Newsletter: Getting Heard in the Din

(February 20, 2019) Political noise today is deafening. New Democratic candidates announce on almost a daily basis, and there’s at least one eruption per week from the White House.

Is there any room for a reasoned discussion about how government can deliver public services without suffocating citizens in red tape?

This week, Common Good co-hosted a forum at Columbia, “Bureaucracy vs. Democracy,” with leading experts from different fields, including Nobel laureates Paul Romer and Edmund Phelps, political scientist Francis Fukuyama, school reformer Robin Lake, and public administration guru Paul Light. We debated whether it’s time to rebuild sclerotic bureaucracies. There were cautionary speakers, but most argued that repairing this legacy structure is not practical: It must be rebuilt so it can meet the challenges of this century. Videos from the forum will be available shortly.

An abridged version of Philip Howard’s essay for the forum, Bureaucracy vs. Democracy, was published in the American Interest. The essay, drawn in part from his new book, Try Common Sense, explains why modern bureaucracy guarantees failure and alienation. Here is the gist of the argument:

“The modern bureaucratic state must be replaced, not repaired. We must simplify governing structures to liberate human judgment and initiative at all levels of society. No institutions, including democratic ones, can work effectively when people are prevented from drawing on their knowledge, instincts, and experience about how to get things done. Refocusing government on public goals, and away from micromanaging daily choices and interactions, will relieve much of the frustration and anger that drives voters toward populist leaders and extremist solutions.”

Originally published in the Common Good Newsletter – sign up here to receive these updates straight to your inbox.

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