From Full Fathom Five: 5.0 Liberalism and the Future of the State by Walter Russell Mead:
The state will transform but it will not disappear. We may change the way the educational system works, but the goal of the changes will be to ensure more and better universal education. We may change the policies aimed at helping low income people move up the ladder of life, but American society does not want to write off the poor. We may liberalize drug laws and look for alternatives to imprisonment for non-violent offenders, but we won’t abandon the effort to protect the public from unsafe or impure drugs and we won’t turn law and order over to the private sector. We may look for ways to reduce the bureaucratic delays when it comes to permitting processes, but we will not abandon the effort to impose safety and environmental standards. The state will go high tech, its processes will accelerate, bureaucracies will become flatter and more open, but it won’t wither away.
Ultimately even the doughtiest New Englanders are going to accept the need for deep governmental reform. The American public is much better educated than it used to be and knowledge is much more widely available. It is simply no longer possible for an elite of technocrats in appointive offices and regulatory bureaus to issue decrees and have them obeyed. Prussian bureaucratic civil service models from the 19th century are too cumbersome, too slow and too expensive to handle much of the business of a 21st century information society. It is not possible to reconcile the desire of individuals to control their own fate if authority is centralized at the federal level; we will have to find ways to decentralize authority so that states and local jurisdictions can make more of the decisions that directly affect peoples’ lives.
At the moment, the deep emotional commitment of the New England school to blue model governance and social ideas — and the visceral hopes among some anti-New England types that the death of blue is the death of New England — gives a strange and ultimately not very useful cast to many of our national debates. We are trapped into debates between the advocates of spendthrift compassion (maintain Medicare and add new entitlements whether or not we can pay for them because they are needed) or cut budgets even though some of the services lost are, in fact, necessary for millions of people.
What disappears from this debate is the possibility that the transition into a higher form of social organization and governance will make society so much more affluent, and so bring down the costs of important services, that we can strengthen our health care provisions without strangling the economy or busting the budget. The question of transitioning past the blue model and developing an information society isn’t about cold hearted austerity versus spendthrift compassion. It is about reconfiguring society and reforming our institutions so that compassion is no longer spendthrift. It is about creating a more productive and abundant society in which we can afford to see that old people and poor people get good medical care. It is about building a society in which good education is more widely available on better terms than it now is. It is about ordered liberty: about building a government which can do more while restricting less.
The reform movement necessary to build the next stage in American life has to be serious about the real needs that real people face, and the fundamental challenge America faces is to make life better. This is not about apportioning sacrifice in an age of restraint; it is ultimately about digging the channel through which new streams of abundance can flow. Certain counterproductive and costly ways of doing things have to be changed, but we need more health care, more higher ed, more opportunity for the poor, more fairness in society – not less.
There is a lot more at the link and you should read it. Go ahead, I’ll wait until you get back.
Now that you’re back I want to say that this article by WRM is an example of why I consider him one of the best political writers alive. He understands it is not about partisanship or even ideology, it is about finding workable solutions to very real problems.
Liberalism used to be about big ideas. Liberals used to talk about ending poverty, not treating it. Now liberalism is about small ideas and big government. Modern liberalism is about demonizing opponents while spreading fear and resentment. They used to build an infrastructure for the future. Now they build a welfare state.
Sadly, conservatism isn’t any better. Both sides are morally and intellectually bankrupt.
We don’t need to change our system. We need to change our leaders. The future will get here whether we are ready or not.