The Deepest Currents

This may seem an odd question to ask as Congress and the White House are locked in tense negotiations over whether to raise the debt ceiling, but we think that Zachary Karabell was really onto something when he posed it in a recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek: Does government matter?

Image source: US Library of Congress

“What if government is neither a solution nor a problem?” Karabell asked. “What if, when it comes to dealing with the economic challenges facing the U.S. today, government actually doesn’t matter?”

[EXPAND More]He went on to add: “Government is neither the solution to our problems nor the cause of our ills. It is as much a mistake to blame Washington for the current U.S. economic malaise as it is to expect Washington to relieve it. The government is one vital element among many, and society will thrive only when neither too much nor too little is expected of it.”

As we’ve noted often, Peter Drucker had a keen interest in the affairs of the state—whether he was writing about federal subsidiestrade policytaxes or the need for bipartisan cooperation. Nevertheless, he would have surely agreed with the thrust of Karabell’s comments.

For as much as he paid attention to what was happening in Washington and other world capitals, Drucker asserted that the really big changes to society in the past 100 years—including the shift from agriculture to manufacturing to knowledge work—have been the result of forces that transcended government and politics.

“Indeed, if this century proves one thing, it is the futility of politics,” Drucker wrote in a 1994 article. “Even the most dogmatic believer in historical determinism would have a hard time explaining the social transformations of this century as caused by the headline-making political events, or the headline-making political events as caused by the social transformations. But it is the social transformations, like ocean currents deep below the hurricane-tormented surface of the sea, that have had the lasting, indeed the permanent, effect. They, rather than all the violence of the political surface, have transformed not only the society but also the economy, the community, and the polity we live in.”

What do you think: Does government matter? [/EXPAND]