Funny Business

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Business is a funny thing. So is democracy.

A business is a place where people work. They create goods and services, then exchange them for other goods and services, or for money. The key word here is work.

But that’s what Ronald Reagan found so funny about business. He once said, “It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?” He’s right. Work that’s so hard it kills you is probably bad business. That raises one of the toughest questions humans have ever asked.

“How much work is worth how much food, clothing, shelter, or anything else people want and need?” Nobody really knows.

At times, people are driven beyond endurance for the most meager of morsels. At other times, people play fun and games in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars.

There is no “pound of work” that can be accurately balanced against a pound of potatoes. The scale on which work is weighed is not made out of steel and coiled springs. It is made out of agreements.

This week in your Jamestown Gazette, contributing writer Bob Houston looks at the business of local manufacturing and its related services. We invite you to see them as places where hard work is turned into things for us and into livelihoods for the workers. They are places where working agreements strike all kinds of balances. The best agreements turn work into a living community.

Our second story, reported by staff writer Andrew Kolstee, has everything to do with how we make and manage those agreements. A well-regulated system to do that is called government. It requires smart, honest and dedicated people to do that well. But in the absence of a perfect measure for the value of work, government leaders have to be chosen largely on how well they make and manage agreements.

The alternative to agreements is domination and slavery… the worst kind of business. The antidote? Democracy, voting, and politics. It is hard work of the most crucial kind.

Democracy is “government by the whole population, typically through elected representatives.” That is a bit oversimplified, but so is everybody’s favorite, “…government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Democracy is a manufactured product. The machine that makes the thing is called politics. Elections are those times we haul it into the shop and tinker with it.

So, how is your tool kit? Have you studied the current candidates and their decisions, agreements and their taste for hard work well enough to know what kind of politicians they are? Here’s a hint: Campaign ads that merely lambaste opponents are worthless hands full of sand thrown into the gears. They don’t prove the complainer has any good tools or makes any wise agreements… quite the opposite.

Here’s another hint: Democracy involves the whole population. If you tinker with the motor in your car, does half of your car win and half lose? I never saw a car on the road composed of only the parts that agree with the motor. How about you?

The major malfunction in today’s politics is just as silly. A well run democracy is not a sport in which “winner takes all.” The motor has to work for the whole car. Reasonable agreements are the nuts and bolts that pull the whole community together for the good of all.

Politics in a two-party democracy cannot be a zero-sum game. Domination by winners unbalances all the agreements… they cease to be fair agreements. The winners cannot assume the losers have nothing to contribute.

Or, to paraphrase even more ancient wisdom, “Now if my foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not stop being part of the body… As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

Business and politics are the hands and feet of our community. We want you to help you understand them both.

Enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut