It is sometimes suggested that success in business is an exceptionally good qualification for public office. By that standard, Michael R. Bloomberg would be one of the most qualified public officials in the country: Before becoming mayor of New York City, he built a highly successful enterprise —and its field was financial news, thus tying him to two of New York’s most important industries, finance and media.

Official portrait of Mayor BloombergAnd yet, as I’ve noted on Business Rights Watch , Bloomberg’s New York is a disaster area for individual rights, including the right to run a business by one’s own judgment. His infamous soda ban follows a ban on smoking in restaurants and a requirement to post calorie counts on restaurant menus. City police stormed into a bar that had bounced a check and poured its liquor down the drain . The city’s regulation of restaurants got so bad one fried-chicken guy closed up shop and went looking for a better business climate elsewhere.

Bloomberg himself put his finger on the reason when he said: “If government's purpose isn't to improve the health and longevity of its citizens, I don't know what its purpose is .” Taken literally, that’s true: Government’s purpose isn’t to improve the health and longevity of its citizens, and Bloomberg doesn’t know what government’s purpose is.

Since Bloomberg does not know that the purpose of government is to secure the rights of its citizens —not their longevity, but their freedom to live—he cannot pursue that purpose. Because it is not his goal to protect the rights of businessmen or anyone else, he does not pursue that goal, and he does not achieve it.

What businessmen, like the rest of us, fundamentally need from government is the protection of their rights. Now, some businessmen have learned this from their unhappy experiences with government interference in their businesses. But other people have learned it other ways. John Stossel covered bad businesses as a consumer reporter, then saw the government respond in counterproductive ways and turned his camera on the meddlers. Many other people have learned that we need a rights-focused government by studying economics—or learned the most fundamental reason rights are important by studying philosophy .

But just as not all philosophers, economists, or journalists have come to understand the purpose of government, neither have all businessmen. So a business background is no guarantee that a candidate would make government do its job—that he would focus on securing rights, and thus give businessmen and the rest of us what we need from government. In any given election, the candidate who best understands government’s job might also be a businessman. But he might not.


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