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Bureaucrats, Entrepreneurs & Saints

One of the most interesting political races during the recent election cycle was the governor’s race in California.  On the Democrat side was Jerry Brown, the 72 year old former governor of California.  On the Republican side was a woman by the name of Meg Whitman.

Whitman’s “qualifications” for the job of governor included the fact that she was the former Chief Executive Officer of eBay, the mammoth internet website that allows people to sell items online to the highest bidder.  As a result of her involvement with eBay, Whitman is a billionaire.

What intrigued me most about Whitman’s run for governor was the fact that the funding for her campaign came from her own personal fortune.  She ended up spending $141.5 million of her own money in her attempt to try to convince the people of California to vote for her.

I suppose that if you had a billion dollars, you could spend a couple hundred million and not even miss it.  Regardless of how wealthy Whitman is, what is most perplexing to me is why she would spend that kind of money to be the governor of a state that: (1) is on the verge of bankruptcy; (2) has an illegal immigration population that has completely overwhelmed the school and healthcare systems; (3) has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country; and (4) is #48 on the list of the worst states in the country for businesses.

What is it that made Whitman think she could, as governor, fix a bureaucracy that long ago passed the point of no return?  Here’s what her campaign website had to say about her: “As one of the most effective corporate leaders in America, Meg has learned how to manage big, complicated organizations.”

Meg Whitman may not realize it but the best thing that happened to her on Election Day was that she lost.  The state of California is not a big, complicated organization that can be managed by a successful business person.  It is a massive out-of-control bureaucratic freight train that is quickly approaching the edge of a cliff.

In his book “Bureaucracy,” which was published in 1944 by Yale University Press, Ludwig von Mises outlined his theory that there are only two kinds of management systems: (1) a bureaucratic management system; and (2) a profit management system.  The key difference between these two types of management systems is how they are financed.

Since government bureaucracies are always financed with money that is forcibly taken from citizens in the form of taxes and fees, the bureaucrats themselves can always count on a guaranteed job and income, regardless of how well they perform their jobs or serve the citizens they claim to represent.  Bureaucrats have no incentive or desire to come up with better or more efficient ways to be of service to the taxpayers.  Their primary goal is to ensure that they will never lose their jobs.

Because bureaucrats are focused on providing job security for themselves, their management system must be oriented to what has happened in the past.  Instead of looking into the future as to the best and most effective ways to serve the taxpayers, bureaucrats rely on the lessons they learned from the past – lessons that provided them with the knowledge, power and ability to maintain their status as bureaucrats with a guaranteed lifetime income.

On the other hand, since profit based companies are always financed with private investment, they are expected to generate a profit for their investors which requires that they focus on providing value to their customers.  They are, therefore, forced to focus on the future rather than the past.

The most successful individuals at creating profitable businesses are entrepreneurs.  An entrepreneur is a person who has the ability to create products or services that are considered to be so valuable that consumers will willingly (and sometimes enthusiastically) exchange money for the product or service that is being offered. 

The entrepreneur who has the skills to successfully build and manage a profit-based company usually fails miserably when attempting to apply his or her management skills to a bureaucracy.  Any time a successful entrepreneur attempts to manage a governmental agency, the bureaucrats who work for the agency end up undermining and sabotaging everything the entrepreneur attempts to accomplish.  Bureaucracies are incapable of managing anything well, and always end up being fraught with fraud, waste and corruption.

Successful business people make terrible bureaucrats.  Their future-oriented approach to running an organization is contrary to a bureaucrat’s past-oriented approach to maintaining the status quo.  The voters of California intuitively knew that the woman who had the entrepreneurial instincts and skills to build eBay into a highly profitable company would be a miserable failure as the governor of an out-of-control bureaucracy.

So I have a question for you.  If a bureaucrat is stuck in the past and an entrepreneur is focused on the future, what is the primary focus of a saint?  First and foremost, a saint is always focused on serving God, regardless of the cost or sacrifice involved.  Unlike the bureaucrat who is primarily concerned with serving himself at the expense of the taxpayer, and the entrepreneur who is primarily concerned with making a profit by providing value to others, a saint sets aside all self-interest and focuses on lovingly serving God by serving others.

When Mother Teresa was living, there were well-known and respected commentators and authors who expressed opinions that she was acting in her own self-interest by creating and building the Missionaries of Charity.  It was obvious that these commentators and authors were incapable of understanding what it was that motivated Mother Teresa to dedicate her life to serving “the poorest of the poor.”  Although they understood that she wasn’t doing it for the money, they still felt that there had to be some personal gain associated with her decision to dedicate her life to her cause.  They were wrong.  She served the poor and the destitute because she saw what existed before there was a past, before the beginning of time – God and eternity.  She also saw what will continue to exist beyond the future and after the end of time – God and eternity.

Mother Teresa was not alone in keeping herself focused on God and eternity.  If you carefully analyze the lives of the saints, you will find that each and every one of them had the willingness and humility to focus on God and eternity by sacrificing their own self-interest (so they could serve God by serving others).

Although it’s hard to do, we all need to make a continual effort to look beyond the past and the future and into eternity.  The past and future can only be contemplated within the framework of “time.”  Before the creation of world and of “time” itself, there was eternity.  After the end of the world and the end of “time,” there will only be eternity.

What have you done today to prepare yourself for eternity?  What have you done today to help serve and prepare one or more of God’s children for eternity?  It’s time to start thinking and behaving like a saint.

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