Where’s the Good Society?

The PA TIMES has an interesting article that features a discussion on Dwight Waldo and his theory about public management. The author of the popular book for public administrators The Enterprise of Public Administration offered an insightful analysis of public service and in particular the future of public administration. But thirty years after his book was published, Jan Kallberg, an ASPA member and University of Texas at Dallas graduate, asks whether his theories are still relevant. Her answer: a resounding yes.

Her examination of Waldo’s writing in the face of a staggering economy, rising federal debt and an ever leaning trend towards austerity, reminds us that there is still value in Waldo. As Kallberg points out:

Waldo raised the question that if the central glue that holds society together is the expectation of more, what does that lead to? Waldo meant that if we build our society around a government that always delivers more services, benefits, and progress, what would happen if there were less in the future? Today, facing a large federal debt and an unprecedented federal deficit, we might have arrived at the point Waldo described when we no longer can promise more.

It’s an interesting thought when, on closer examination, we recognize that the debates in Congress have essentially been a discussion about what can government afford to provide and what  individuals should be responsible for on their own. But is ‘services’ the only question to be raised? Or should a consideration also be given to the concept of the ‘good society.’

Admittedly, there are a variety of opinions about what makes a ‘good society.’ Winton Bates in a post on Citizens Economist expounds that a good society should include some classic elements such as peace, opportunity, and stability/economic security to name a few. Kallberg adds to those notions an agreement between the people and government of trust and confidence that each is looking out for the other. There also must be a good faith effort.

Waldo’s predictions about the future for public administration describe five areas that would be problematic in the future: legitimacy, authority, knowledge, control, and confidence. Legitimacy includes not only that the government is legally legitimized but capable and focused on an intention to deliver the “good society.

In light of the current state of the US (rising deficits, high unemployment, wavering stock markets and reduced social services), from the federal government to state governments, we wonder whether Waldo had it right all along. Has our governments been stretched too thin? Or have we just lost focus on the ‘good society’ and in doing so continue to miss our opportunities to grow in a healthy way that benefits all?


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