The Age of Bureaucracy is over.
You probably won’t read that at the top of most newspapers, and a look through the expenses of the federal and state governments certainly wouldn’t give anyone that idea. For decades, Americans have adopted a peculiar view on how to address society’s problems. It goes, in short: “If it needs doing, the government ought to do it.”
We’ve spent the better part of the last fifty years bathing our problems in money, taxed and borrowed, and expecting them either to fix themselves or simply go away. Rather than debating or restructuring burgeoning expenditures, the looming conversation is about whether or not the debt ceiling should be raised—again.
But as we emerge from our government’s “17 Percent Shutdown,” it seems hard to ignore the growing sense that these aren’t exactly the people you want to be in charge of society’s philanthropic coffers.
This nagging feeling is quantified more and more in the historically low confidence Americans have in many of their own institutions, public and private. But as Congress competes with the popularity of cockroaches and influenza, prominent figures are looking outside the beltway bubble for tangible solutions to real problems.
Take Gavin Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco and author of Citizenville, who writes that “we need to allow people to bypass government. We must encourage them to take matter into their own hand, to look to themselves for solving problems rather than asking the government to do things for them . . . We have to accept the fact that top-down hierarchy is no longer working and it won’t ever work again.”
Writing with regard to independent philanthropy that “eschews partnership with government,” Howard Husock, Director of the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative at the Manhattan Institute, writes in his book Philanthropy Under Fire that “philanthropy, and even the smallest gifts of individual charity have a deep relationship with and a promotion of democratic values.”
Or consider John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods and author of Conscious Capitalism, who said in a Forbes interview that business should be the lead player in creating a healthy society. For him, that means stressing education, more generous compensation for workers, and a business plan emphasizing longevity over short-term profit. Reid Hoffman, co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, recently authored a piece over at The New Republic arguing for a business- and technology-led revolutionizing of the college diploma to better reflect an individual’s skills and experiences.
While coming from different backgrounds, these voices are speaking to a fact that’s become more and more obvious to Americans: our hierarchical, bureaucratic maze of a government, our regulatory state, is no longer fit to handle the challenges of a 21st century society.
This is not simply a case for cleaning up corruption or increasing transparency, either. The regulatory state was not designed for the dynamics of a politically divided contemporary society. We know about the annual drag bureaucratic regulations place on overall growth (estimated by some at 2% GDP/annually since 1949), and we know about the absurd allocation of resources employed by the federal “War on Poverty”—one that would be more efficient, if less politically viable, by simply dividing the budget by the total number of recipients below the poverty line and sending them a corresponding check.
The future demands society takes social welfare seriously, and that means taking it away from the bumbling hands of politicians and technocrats. We need to follow the lead of the Newsoms, Mackeys, Hoffmans, and Husocks of the world and realize that truly successful oversight and philanthropy is found outside of government. That means seeing ourselves, everyday individuals, as the ones doing the work that is now thought suitable for none but the government.
In this new form of philanthropy, man-hours are worth just as much as dollars. Some see their calling in social entrepreneurship, a form of philanthropy that identifies social problems and devises new and more efficient ways to go about eliminating them. Others see themselves as conscious capitalists, going into business with a mind, not just for profits, but for their workers, customers, and the world they operate in. Many more will involve themselves more deeply in their communities and friendships—cleaning up, shopping local, teaching classes, mentoring young people, or raising money for friends and neighbors in need.
A new century demands new approaches. It is time we took progress into our own hands.
James Velasquez is the President of a new think tank in Washington, DC, as well as the Editor of RightProgress.org. Dantan Wernecke is pursuing graduate studies at the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College and Publishing Director of RightProgress.org
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Kaavya Ramesh
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Hadley Heath