At the heart of state Sen. Trudy Wade and her secret cabal’s plans for the city of Greensboro is the notion that its council isn’t “business friendly,” and hasn’t been for some time.

Developer and newspaper publisher Roy Carroll voiced this notion shortly after the last city council election, and it’s been repeated as a talking point so often that the faithful treat it as gospel.

And though it’s true that part of the Republican platform involves privatizing most of the things that government does — education, defense, healthcare, social security, law enforcement and corrections chief among them — the fact of the matter is that business and government have very little in common. In many ways, they are complete opposites.

Yes, like all human endeavors, both government and business utilize budgets and policies, buildings and labor. Both ostensibly prize efficiency. So do universities. So do churches.

But though the tools are the same, each of these institutions has its own purpose. Business, as its most commonly practiced in this country, exists to make money. Capitalism is basically the theory that nothing is worth doing if you can’t turn enough of a buck on it — that’s the whole theme of Atlas Shrugged.

That’s fine: There’s nothing wrong with making big piles of money.

But this is not to be confused with government, which like the other three has a singular mission all its own.

At its most basic level, government exists to harness the collective power of a community to accomplish things we couldn’t do on our own. Big things like national defense, a power grid and highway system, basic education, secure elections, a stock exchange, an acknowledged system of laws and the enforcement of them could not happen without an organized government.

The difference is that while business is about making money — the green convincer — government is ultimately only beholden to the people who give it authority. It’s not supposed to make money. It’s supposed to spend money — our money — on us.

There’s more.

Businesses are run from the top down — if the CEO says everybody’s wearing nametags, then everybody’s wearing nametags. But if a politician pushes something unpopular on her constituency… well, that’s what elections are for.


  1. Anyone who says city government isn’t “business-friendly” must define what they mean by that. Does that mean it doesn’t approve commercial rezonings for which there is no obvious legal obstacle? Does that mean its permitting process takes too long and/or is too cumbersome (compared with those of other large N.C. cities)? Such conditions can apply or not apply independent of the number of business people on the City Council.

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