Daily Inter Lake

It was disappointing to hear Postmaster General Louis DeJoy tell House Oversight Committee members he’d instituted USPS changes to address a $9 billion loss. Profit/loss terminology comes from the for-profit business world where efficiency is registered in profit margins, stock prices, and ROI (return on investment).

DeJoy required trucks to depart sorting centers on time to improve USPS efficiency/profitability. That resulted in mail being left behind, accumulating in sorting centers, and medications not getting delivered when expected. Improved efficiency?

Should USPS run as a for-profit enterprise? Uber and Lyft exploit profitable ride-share markets while taxis and public transportation service the rest. And USPS? Should low-ROI markets like rural Montana be scrapped?

The U.S. government has posted annual losses for decades, but the Congressional Budget Office uses proper surplus/deficit terminology. Recent surpluses ran between 1998 and 2001. Under Bush, deficits accumulated then skyrocketed after the Great Recession in 2008. Under Obama, those annual deficits declined steadily. But under Trump, deficits have risen every year. (See graph.)

Maybe business executives aren’t well-suited to run not-for-profit governmental organizations. Trump claimed covid-19 was contained and would go away. Instead we got record unemployment and 200,000+ Americans dying.

Truth is, we need business acumen to help budget and manage agencies, programs, and projects. But business executives—focused on dictating policy and amassing wealth—may not be well-suited to run public-benefit governmental institutions.

In Montana, Greg Gianforte extols his business-executive experience. But his tax-cut advocacy in Congress helped produce our rising federal deficits—cutting revenue BEFORE cutting expenditures. Gianforte himself profited from the tax cuts and rising national debt.

Moreover, while Gianforte created businesses and jobs, he sold them all. All. Right Now Technologies (RNT) employed more foreign nationals than Montanans. He saved money by using foreign labor but became extremely wealthy by selling RNT and the high-paying Montana jobs to Texas billionaire Larry Ellison. Steve Daines made out from the sale too, but Daines established his career building factories in China so P&G could profit from cheap foreign labor.

To me, these businessmen employed extractive business models. They didn’t grow sustainable long-term Montana businesses. They mined wealth—creating, extracting, and exporting jobs.

Extractive industries have always played a major role in Montana. But what role will they play in our future? Will we bank on extractive economies for our collective future health and prosperity?

In a political ad, Betty Biggs touts 80+ years as a Montana rancher/farmer. Farming, ranching, and tree-farming required she focus on sustainability and long-term solvency/health. Extractive businesses do not. Montana taxpayers spent millions cleaning up toxic Zortman-Landusky mine tailings after Pegasus Gold declared bankruptcy and dumped three low-ROI/high-liability mines while retaining profitable mines and re-emerging as Apollo Gold.

Gianforte’s focused tax-cuts would likely generate wealth for a few but deficit state budgets for all—gutting community programs and creating public wastelands. Deficits could lead to the sale of public lands to foreign and domestic corporations. Another extractive model.

Non-profit organizations/institutions—social, religious, educational, medical—are critical for community cohesiveness and well-being. They require sound fiscal management. But money is not their bottom line. When their mission becomes corrupt, we’re left with defunct Trump Universities or Trump Foundations.

In this time of great social-environmental-and-economic crisis, it’s critical we examine candidates’ backgrounds. Business is often a competitive arena relying on short-term profit and a binary/oppositional/transactional framework. But managing complex, dynamic systems requires different skillsets—cooperation, collaboration, transformational understandings, and capacity-building.

This election, let’s focus on what it takes to build alliances, heal wounds/disease, educate our greatest resource—our children—and nurture and sustain communities and shared spaces. Healthy communities require healthy choices.

—Hal Schmid is an educator and writer living in Lake County.

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