Saturday, January 28, 2012

The impossible role of government

Peter Shergold spoke very well a couple of months ago on the challenge for government to meet contrasting expectations.  People expect government to leave them well alone to do what they want, but they also expect government to provide all this fantastic stuff, like flawless social services.

Like the Herald article last week on people's attitudes to toll roads - in the main, people expect not to have to pay for it, because that's the "government's problem"!

At the core of this is our perception of the role of government.  It is a logical conclusion of 'new management' approaches to government, founded in free market liberalism but with social democratic values, and a capitalist-liberal philosophy of the individual (who can and should pursue their own interest).

As Shergold explained, we need a more reliable model for the role of government, and also an alternative narrative, to displace this catch 22.


Organisations refining the idea of a 'thriving' society and how to deliver it (like TACSI in Adelaide and Participle in the UK) are providing a way to reconcile liberal and social values, but as yet it's only a start. The british government are going to need to build a model and narrative around this approach if their Big Society agenda is going to have any success - and indeed public administrators around the world will be hoping they can learn from the experience.

John Baxter

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