Good, old common sense. You've heard the term-maybe you've even used it. But-at least as far as how we treat business-there doesn't seem to be a lot of it going around these days.
Let me give you some examples. In Morton, RMH Foods (Rocke's Meating Haus) was recently forced to alter their retail store and deli, compliments of a new federal law. That law forbade them from operating their meat processing operation in conjunction with the store and deli. So, instead of spending considerable dollars to relocate part of their company elsewhere, they chose to spin off the retail side-deli and fresh meat sales-of their business. I suspect those who enacted the law had some good reasons for doing it-but it's been lost on RMH, and frankly on us.
Another example-DaimlerChrysler was recently slapped with a $60 million judgement by a Pennsylvania state court for minor injuries suffered by a Philadelphia woman when her car's airbag inflated. The car was in an accident. DaimlerChrysler's airbag-required by the federal government-did its job, preventing her from being injured. But it gave her minor burns in the process. Now the automaker has to pay not only her, but everyone who owns a Chrysler bought between 1988 and 1990. (To add to the irony, automakers pleaded with the federal government to allow them to warn motorists of possible dangers with the auto airbags more than 10 years ago, but the government thought that would be too "alarmist." Those same government agencies are singing a different tune now.)
In this month's interview, farm management official Dale Clary wonders about the clash between the desire of some of us to live in the country (which we clearly define as a peaceful environment populated by small family farms) and the proliferation of large farming operations (which don't usually produce "peaceful" environment.) He says we've essentially brought on the larger operations ourselves-by demanding greater uniformity in our meat products. Yet we still want farmland like our parents knew. We can't have it both ways.
At a meeting with community leaders a month or so ago, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin admitted that, if his fellow legislators all had to file their own taxes, a change in the tax code would be first on their agenda. Which points to another major problem for any business-the nightmare of tax codes and tax forms written by bureaucrats. Yet change, if it comes at all, will be very slow.
Government officials-at all levels-often think the answers to our problems lie in the addition of government programs. But there's considerable evidence to the contrary. Government solutions often don't work. Private solutions often do. In fact, the momentum to switch from public to private programs appears to be building. It can't happen fast enough.
Oh, to be sure, there are plenty of existing factions who might lose turf or money or both if privatization succeeds. And some of their complaints are legitimate (for example, teachers in District 150 are concerned that they won't be compensated for additional workloads that might come from privatizing several Peoria schools). But most lawmakers and government workers live a protected existence that would be threatened if a public operation were made private. And because some of them are often organized and as a result, their voices louder, change will be slow here, too.
Almost seven years ago, we wrote in this same space that "government programs tend to kill the flexibility and creativity which could be provided by private enterprise, while taking away the incentive to find the best and most cost-effective solutions." We haven't changed our minds. Unfortunately, there's still a proliferation of evidence to support that conclusion.
Btu the growing trend toward privatization of public programs is a good, healthy sign. Businessmen and women-motivated by profit-can make good things happen. Government can and should be ready to protect us from the zealots who, in their efforts to inflate the bottom line, would harm consumers. If government runs the show, then political factions and highly specialized interest groups develop and bureaucracy thrives (sort of like we have it now).
In our world-where private business thrives and government protects-common sense would be both alive and well. IBI