There’s a lot to chew on in this column from Zachary Karabell. Here’s his peroration:
One day, we will look back on this era as a period of transition. The problem is that we don’t know what we are shifting to, or whether it is something we will perceive as better or worse.
Government will be one aspect of that transition. But it would be a mistake to see it as the axis of that transition. The current Washington debates ‑ about whether there will be a “sequester” or not, a drastic cut in spending or only a small one ‑ demonstrate that government is shrinking and the horizons of its ambitions narrowing. Given the limitations of what government can and cannot do, that is hardly something to mourn or decry.
Protecting the commons is something government must do and is. Singlehandedly managing the transition to the next economy is something is cannot do ‑ and should not.
I think the great political conflicts of today are over who is trying to do what. Does the president really want to institute a regime of technocracy, something which, as Mr. Karabell notes, is doomed to failure, maybe even catastrophic failure. Are the House Republicans trying to impose some sort of minarchist fantasy? If that’s not what either is trying to do what are they trying to do? When you do not express your vision or intentions clearly, you can hardly blame people for being mistrustful.
How can government best “protect the commons”? It’s an interesting question, one to which I do not know the answer. I don’t think that granting what are in effect perpetual copyrights is protecting the commons. I think it’s privatizing the commons. And not in a good way. Increasingly, this appears to be the role of government: granting royal patents to friends and allies.
What is government’s most effective role as the new economy slouches towards Bethlehem, to be born? Does it play the role of the wise men or of Herod?