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By Democracy Readers

Government and Its Partners

For decades, the debate over the role of government has been rife with confusion between means and ends. Indeed, the disease of modern politics may simply be the prioritization of pet means above shared ends. Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer give this debate a much-needed reorganization. Their article, “The ‘More What, Less How’ Government” [Issue #19], is a promising recipe for a shared race to the top—especially if we remember not just how government organizations are different from other types of organizations, but how they are the same.

Liu and Hanauer use an apt ecological metaphor: “Government is what turns the jungle into a garden.” But we would be wise not to imagine government as a monolithic Master Gardener. There are now—depending on how you count—about 80,000 separate government agencies in the United States. Government is as diverse and decentralized as the business and nonprofit sectors (which are themselves composed of, respectively, about 30 million and 1.5 million separate organizations).

Government organizations can and should set the rules for the race to the top. With luck, the elected leadership of our cities, states, and nation will forcefully articulate a vision for a More What, Less How government. But we must also recognize the managerial and strategic challenges inherent in such a tweed revolution.

Government cannot do it alone; it must be prepared not just to work with its partners in business, nonprofits, and academia, but also to learn from them. Those partner sectors have, in the last few years, offered us a wealth of new tools to solve complex problems: user-centered design, social enterprise, game theory, microfinance, behavioral economics, and complex-systems science. The great challenges of our time will require every single tool in our shared toolkit.

Flexibility, responsiveness, outcome-orientation, and decentralization are easy to desire, difficult to accomplish. For our government to evolve—as it must—we will face painful choices, risks, and entrenched interests.

Liu and Hanauer’s article offers clarity and hope. But the ambition of their framework reminds us that we have our work cut out for us. We must draw from the wisdom around us. Government cannot do the job of government alone.

Jacob Harold
San Francisco, Calif.

Climate Wars Redux

“Why not say, definitively, that anthropogenic climate change is real, that vaccines do not cause autism, that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and that Adam and Eve did not ride dinosaurs to church?”

Michael Bérubé’s fine article, “The Science Wars Redux” [Issue #19], loses me right here. Why do I have to buy the total package of these opinions? I certainly believe that vaccines do not cause autism, that the Earth revolves around the sun (really!), and that Adam and Eve…give me a break, please.

But as a left-leaning scientist who was capable of discerning Mr. Sokal’s hoax, why on earth am I obliged to swallow the increasingly dubious story of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming? I will spare you pages of detailed rebuttal, but I fear that Mr. Bérubé is buying the party line here, along with Ellen Goodman, Paul Krugman, and Al Gore.

Mr. Bérubé clearly feels that any doubt about this issue is laughable. I cannot imagine why he is so certain. The astonishing revelation that the helicobacter pylori bacteria (not stress) is, in fact, the cause of peptic ulcers is just one of the most recent examples of the shattering of a widely held scientific “consensus.” And I would suggest that climate science is a far less understood field than the science of our stomachs.

Mel Kreitzer
Cincinnati, Ohio

’Til We Meet Again, Then

What is progressivism? As far as I can tell, there has not been anything worthy of the name “progressive political movement” in decades, certainly not in the last 35 years. Quite the opposite. Your journal seems to me a collection of self-deceived people talking to themselves, a sort of historical echo.

“America 2021: Jobs & the Economy” [Issue #19] is a hypothetical fantasy discussion that passes for a serious conversation about the current high unemployment rate and the factors that will prolong it. You are inadvertently mocking your policy-wonk obsessions. Your journal could contribute a great deal because democracy in America has been eroded and is seriously threatened by a species of capitalism that threatens itself and the economy. But you need to stop writing for a few minutes, take a walk in clear air, and think over what your publication is about.

I’m unsubscribing.

Tom Shillock
Portland, Ore.

Democracy Readers who would like to submit a letter to the editor can do so by emailing dajoi@democracyjournal.org.

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