Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Viewed as a Business, Politics Is Booming but Dysfunctional

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Viewed as a Business, Politics Is Booming but Dysfunctional

Article excerpt

We're often reminded that government isn't like the private sector. Sometimes that is said derisively, and sometimes it is said to remind us that public service should be about more than a profit motive.

Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor who's a leading thinker on corporate strategy and competition, thinks we can learn something by thinking of politics as an industry, just like airlines or supermarkets.

Porter teamed up with Katherine Gehl, former chief executive of a Wisconsin-based food producer, to do such an analysis, and their report is instructive to anyone who wonders why the system is so dysfunctional.

Porter and Gehl find that the politics industry is thriving. Campaign spending, a rough approximation of the industry's total revenue, continues to rise, and campaigns employ an ever-expanding roster of pollsters, canvassers and consultants.

That doesn't mean the industry does a good job of serving its customers, the voters. It's a textbook example of a duopoly, an industry dominated by two entrenched players.

In other industries, firms that don't respond to customers' demands create an opening for new competitors. Think of how Japanese automakers took business away from Ford and General Motors, or how Wal-Mart disrupted department stores.

The politics industry, unlike GM or Sears, gets to write its own rules. The parties make it difficult for upstart competitors to get on the ballot. They gerrymander districts in a way that makes most seats safe for incumbents.

The resulting system rewards the political class at the expense of everyone else. "The most powerful customers are partisan primary voters, special interests and donors," Porter and Gehl write. "Average voters and current non-voters, the majority of citizens, have little or no influence on policy or outcomes."

Porter is famous for his "five forces" analysis, which describes how an industry is shaped by competitors, suppliers, customers, substitute products and potential new entrants. …

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