I believe our most urgent and important public policy topic these days focuses on the relationship between government and business. While most people recognize that government needs to have some role in business oversight, we’re not even discussing what this role should be, in light of the recent failure of oversight that led to the Great Recession. What’s more, I don’t hear anyone in the media or in politics addressing the relationship between government and business on a dynamic and inter-connected, multi-level basis…maybe some think tanks and academics are approaching the topic, but it hasn’t hit Main Street. If we don’t talk about what we want to replace what we had, we’ll probably either return to those same failed policies or we’ll create some new scenarios for failure through totally uncoordinated attempts to ‘fix’ isolated problems as they arise.
My suspicion is that most citizens agree that government shouldn’t be responsible for creating and sustaining jobs. As President Obama stated a few days ago, it’s the government’s role to create and sustain a healthy business environment, so businesses can create and sustain jobs. But, of course, this is easier said than done…we don’t have a clear view of what a healthy business environment is. Healthy for whose benefit primarily? It seems to me that consistent, multi-level public policy is essential to integrate our highly diverse business community into a vital and sustainable force that benefits all people. It’s just not going to happen without a comprehensive conversation about the complex relationship between government and business.
First, we need to recognize that, although some national statistical indicators are turning positive, the Great Recession is still ending more and more jobs in many states…and certainly in counties and municipalities. Our current crisis may have been created at the top levels of our economy, but Main Street USA is where the damage is continuing to be done. Here’s the rub as I see it…we need small businesses to revive our economy by creating new jobs, but small businesses are located in thousands of communities where governments cannot function to create and sustain a health business environment. This is a huge Catch-22. The federal government cannot in any stretch of the imagination reach into every community to do this task…and no one should think they should. We need a comprehensive conversation now to open address this conundrum.
So, how can we have a nation-wide, decentralized learning conversation? Hey, it’s the 21st century for crying out loud…we can create this conversation if it’s important enough! It’s time we put our technology to work on things that really matter, rather than focusing it on entertainment, I-phone apps, and tweets. Sure, it’ll take a vision and some significant funding, but it’s totally doable…and it’s absolutely essential. We can’t afford to stumble into the future as isolated and scared individuals or government agencies or businesses. But…that’s exactly what we’re doing right now. This is a perfect topic for the whole community of practitioners in dialogue and deliberation to bring to every town, city, county and state. We won’t find a healthy way forward through federal leadership or massive jobs programs. We’ll find our way forward…one community conversation at a time.