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Not anti government but irrelevant government


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The Canadian socio-economy has been experiencing difficulties since the early 1970s. Neither the New Public Management nor the Program Review experiments of the 1990s succeeded in generating effective repairs. After a long episode in the application of redistribution to assuage those hurt by the governance failures, new forms of organization and mechanisms of coordination are beginning to provide bottom up alternatives to government.

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Not anti government but irrelevant government

  1. 1. NOT ANTI-GOVERNMENT BUT IRRELEVANT GOVERNMENT Paper by Christopher Wilson & Gilles Paquet Centre on Governance, University of Ottawa Presented to the Conference May 28-31, 2015 Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  2. 2. A PAPER IN 3 PARTS  Part One – an analysis of contemporary anti-government phenomena  Part Two – deals with the dual failure in resolving the coordination problems from the administrative crises of the 1970s and 1990s in Canada  The failure of New Public Management to replace Big ‘G’ Government with market approaches; and  the subsequent abandonment of efforts to repair the coordination failures in favour of attempts at redistribution to compensate different groups claiming hurt from those failures  Part Three – describes how this dual failure has opened the door to new avenues for small ‘g’ governance that is seen in the emerging interest in alternative methods of coordination and sharing that are occurring on the margins of the socio-economy that are designed to make citizens less dependent on government for coordination purposes, and the government much less indispensable  See our paper: Government Failure and Antigovernment Phenomena
  3. 3. ANTI-GOVERNMENT ATTITUDES  Anti-government attitudes are incontrovertibly symptoms of public discontent at the actions or inactions of government, however legitimate or defensible those actions may appear to be to government decision makers  Anti-government attitudes -- as a reflection of social movements -- may be enlightened, or not, but they are definitely many- dimensional, ill-defined, a complex of motivations, and only an obliquely and imprecisely measurable  Often they are aggregations of Rorschachian, ‘inkblot’, interpretations of what is really going on. We caution against such over simplifications that can lead to “a fantasy-land of self righteousness” (Sibley 2013)
  4. 4. THE ARGUMENT  Anti-government phenomena are wicked problems involving a spectrum of government activities – coordination, redistribution, and stabilization as well as citizen education and ideological aspects (Musgrave 1959)  Anti-government a la 1970s was a reaction to coordination failures observed in government, resulting from being too hierarchical and overly coercive, which manifested in the era of New Public Management in the 80s and 90s  The inability to make reforms on the coordination front increased the dependency of government actors on redistribution to retain their legitimacy by compensating people for the effects those coordination failures had on them  Redistribution went from being a tool of convenience post WWII to compensate for declines in private sector activities TO compensating for under spending in areas of public goods like health & education TO being regarded as valuable in its own right in an era of egalitarianism where preferences >> needs, needs >> worthy deserts, deserts >> rights and rights >> absolute rights of entitlement (Kekes 2003)  Today’s anti-government is paradoxical – i.e. government is too big, too ineffective, demands too much & is too untrustworthy BUT government is not big enough, not doing enough to give me what I want or imagine I need & and is the only societal actor I trust to protect my rights
  5. 5. THE ARGUMENT (CONT’D)  The failure of government to refurbish itself in the coordination game & to rely almost exclusively on redistribution has:  Tarnished the confidence of citizens (down to 9%) in government’s ability to solve complex problems (Nanos-IRRP poll 2012)  Generated decreasing concerns to complexity (Tainter 1990)  Generated public expenditures (eg. Health & education) that are threatening to bankrupt the state within decades (Levert 2013)  Given renewed interest to the type of small ‘g’ governance regimes that abound in uncentralized networks (Cleveland 2002)  Encouraged development of alternatives to government whether in terms of social technologies (like P3s or community-based approaches), or the burgeoning new ICT technologies in so many diverse areas (including garbage collection, disaster relief, collective decision making, & economic management through the use of network tools like the blockchain)  Encouraged the notion that citizens and businesses can “exit” (like emigration of old) unproductive, unresponsive government institutions into a virtual world where governments have little influence & value adding innovation is more the norm
  6. 6. CULTURE GOVERNANCE  As social complexity grows, hierarchies and markets are insufficient to provide social learning and innovation. According to Farrell & Shalizi (2013), democracy is the mechanism best suited to bring together different perspectives, knowledge, and access to resources and power  Every society is the product of the conversations that take place among its members (Block 2008) and this collective conversation leads to a continually evolving culture governance (Bang 2003) that steers society on the basis of embedded propensities, conventions, paradigms and accepted practices and mechanisms  In this light, the incapacity of the anti-government attitudes of the 80s and 90s to trigger greater transformation of coordination practices was in part due to a culture governance that resisted arguments around value adding and increased efficiency and instead welcomed notions of value redistribution. This was reinforced by failed structural reforms (such as those proposed in Canada’s Program Review in the late 90s) and a popular, ‘no-fault’ belief that “if you can’t fix it, then compensate me for it”  The culture governance of redistribution has become a powerful dampening force on public sector reform & lies at the root of much of the popular discontent with government
  7. 7. COMPLEX SOCIETIES AS DISSIPATIVE SYSTEMS  System change in non-equilibrium structures like living systems and governments is the result of fluctuations from the status quo. Small changes are dampened but fluctuations that are far from equilibrium can combine to increase the efficiency of the system as a whole and move it to a more stable state. This is the basis of self-organizing, self emergent structures.  Implication for Gov’t: The coordination reforms aspired to 20 years ago were incremental and subject to dampening influences from a culture governance dominated by redistribution.  Today, even though redistribution has become gospel, anti-government attitudes are being fuelled by the presence of alternatives from coordination experiments and tools happening far from the centre of government at society’s margins. Structure FluctuationFunction Fig. 11 - Criteria for Self-Organization
  8. 8. ILLUSTRATIONS FROM THE MARGINS  Belgium’s lack of government for 589 days 2010-2011 (+ 150 days in 2014)  Bitcoin and, more importantly, the blockchain (no need for centralized economic management)  The most creative public policy (eg. Food-Secure Canada, Homeless Hub, Indigenous Child Well Being Research network) is being co-produced, not with government, but by alliances of citizens & academics (Jackson 2015)  “Forget Government: Hire a Business Leader” (business deals with homelessness in Calgary)  Uber & collaborative consumption (better resource allocation)  Ushahidi-Haiti (civic organizing to coordinate disaster relief)  OpenParliament (citizens – not government – providing access to democratic information  DemocracyOS (platform for public debate)  Loomino (tool for collective decision making)  Anti-SOPA (largest public rally against an elected government in history)  The virtual secession of Silicon Valley ( citizens opting out)
  9. 9. QUO VADIS – WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?  As in the 80s, dissatisfaction w/ the status quo is generating anti-government attitudes, but today, in addition to the coordination concerns there are serious sustainability concerns wrt to redistribution; plus a drift in culture governance towards notions of cooperation, self sufficiency, innovation and value creation; plus a growing number of serious alternatives to government. We have options.  It is unlikely that the state has the capacity, the skills, or the motivation to bring back coordination and collaboration to the centre of the governance stage. The current anti-government rhetoric that is submerged in the paradoxical attitudes around redistribution make that almost impossible.  Will the state become a shadow of its current and former self? Probably.  Will / can the private sector and markets assume the role of primary facilitator of social cooperation and collaboration? Unlikely, given the way information flows in them through hierarchies and markets.  Will coordination emerge bottom up, chaotically, unpredictably from a civil society that fosters public dialogue and conversations, partnerships and working together? Maybe.  We are at an inflection point, as Andy Grove once described (1996), and only time, practised judgement and paying attention to the things happening on the margins will help to guide us forward
  10. 10. THANK YOU Contact Info: Christopher Wilson 