Why business people generally make poor politicians

Stephen Franks has a considered piece about why business people make poor politicians.

Few business people?are good at democratic politics. They expect what works in business to work in?democracy. They?re?frustrated?by the messy necessity to maintain a working consensus, by multiple conflicting objectives, and by the unreliability of delegates.

They?think that if only the right people were in charge, the best structures and systems would be like those in business, where everyone accepts?single prevailing decisions from nominated rulers, and he who pays, rules.

Business people who get embroiled in politics?commonly hate it so much they eject before they flame out. Those who survive and learn may be small in number but they are among the best we have, and we owe them a lot for their patience.

Many good business people are?equally hopeless in assessing policy. I could not count the number of times I?ve heard the idiocy that the RMA is a good law, with nothing seriously wrong with it?except how it is?administered by council people who are stupid or wrongly motivated. These business defenders?have no idea that they?ve just explained exactly why the RMA is? so?badly conceived and written as to besmirch the rule of law.

They?re misled by objectives. In business, if you can get your objectives clear, and set them out for your staff, much of the work is done. But the promoters of all law recite noble objectives, usually purposes we can all agree on.? The key problem in both policy and law-making is the unintended, often the application of law for purposes never thought about.

What distinguishes bad law from good law is simple. Well designed and drafted law works whether or not ?idiots? are in charge. It is predictable because it limits what rulers can do.?It is very carefully??designed knowing that people of malign intent will try to misuse any law. Frequently they will have power. Good law is?drafted by wise?sceptics about human nature. It remains predictable in effect despite attempts to distort it.

This is precisely why I laugh when people suggest that people like Ralph Norris or other business autocrats who rule their own families like they are corporate subordinates?would make a great mayor or MP or minister.

Franks then goes on to discuss the proposed super-village for Wellington.

I?ve come to the conclusion that I?m watching similar business naivete?on super-city amalgamations. Here in Wellington the Chamber of Commerce and the Property Council?have not?bothered to offer their members any analysis, reasoning, or?even debate, before?joining the??bigger is better? campaign.??Perhaps it is natural for business people to favour bigness ? after all most probably regard growing bigger as the measure of success.

But I?m not aware of any evidence that?small councils are comfortable berths for more stupidity than bigger ones. When I was in the Office of the Ombudsman many years ago experience often suggested the opposite. Counties and country areas seemed better run, on average, than their bigger neighbours.

That is not research evidence, but it is puzzling that business has not watched the Canterbury experience, and the extent to which Canterbury has been saved from presenting unrelieved incompetence by the safety valve councils of Selwyn and Waimakariri.? You?d think they might have?asked Hugh Pavletich to come up and report. Christchurch has been hostile to business ever since?Christchurch City was jammed together as a prototypy ?super-city? two decades ago.

Many Wellington business reps have an intuitive faith in ??bigger is better? territorial government. I say ?territorial??because it would be a lie to call Uber-City Wellington and Super-City Auckland ?local government?. Two councils governing half the population of New Zealand?may be government, but it is certainly not??local? government, on any measure.

Wellingtonians should just Aucklanders what they think of the so-called Super-City…and the alleged savings that have never materialised.

Here in?Wellington are strong signs of the same wilful refusal to think. Those bent on?a Uber-Council for the whole Wellington region are not worried that it will replace genuine community self determination.?Perhaps they feel?it goes without saying the peasantry would be better off ruled from afar by their betters. The LGC claim that Wairarapa is not viable is breathtakingly patronising. They don?t quite say that it?will always need Wellington office tower subsidies but there is no other implication.

Why has that not signalled ?Caution!? to the Property Council??They feel no need for research evidence that scale efficiencies are common in local government, or that they outweigh the inefficiencies?of larger?bureacracy and more distant representation.

To?amalgamators it seems to be?enough to?believe there is?widespread incompetence in local government and lost opportunities for ?growth?. Even if that is right, how size?solves it?is not explained.?Size would put more eggs in the same basket.?How will?it make the basket less dodgy??From experience it could?mask even greater incompetence, or deter more able candidates. It is especially odd that business is not interested apparently in more pay on local politicians, not less.

I know many?amalgamators. They are good people, and many have lead good businesses. But?few understood politics when I was an MP. Things have not changed. Councils?must preserve and respect and continually learn from dissension. Businesses are ruined by it.

I can’t wait for idiots in Wellington to vote for amalgamation, or in the Hawkes Bay…3 years later there will howls of outrage at their massive rates increases and then those of us in Auckland can point to all their comments they make now about deserving what we get with the Len Brown Auckland Council.

All amalgamation will do is create a bigger trough for even more local government pigs to dip their trotters and snouts into, at the expense of the long suffering ratepayer.

Roll on the day when a politician will propose a Ratepayers Bill of rights to limit what councils can and cannot spend money one without first going back tot he people who will have to pay for it.


– Stephen Franks