it hard for the tech industry’s foreign workers, and their employers, to make any sort of long-term plans.

The People’s House Just Isn’t Good Enough

Donald Trump’s reluctance to commit himself or his family to living in the White House isn’t just a costly burden on taxpayers, who will end up paying for extra security at Trump Tower and wherever else the president decides to lay his Make America Great Again hat. (Many of those payments will go straight to Trump and his company.) As Bonnie Honig writes in The Boston Review, Trump’s distaste for the White House symbolizes the broader hostility of the incoming administration towards public spaces and public resources in all their forms.

The Trump family’s choice to “opt out” of the White House for a private alternative ends up being subsidized by the public. Similarly, the kinds of “opt outs” that Trump’s team wants to create in social programs, healthcare, and public education only work by siphoning off resources that were formerly allocated to public goods.

“All too often opting out depends on the public purse it pretends to circumvent,” Honig writes. That’s something to keep in mind as, in the Trump era, we are forced to bargain for new borders between the public and private realms.

Something Else to Worry About: Solar Weather

While we’re all worrying about climate change, it’s not the only weather risk out there. There’s also space weather, as in solar flares (Bloomberg). Solar storms could knock out power grids, disable communications and GPS satellites, and wreak havoc with the networks and systems that run our economy today.

Scientists say we’ve been lucky to have avoided such a disaster in recent times — although a 1989 solar flare took out the Canadian power system for nine hours, a potentially dangerous 2012 solar eruption caused no harm because it wasn’t pointed in Earth’s direction. There’s not a lot that we can do to prevent or defend against this threat, but early detection could help us limit the potential damage.

Trump’s Inauguration Is the End of an Era, Not a Beginning

The future is going to be digital, global, and sustainable, but getting there from here is unleashing a lot of fear, writes Pete Leyden (NewCo Shift). That’s how Donald Trump got elected, and the fear that drove his upset victory shouldn’t be underestimated.

Still, Leyden argues, Trump is likely to fail big. In the process, he will so discredit his party and his cause that he “will finally take down right-wing conservative politics for a generation or two” — and allow the U.S. to begin making the bigger progressive changes it needs.


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