The Case for Better Government

LONDON – A recent survey by the World Economic Forum’s Network of Global Agenda Councils rated government lower than either business or media in its ability to respond to global challenges. On one level, this is understandable, given the plethora of challenges that governments face and the lack of long-term solutions to many problems that demand one. But, on another level, the attempt to rate government alongside business and the media is fundamentally misguided: no sector operates at the scale of responsibility, accountability, and expectation that governments do.

Business decides for itself where to invest and grow. Media indulge themselves in a fast-moving news cycle. Government enjoys neither luxury. It cannot simply pack up and move on when it faces a loss or is bored with a story. Government must stay put – and must often clean up the messes left behind by those who do not. On a good day, it may even get to make improvements.

The problem for governments, more often than not, is that in attempting to respond to and reconcile often conflicting individual, family, and national needs, their ability to deliver results efficiently and effectively has declined. As a result, trust in government has plummeted.

Just before the WEF’s Summit on the Global Agenda in Abu Dhabi last month, I spent a week in India. Most of the people with whom I spoke complained endlessly about government shortcomings. Government at both the federal and state levels was invariably regarded as slow, indecisive, corrupt, unimaginative, and shortsighted – in general, worthless.