Our good friend Daren’s been keeping track of the goings-on at City Hall again. This time, he’s favoured us with a yarn from Executive Committee: a split among the members yesterday means the Riverdale Farm is still in business.
All to the good, of course (although learning that I’m on the same side as Norm Kelly and Giorgio Mammoliti doesn’t exactly do wonders for my comfort level), and Daren’s doing a public service by writing and reporting on this stuff. His argument about what this implies for Team Ford’s ability to advance whatever passes for its vision speaks for itself.
I can’t help wondering, though, whether his post doesn’t raise some larger questions about how we decide what’s important and what’s worthy of public support. So, once again, time to take a step back and view this in a larger context (Jesus, does he have that on a macro or something?) — namely, the words we choose to use, their connotations, and the effect those choices have on both policy decisions and the public discourse that shapes them. In brief, it’s all about the framing.
(Once again, if you haven’t bookmarked the indispensible Trish Hennessy’s blog, do it now. She’s one of the best observers / analysts in Canada on the subject of framing.)
Something that comes up repeatedly in Daren’s account is the disturbing term “business plan.” There’s nothing wrong with a business plan per se, but it’s disturbing in this context because it comes up so frequently and because it’s indicative of the extent to which public discourse has been colonized and warped by the language of the business school.
It’s because of this that I’m choosing to focus on the framing. The words we use to talk about things, and the language we use for our conversations, aren’t value-neutral; the decisions we make are very much influenced by the value choices implicit in the words we employ. And the notion that we should be demanding “business plans” of everyone within sight is a perfect illustration of that; it privileges the accountants, the managers, the marketers and the MBAs among us, along with their technocratic and class-biased “expertise,” at the frequent expense of popular access and functioning, inclusive democracy.
I know I call out Brother Doug fairly often for his pompous, condescending lectures about the “private sector,” but in truth this goes way beyond Team Ford or municipal politics. Back to first principles: government should be in the business of government. That means balancing interests, discussing things in a rational and comprehensive way like mature, thoughtful adults, and working to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number. In short, it’s about The Public Good.
So, to everyone who fetishizes business plans or the private sector or harangues us about running government like a business, a rejoinder: This isn’t the private sector, so STFU already. It’s government. If you love the private sector so much, then stay there and leave government to people committed to using it for the public good. We devote public resources to things because we want to advance the public good, not because we expect them to “look for efficiencies” or “turn a profit” or “build the brand” or “enhance investor confidence” or “create shareholder value.”
The sooner we stop talking about public affairs in those terms, the better.
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