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A business-world case for a strong public sector

by: scott_laugenour

Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 16:30:17 PM EDT

(U.S. business leaders are grasping the fact that doing the right thing can go hand-in-hand with doing the profitable thing--resulting in win-win situations for investors, workers, and the community at large. Far from being a burden, single-payer will be a boon to businesses big and small. Let's hope more catch on...   - promoted by michael horan)

"Take care of your people and your people will take care of the business and its customers."

Bill Marriott and his son are examples of very successful big businessmen.   I did not always agree with their politics, but I did observe the wisdom of the words above that were regularly imparted on their management team, of which I was a part for over twenty years.  My belief in the necessity of a strong public sector is grounded in a similar belief:  if society fairly funds and administers a quality social infrastructure for its people, then the businesses and other institutions that rely on a healthy and  enterprising people will be lifted and will thrive.

scott_laugenour :: A business-world case for a strong public sector

I thus support a strong public sector funded by progressive tax policies that support quality public insurance for health, unemployment, and retirement;  education; public safety; a clean environment; and transportation networks.  It is neither realistic nor cost-effective to burden individuals or the private sector with the maintenance of this infrastructure.

Small businesses have always struggled to provide health insurance plans to their workforce.  Even large businesses such as Marriott International have learned over the years that it cannot effectively take on the burden of health insurance for its employees.  After abandoning an internal 'self-insurance' program, the company began contracting with private insurers.    Over time the plans which have been negotiated with private health insurance companies cost more and more and provide less and less benefit.  These negotiations never stop; they divert excessive amounts of management talent towards that elusive better deal and towards managing reduced expectations to the staff.  As more business managers from US companies gain experience in countries with national non-profit insurance, they see the benefit:  a system that costs much less than ours that  produces a healthier workforce.  These business leaders are beginning to "get it," (although they may be quiet about it because of their business alliances with peers in the private insurance industry).

Even though Mr. Marriott aligns himself politically with those who advocate trickle down economics, he preaches the opposite in the management of his business.   "Trickle down" states that if society puts priority in taking care of its businesses, the people will eventually benefit.  The proof of trickle down economics is elusive, but the proof of Marriott International's success by embracing the opposite of trickle down is real.  It suggests a more solid argument to make is that society first take care of its people through strong effective public policies.

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I still think America is a solid investment, myself (0.00 / 0)
It's hard for me to get TOO excited about Marriott--I personally don't stay in franchise hotels or eat at franchise eateries--but if locally owned and operated motels and hotels are becoming a thing of the past, which disappoints me to no end, I suppose there worse owners-- this certainly bears out what you're saying, both in the CEO and the worker's statements. I'm grudgingly impressed.

But qualifications aside, I have been impressed by the number of business leaders who appreciate that, contra the received wisdom, doing the right thing actually DOES often correlate with doing the profitable thing. It's not simply a matter of keeping your employees healthy--the kind of attitude exemplified by Mr Marriott leads to infinitely higher morale, as demonstrated by the discussion thread. Of course, there remains that slightly creepy tone of paternalism ("gee willikers, Mister Marriott, thanks so much for givin' us po' folks down here a helpin' hand!")--but there are worse things.

One of which was the job from which I was recently laid off. A factory-type sweatshop, where, after three years and constant increases in our premiums, our sick time was actually cut--from 7 days to three! And, the week before Christmas. (Funny about that--a year later and after four years there, I was laid off the week before Christmas.) Given the choice, yes, I'd prefer the Marriott style.

Contra the teabaggers, putting money into the public sector isn't a handout--it's a freaking investment, as you note.

This, by the way, is a really excellent and often overlooked point:  "These negotiations never stop; they divert excessive amounts of management talent towards that elusive better deal and towards managing reduced expectations to the staff." You're absolutely right. Think of the enhanced productivity on the part of so many companies if talent were engaged in R&D, S&M, instead of figuring out benefits packages. There are so many ancillary benefits to companies offered by single-payer...

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