Defining a New Role for Government

Recently the ‘invisible hand’ Adam Smith wrote about as the guiding principle of free-market economics has been slapping us around rather than meeting our needs. In his Inaugural Address, President Obama reminded us that the market place is unmatched in its “power to generate wealth and expand freedom.” The critical trade-off he then adds brings the mandate to discuss a new role of government, saying, “this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control.”

What kind of ‘watchful eye’ will serve our immediate or long-term needs? We clearly don’t know. Plenty of ‘experts’ have their opinions, but none of them were capable of seeing the edge of the cliff fast approaching before the economy took a dive last fall. In my view, we don’t know because we haven’t asked the question before now.

I’m proposing that our people need to define a new, 21st century role for government. Again from the President’s speech, “the question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works….” My assumption is that our new President meant the ‘we’ in this statement as an inclusive public rather than an elite cadre of experts. If my assumption is correct, we need to get busy as a deliberative community to support this critical conversation.

I believe the topic can be framed for deliberation within the next 5 months for NIF practitioners around the country to use on the July 4th weekend: ‘The Role of Government in the National Economy.’ We’ll have no problem in populating our forums…our people already have some deeply-held and diverse opinions on the topic. What they need is the opportunity to carefully and respectfully confront the trade-offs in several economically-sound approaches. It could be a very illuminating experience for the public, for elected officials and for the deliberative community.

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