There is an odd disconnect going on these days.
Reporting about the private sector is in general terms, “life as usual”. One finds news of great success, like that of Sam Palmisano at IBM. And one finds staggering setbacks, like those that befell RIM in 2011. But the overall mood is optimistic. One sees this in this BI post by Mark Cuban where he hawks his new ebook on how to be a success. For just $2.99! Summing up, while these are hard times, one has a relatively clear view about how to succeed in the private sector and can find role models for shaping a private sector career.
Reporting about the public sector has a very different tone. There are few success stories that capture one’s imagination. One exception is the success of Finnish education policy. But who is talking about it … errr … other than me? And on the single most important policy issue of the day, there is deep confusion about the negative effects of imposing austerity during the ongoing recession. The NYT says
Europe’s leaders braced their nations for a turbulent year, with their beleaguered economies facing a threat on two fronts: widening deficits that force more borrowing but increasing austerity measures that put growth further out of reach.
While this seems to be a recipe for disaster, I find no policy debate about whether imposing austerity is appropriate. Just political blah blah blah. Nor does the media find it odd that the political debate is not better informed by policy making expertise. Krugman writes today that those raging on about debt issues seem not even to understand the difference between public and private debt. Well, that is embarrassing. But we might pause to consider — isn’t this rather basic stuff? Meanwhile, the political mood grows more sour. Check out, for example, what is going on in Hungary. On a more general level, where are the stories that would speak to the imagination of a young person considering whether start a career in the public sector? Or do we still live within the Reagan world view that “government is the problem”?
Should we worry? Sure - if we think there is a proper role for policy making the public sector.
FOLLOW - As a contrast, consider the interests of John Adams back in the 18th century who
(a)t one point … had a standing order with a bookseller to send him nearly anything new on law and government.
These days, there is much more scribbling going on, but one despairs whether there is anything new in law or government that would be worth reading.
2d FOLLOW - A brief clarification - the above is not so much a complaint about the work of those making public sector policy, as a note of concern about media indifference to their important work. We get loads of stories about private sector heroism, but where are the stories about public sector heroism? Are there none? I find that difficult to believe.
3rd FOLLOW - On austerity policy - one could understand that the policy debate in the US would be muted because Reaganonics so politicized budgetary issues. But why is it so muted in Europe? Indeed, while US economic policy debate is nothing to write home about (remember the farcical debate over raising the debt ceiling?), policy making itself has been more effective to date than its European counterpart. And not just from Obama. The first steps were taken by the Bush Administration. Hmmm … wasn’t the European policy making paradise to be achieved by minimizing, or at least managing the role of political debate?