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Council on Ideas

Garrett Epps
Frank Gehry
Arno Penzias

If we do not revitalize our government, there is a serious possibility that society will simply decide to do without the things government uniquely can provide—functions that build a sense of community and a vision of the common good. If government proves unable to fulfill these functions, crucial decisions will be made on the basis of economic or political power alone, leaving the majority of people without any emotional or political stake in the decisions or the society that result. A government system can succeed only if it makes stakeholders of all its citizens. The large number of Americans who don't vote—and the alienation and confusion of many of those who do—are signs that our system is on the road to failure.

Stating the problem is easier than prescribing a cure. But study of successful public and private bureaucracies offers some general guides to making complex structures more effective. To begin with, mere cutting or capping of funding is generally counterproductive because it puts organizations—and those who run them—into a defensive mode that actually blocks the innovation needed to succeed.

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