Paul Jacob

We often speak of "the Real World," we who talk about politics. (At least I do.) And we aren't talking about the workings of our government, though our government is All Too Real. No, we're talking about home life, business, trips to Little League and the supermarket ? in other words, the stuff of everyday life, in all its unromantic glory.

Politics, on the other hand, seems to run on a mixture of fantasy and money. Success in politics too often has little to do with the principles of success in "the Real World."

Politics ? like Tolkien's Middle Earth, or the fashion sense of teen-agers ? is another realm entirely.

Now, if the standard-brand fantasies that dominate politics led to good government, we'd just let it go at that. But since government is a mess, and one that boils over into other messes, not a few of us on the sidelines talk a lot about finding ways to inject "the Real World" into politics. We even talk about putting some "business sense" into government.

And there we sometimes get into trouble.

What We Are Not Talking About

The reason most people go "into business" is to make money. That's just fine. Increasing wealth ? for oneself ? is the purpose of business. But one of the nifty things about business is that businesses gain through trade: the way a businessman and his employees get wealthier is by supplying goods that their customers value over other goods, making customers wealthier, too.

But when we talk about politics, the standard ambition to get wealthy doesn't seem quite so noble or practical. For the business of government is not trade. For the most part, government grabs wealth from one group of people and gives it to other ? usually smaller ? groups. It's a lot harder to "build wealth" that way. Unlike business, government is mostly a "zero sum game," with winners and losers. Business is a "positive sum game," where there are winners all 'round.

So when we see politicians getting wealthier, year after year, we've got to wonder: are they practicing good business sense, or merely skimming off the top, like thieves? After all, embezzlers, burglars, grifters and con men can have a "savvy business sense" of a sort. But we don't praise their acumen.

So, with this warning in place ? that government is not a business, and a person hoping to make a living in its employ can do so only at the expense of others ? what kind of business sense makes sense in politics?

Here's a budget of ideas . . .

Less Job Security

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.