Risk: Necessary for People, Society and Government

Written by Chuck Gruenwald on March 9, 2013

749px-Old_timer_structural_workerby Charles Gruenwald
Clash Daily Guest Contributor

If the federal government has proven anything with its various attempts to interfere with issues where it has nothing at risk, it’s that the bureaucratic perception of success is completely different from that of private citizens and businesses.

As long as a government project receives funding, then the government venture in question is usually perceived as a success – by the bureaucrats who oversee that bureaucracy. This seemingly unlimited supply of money and assets is non-existent in the private sector.

Underneath the footprint of the new Wal-Mart in Cicero, Illinois, lies the former home of Chicago-area race track, Sportsman’s Park. Even though the horse racing business at Sportsman’s was good, a joint venture with Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) resulted in the conversion of this horse track into a dual-use thoroughbred/open-wheel racing facility. In August, 1999, Chicago Motor Speedway at Sportsman’s Park opened. Unfortunately, several factors, such as CART’s shaky relationship with the Indy Racing League, problems with the “portable” horse track – from safety issues to poor sight lines from the grandstand, and the opening of Chicagoland Speedway in 2000 led to the track’s demise in 2002.

The owners of Sportsman’s, the Bidwell family, had taken a massive, $50 million risk with their business. Although their ambitious project had failed, it is this kind of willingness to take such risks that leads to success.

Risk is not a bad thing. Is it scary? Yes, due to many factors – especially the unknown ones. But this fear helps to make caution and reason important parts of the decision-making process.

Risk, or the absence of, is also the biggest difference between business and government.

The biggest difference between the public and private sectors is that businesses and individuals have a finite level of income or assets in order to survive.

Besides the Departments of Energy and Education, as well as Amtrak – the default example of money-losing bureaucracies – how many government agencies have become synonymous with inefficiency and uselessness? These labels have been applied to many government ventures, due to the fact that the absence of risk allows seemingly-unlimited funding to support, or even grow failed projects.

An enemy of risk could be the guidance of individuals who have no association with the founding and/or history of a specific business or agency. If the founding of an organization pre-dates the birth of a person, it is easy for that individual to feel as though that organization has always existed. With this false sense of permanence comes the assumption of a perpetual lifetime for that organization. Around Chicago, there are examples of car dealerships which have failed after generations of a family-owned existence; not because of sales, but because of mismanagement.

There is, however a government function that must factor risk into its operations: the Armed Forces. The military also happens to be one of the required functions of the federal government under the Constitution.

Unlike other government entities, the United States military does not have a government-sponsored safety net if it fails to do its job – such a result could lead to the downfall of the United States at the hands of a hostile and brutal enemy.

The proposed budget cuts at the Pentagon have caused a clash between the risk and non-risk cultures in Washington.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union in the nineties, there has been a false sense of security between both elected officials and unelected citizens. This false sense of security is anchored in the belief that the United States is a perpetual superpower; that we will never face another arms or economic enemy. However, if taken for granted, the stability that we now enjoy could end up being little more than an anomaly in world history.

From the corrupt regimes in Central and South America, to the brutality that devastated Viet Nam and Cambodia in the seventies – to present-day North Korea and China, modern history is littered with dictators and politicians who murder and enslave their own citizens.

The fact that this is the present day, people across every type of economic and class level believe that humanity has long-ago given up its barbaric tendencies, despite the fact that primitive acts of government-created violence against citizens in other countries, under other forms of government, continue.

Would our current leaders engage in such acts? I don’t think so. However, we share this world with a bumper crop of potential enemies – who could eventually evolve into threatening superpowers, who presently do rule via fear and brutality.

As citizens of a stable country, it is difficult to imagine living where such stability does not exist. But, the founding of the United States due to the taking of many risks by many people, and against great odds, made this stability possible.

There are two similarities between the founding of the United States, and the founding of a business: sacrifice and risk – although the sacrifices and risks needed in business, fortunately, are much smaller.

The separation of the founding and current generations of any entity due to the passing of time, removes the appreciation of the effort and sacrifice that built the entity in question.

As the economic threats that the US faces continue to grow – economic threats that are also opening a hole in our national security which is attracting the attention of a new generation of enemies – American citizens need to reevaluate who they are putting in charge of the “family car dealership”: politicians with little or no knowledge of history – especially the recent past – or individuals with an appreciation of history, who realize the fragility of our system of government when mismanaged, and who are willing to make the sacrifices and risks needed to protect it.

get-attachment  3Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for uncommonshow.com

Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for uncommonshow.com