The Providence Journal

January 21,2024

Big business is booming in the United States, and rightly so. Almost 50 years of free-market policies have allowed the biggest and best companies in the world to flourish. The American Dream and its way of life are fairy tales come true, courtesy of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Tesla and the S&P 500 companies. American businesses are the embodiment and intent of all that the country has strived for, and, globally, they project American influence and its ideals of independence, hard work, creativity and wealth.

Ironically, the principles in business that the American government and society have fought so ardently for are not the principles for how the government is run. The difference between the quality of the government sector and the quality of the private sector in America is stark. Compare the quality of service between Federal Express and the post office. One is modern. The other is not. Start at the top, where the CEO of FedEx, Raj Subramaniam, makes $13.25 million per year, while the postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, makes $480,985.

The same goes for the U.S. military services. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Charles Q. Brown Jr., makes $266,000, while the CEO of Raytheon, Thomas Kennedy, makes $23 million per year. Finally, look at Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, who makes $99 million per year, while the president of the United States, Joe Biden, is paid $400,000 annually.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren testified in Congress last week, and her comments were echoed by Republican Senators J.D. Vance, of Ohio, and Patrick McHenry of North Carolina: “No one wants to waste taxpayer dollars, but Congress needs to be more realistic about what it takes to attract the top people to public service across the board.”

Numbers and salary reflect a person’s worth and importance in the U.S. system; no surprise then that the best and brightest no longer go into government service, they go into business. There are exceptions, of course. A few good people step up and try to do the right thing, but by and large this hollowing out of the government into a meek enterprise has been a steady and insidious slide mirroring the improvement in the fortunes of private sector America.

Is this dynamic the Achilles heel of the American system? Or is it a natural political evolution away from big government and to a more democratic society by way of a strong and diverse private sector? Certainly, at the moment many things look good for the United States, but change doesn’t begin to explain what the next hundred years will look like. Will it be necessary to have an enormous centralized government as they do in China, so that the big things get done well? Or will the fractured, seemingly unhappy, but nevertheless successful and strong American system prevail?

In the ultimate book of morality, the meek were said to inherit the earth; but thousands of years later, we live in an age determined by science, math and data. Morals are meek, and numbers are biblical.

Chip Benson is an occasional contributor, and lives in South Kingstown.

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