Monday, September 26, 2011

Good Government

In a workshop on creative thinking participants were asked to assume that magic was really possible. What kind of magic would be the most desirable? In the end we concluded: good government.
Good government is managing a community, a province,  a state or a federation well. How to find out what good government is? By identifying what bad government is. Really bad government is unjust, cruel, arbitrary, corrupt. Unfortunately, even reasonably decent and reasonably intelligent people without ill-will can make a mess out of things. How?
Within the frame of a blog, we have to keep things simple. Looking around me, I see four things:
  1. Policy not aligned to practical execution.
  2. Execution not aligned to results.
  3. Results not aligned to clients.
  4. Results not evaluated or evaluations ignored or rejected.
Always the same measures are proposed: new laws and regulations, new budgets and either reorganizations or new institutions. Critical evaluation of proposals are routinely ignored. The results of measures are hardly evaluated, if ever. Managers are appointed that have no knowledge of, experienxe with or interest in the processes they are supposed to manage. If knowledgeable chiefs have mysteriously survived so far, they are eradicated and supplanted by 'professional' managers. Management is on numbers and PR-effects. Fortunately, both numbers and PR can be managed themselves.
If by any chance bad results can't be polished away, no one takes responsibility. Bringers of bad news are branded as suspicious, ill-informed outsiders. And if all else fails, the 'victims' are entitled to ample compensation for their stroke of bad luck and undeserved bad publicity. There is no correction, no learning, but excuses and accusations galore.
Policy-making is the preferred activity. Policy is vague and full of good intentions and positively looking for the future. It has more prestige, is better paid and much safer than practical execution. If 90% of policy-makers in the public domain would perish by a miraculous disease, and any policy function is only an episode in a career that is mainly in execution, the world would become an unrecognizably better place.
Strategy should be made by special meetings of practical managers and specialists, with one or two consultants (at most) and a few staffers who prepare those meetings - and know they may end up implementing their own recommendations.
Mancur Olson would know the recipe to get there: first a destructive totalitarian regime and than losing a great war bigtime. Are there other recipes? Not many. Almost all really successful periods of government were of societies just having been on the brink of disaster: Rome after Hannibal, the Netherlands after almost losing to the Spaniards, France right after the revolution. Wise, enlightened, forceful times without that are scarce. Maybe Prussia under Fredrick the Great qualifies and Britain, right after the Napoleonic wars. By the way, what is the first sign of good government? Fiscal prudence. No loans. No loans at all.

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