Another Government Reinvention

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Winter 2011; Source: Democracy Journal | In the latest issue of Democracy Journal, Eric Liu, a former Clinton speechwriter, and Nick Hanauer, a self-described "entrepreneur" and "venture capitalist," offer a vision of what government should be – with tools straight out of the social entrepreneurship toolkit. Their theory for reinventing government begins with a critique of both the Tea Party's call for limited government as "a reprise of unworkable ideas and worn rhetoric" and the left's "defensive crouch" supporting "an approach to government for decades that has been on autopilot." As an alternative to the sclerotic dysfunction, they call for a government that "should do more what, less how: a stronger hand in setting great national goals and purposes; a lighter touch in how we reach those goals." The elements of “what” would be:

  • To set goals for the community;
  • To "equip every citizen with the . . . capacity – and equal opportunity" to pursue those societal goals;
  • To "generate trust and encourage cooperation" (they would make community service mandatory); and
  • To "sustain true competition" by breaking up "concentrations of wealth and power that are unearned and self-perpetuating."

Some of the elements of their “how” include:

  • To "radically relocalize:" They cite as a model the "Race to the Top" educational initiative, "combining leverage at a higher level of government in an area of strategic national interest with responsibility and creativity at lower levels," to which they would add "far more federal education funding" and ensure that "the funding . . . go to a diverse ecosystem of educators who develop a multitude of ways" of delivering the educational product and with parents having "more choice about how to staff and run the school and the style of pedagogy . . . ";
  • To "be a smarter prime contractor:" They want government "out of lines of business that it can't do better than others," citing the postal service as a function that shouldn't be public sector/
  • To "create incentives and rewards for overperformance," extolling challenge awards such as X-Prize and its eponymous foundation;
  • To "tax more strategically – and progressively," because "redistribution of wealth is essential;" and
  • To "weed relentlessly," emphasizing evidence-based practice and funding.

Parts of this agenda, even with the discernable social entrepreneurship twist, seem to fit nonprofits. The Journal deserves credit for hosting an intriguing debate on the future design and content of government.—Rick Cohen