The end of government

The end of government as we know it

The book club of the Kafkabrigade convenes a few times per year to discuss books relevant to their field of work. I was honoured to be invited for their most recent session on the book ‘The end of government as we know it‘ by Elaine Kamarck. We discussed the book in detail over dinner in a resturant in Den Haag, the city where the Dutch government is based.

The book describes three models for implementing government policies: reinvented government (performance-based and service oriented rather than the rule-based bureaucratic government of 20th century); government by network (distribution of the actual work to a wide variety of public and private institutions); and government by market (no public money or employees involved, only government regulation). The interesting thesis in the book is that specific government policies ask for specific implementations. In some situations reinvented government may be the best solution, while in other situation govenment by network or market would work best. I found this nuance interesting, because in colloquial discussions (pub talk) we sometimes tend to simplify the options to a dichotomy between either the bureaucratic way of state-run governing and the liberal way of leaving things to be run by the market. Kamarck clearly points out that there are more options, and that the choice for these options needs to be a deliberate one, depending on the need for security, control, flexibility or innovation. Each model has its particular benefits and risks. The challenge Kamarck points out is to hold these new modes of government accountable, while preserving their capacity for innovation and adaptation.

To illustrate the three new modes of government, the book includes many examples that describe how the implementation has worked out in actual practice. These examples are mainly from the US, and some from he UK. During our discussion of the book we tried to apply the theoretical framework also to Dutch and European/continental examples such as health care, utilities and the organisation of the ‘Elfstedentocht’. Interestingly enough this brought us to explore the possibility of a potential fourth mode of government: government by community. Kamarck does not mention anything that touches on this. It may be interesting for the Kafkabrigade and Kennisland to explore this a bit further.

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