Can you run a Country like a Business?

It's often said that if countries were run like businesses, we'd all be better off. The suggested benefits are many - clear goals, transparent decision making, careful financial management etc.

Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. On the one hand, the benefits just mentioned could certainly be applied in the public sector anyway, and they are in many places. On the other hand, many of the options available to business people are not generally there for politicians or public sector managers.

First of all, and this is by no means always true, business decisions may be quite straightforward to make once a reasonable amount of analysis has been completed. It's rather different in the political sphere, since decisions are often very finely balanced and must take account of the views and interests of a great many stakeholders.

Next, a business to some extent can (and perhaps should carefully) choose the transactions it enters into. This is based on a portfolio of opportunities to be kept under fairly constant review. However, in government the need for decisions often tends to arise as events develop, even if there is a clear strategy in place. Once transactions become live in business and negotiations progress, one of the possibilities for leaders is to walk away if they are not satisfied with the direction being taken. This is more difficult in the public sector, with considerations of general welfare and national interest.

This clearly a huge topic and it is attracting attention all the time. No doubt we'll have more to add in due course.


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