Monday, October 20, 2008

Post No. 57: A Case for More Governmental Involvement

© 2008, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Over this past weekend, we suggested that our readers watch a panel discussion on the economy aired on C-Span2 Book TV ( The panel consisted of authors and columnists not normally associated with a discussion of national economic issues, and yet we thought that what they had to say might be instructive.

After all, the folks with all the economic and financial training, and purported expertise, managed to foul it up. Why not hear the views of some folks with different perspectives? The panelists were Thomas Friedman (, Barbara Ehrenreich (, and Michelle Singletary (

Over the past couple of months while Friedman has promoted his latest work, Hot, Flat and Crowded (,+flat,+and+crowded%22&ei=pgj8SMr1NJWyyQS_oKXFDQ), he has argued that although he does not advocate a Manhattan Project-type response to our current energy and climate change issues, he does feel that some government “encouragement” is needed.

During the course of the discussion on the economy, Friedman generally took the position that the private sector is better at solving problems and coming up with innovative solutions. Ehrenreich, out of concern that the audience might think that within the private sector lies the solutions to our problems, reminded us that the private sector had recently failed us, and plunged our nation into a precarious situation.

In thinking about it further after the conclusion of the program, I recognized that at least in the case of the private sector, the company dies and discontinues doing business, when it is not properly managed. In the case of government, it can make all sorts of bad decisions, adverse to the interests of its constituents, and the government will continue to roll on and collect more taxes. Consequently, there is not much incentive to change, adapt, or innovate. Only the elected leaders periodically change. The employees pretty much continue to do what they do, despite the failed policies of, and execution by, the governmental entity.

Several months ago, the local school board requested that members of the public attend the public hearing before the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to let the Commissioners know that the public desired that the full funds, requested for the upcoming school year, be included in the final approved budget. At that time, I chose to use the opportunity to make a point, not about how much money be spent, but the manner in which it be spent.

I argued on behalf of more funding for science, math, and other courses that would lead to more inventors, scientists, engineers, and people capable of inventing innovative products. I argued that this would ultimately translate to producing things again, from which jobs and tax revenue would flow. I further argued that a society, whose jobs primarily consisted of those in the areas of education, government, and healthcare, are essentially welfare societies, without an affirmative engine to drive the economy.

Yesterday, we posted an article about the techno-cultural divide in the US, which appears to be widening between the haves/educated class, and the have-nots/poorly educated class. ( We suggested that society come up with some innovative approaches to narrow that gap, in order to prevent the long-term, negative ramifications on society at large.

Later during the day, in thinking about my comments to the Board of Commissioners, I realized that I did not recall seeing a single, governmental official or politician participating in the blogging and social media and networking technology conference ( which I had attended. That is not to say that they were not there; however, it sure wasn’t obvious.

There were participants and contributors from New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Charleston, SC, and the Silicon Valley. It was a major event, and yet there was no obvious governmental involvement of which I was aware. Politicians routinely show up at churches, hospitals, restaurants, schools, and such. We need government – private sector collaboration, if we are going to encourage the pursuit of science and innovation in our society, particularly amongst our youth. Just showing up at this technology conference, to acknowledge the role of, and encouragement by, government, would have been a nice start.

Perhaps if we had more accountants, business people, engineers, and scientists, and fewer lawyers as politicians, we might fare better. We had better pay more attention to science and technology. Our global competitors are making substantial strides in the world of technology, and with quite a bit of our help.

© 2008, the Institute for Applied Common Sense


  1. I suppose that in some darker corner of our shared humanity lay the need to place blame on anyone but ourselves. That is what made Harry Truman's " The Buck Stops Here" placard on his desk so remarkable. It doesn't surprise me to find that people on the whole are unwilling to see the part they played in the problems we are now facing.

    As to the lack of participation in gatherings such as Converge South by government officials and or politicians...Do we know if they were invited? They go to churches, hospitals, restaurants and schools because generally they have been invited to do so or someone on their staff has contacted the people running those establishments. It would be nice if they were aware enough to find this kind of thing on their own. Nice, but unlikely.

    There is one observation I would like to make about the state of our State. It is that emotion is the most powerful force imaginable for good or ill. When people are frightened then countries become frightened. We all now how things turn out when the emotion of fear is in the drivers seat. I am not saying we should get out our crayons and pastels and start coloring a rosy picture but I do believe that when Mr.Obama is elected President of the United States it should clear out a lot of negativity and perhaps give people hope to start building a better future.

  2. I agree with June's comment- really like her words.

    What struck me about this post is the phrase ‘a welfare society, without an affirmative engine to drive the economy.’ I think we’re already there.

    To use an old cliché: ‘it’s a Catch 22. Although a long term plan and new innovative thinking is the only answer for our future economy, the U.S. population looks ONLY for immediate answers. In short, they are a credit card society who by their own decisions have found themselves in ruins and still scream: “I want it NOW!”

    Even our current presidential candidates are forced to focus only on this public out cry. It’s blatantly evident in their promotions. Advancements in the sciences, education and our future are at the bottom of the list. Our government is forced to deal with us as a parent deals with a spoiled unruly child.

    Got to tell you: If I were a ‘government official’ I wouldn’t bother to show up at any event.

  3. June:

    It was good to see you and Joy again at the Converge South Conference this past Saturday. Thanks for posting a comment to this article.

    Your recognition of the role of the “blame assignment syndrome” is significant, and we appreciate it. Our blog is all about ultimately taking responsibility for one’s decisions and the consequences stemming therefrom.

    That having been said, I will share something with you from personal experience. I consider myself to have grown up in a very supportive, healthy, family-oriented and positive, although perhaps not particularly stimulating, environment. However, as I transitioned from high school to college, I was about as lost as an individual could be, at least in terms of direction. I had no clue. Fortunately, some others who recognized the potential for me, to grow educationally, suggested that I do certain things, and I managed to stumble in that general direction.

    The same thing occurred with the transition from undergraduate school to law school. I simply applied to the top 20 law schools, waited to see which ones accepted me, and which ones provided the most financial aid. That’s not particularly sophisticated at all. Fortunately, I once again had a professor who generally pointed me in the “right direction.”

    I do not think that the vast majority of people are particularly sophisticated about their role in the universe, and the potential positive impact that they can have on others, from a systemic perspective, if certain avenues were pursued.

    I think that is the role that our "leaders," of all sorts, and not just governmental in nature, should perform. Should the parents (and perhaps the churches if you believe in them) share that function and provide vision and direction to their children? Sure; however, I honestly do not believe that the vast majority of parents have that level of education, sophistication, and sense of visionary responsibility. Consequently, as I used to sometimes argue in law school, “Someone has to do it.”

    I believe that it is generally to the benefit of society-at-large to have someone or some agency pick up the laboring oar when there are abdications of responsibility in the family and local community. Is it going to happen every time? No. Do our politicians and elected officials have a responsibility, pursuant to some written job description, to occupy that role? Perhaps not technically, but I would like to think (and I hope)that some of them will, even if they are in the minority.

    As for the issue of the invitation - - no, I do not know for a fact whether any of our elected officials were invited. However, I would be willing to wager $5,000 that some of them were. That’s because I know the attitude and commitment of the top two people responsible for this conference, and their political and community ties. I take that back, I actually know in one instance a City Council Person who was advised of the conference. I win!!

    Seriously, at least from my perspective, an elected official should not have to wait to be invited to engage in conduct which could potentially advance the positive, long term interests of the electorate. Perhaps I am naïve or even unrealistic; however, hope spring eternal.

    Having been on the soapbox long enough in connection with your comment, I will defer comment on the last paragraph of your post, concerning the state of our state. Suffice it to say, “Submitted.” Thanks for the exchange. Every comment by a reader forces us to think through these issues more thoroughly. We enjoyed it.

  4. Thanks much Vikki / Red Chair for posting your comment. I agree with you that we, as a nation, are heading toward “a welfare society, without an affirmative engine to drive our economy.” I don’t think that we are quite there yet. The difference between us might possibly be explained by my intellectual property practice toward the end of my legal career. I had the opportunity to work with researchers, scientists, inventors, and some very innovative people, including those in the academic setting. I also try to stay upbeat and positive about our nation’s ability to turn this thing around; otherwise, we might all conclude that there’s no need in trying.

    Something else came to mind in reading your comment. My statement before the Board of County Commissioners really had to do with the lack of innovation and technological advances in this particular region of the country. As I said in that setting, if you do not interact with scientists, engineers, and inventors on a somewhat frequent basis in your neighborhood and social circle, that should tell you something, especially when there is no industrial production engine in the area. There are some exceptions, the Silicon Valley, Redmond, Washington, the northern counties of Virginia, Austin, Texas, northern San Diego County, and the technology peninsula in Massachusetts. However, I doubt that they can carry the entire nation. It is my position that this interest in technology and innovation needs to be more widely distributed.

    You are absolutely correct regarding the abysmal lack of vision and appreciation of the long term benefits of planning. But we need more, and need to demand more of our leaders. Isn’t that what accountability is all about? One again, if one believes that it can not be accomplished through carefully chosen elected officials, then we might as well through in the towel.

    It has been said that with adversity comes opportunity. For many years, during the industrial and economic boom, our best talent left academic institutions and proceeded to the private sector because of high pay. Teachers were paid meager incomes, and had to deal with less than desirable conditions. (Even here in my hometown, just last year, the school board felt compelled to retain a search firm to locate teachers capable of teaching algebra, and also paid a signing bonus of $5,000.)

    Perhaps the layoffs and the industrial contraction during this period of economic uncertainty, will have the opposite effect, and drive our more talented graduates, and some of those already in corporate America, back into the classrooms to inspire our youth. We also need to return to a period of government sponsored basic research.

    Finally, I know that you are not as pessimistic as your comment might suggest. I’ve seen your artwork and read your stories, and they are not the work of a pessimist. Let’s rally to see what we can do from our respective positions. Thanks again for posting.


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