I see there’s an opinion piece in Stuff from the Chamber of Commerce saying the Wellington City Council should sell its stake in Wellington Airport, because it doesn’t bring in that much (NZ$12 million per annum), and because Auckland’s selling theirs.
It’s not too dissimilar to calls for the Council to sell the Municipal Electricity Department a few decades ago, or any other post-Muldoon call about privatization.
Without making too much of a judgement, since I haven’t inquired deeply into the figures, it’s interesting that the line often peddled by certain business groups, when they want governments to sell assets, is: ‘They should run things like households, and have little debt.’
This never applies to themselves. When it comes to their own expansion, they say, ‘We don’t need to run things like households, we can finance this through debt.’
The same groups say that governments should be run more like businesses.
However, their advice is always for governments to be run like households.
Has it escaped them that they are different beasts?
I wouldn’t mind seeing government entities run like businesses, making money for their stakeholders, and said so when I campaigned for mayor.
Doing this needs abandoning a culture of mediocrity at some of those entities. Some believe this is impossible within government, and there are credible examples, usually under former command economies. But then there are also decent examples of state-owned enterprises doing rather well, like Absolut, before they were sold off by the Swedish government. If you want something current, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. is one of the most profitable car makers on the planet.
The difference lies in the approach toward the asset.
But what do I know? I come from Hong Kong where the civil service inherited from the British is enviably efficient, something many occidentals seem to believe is impossible—yet I live in a country where I can apply for, and get, a new passport in four hours. Nevertheless, that belief in inefficiency holds.
Change your mindset: things are possible with the right people. Don’t be a Luddite.
And therein lies why Stuff and I are on different planets.