AuthorRosenbaum, Allan
  1. Introduction

    As the organizers of this special issue suggest in their call for papers, the challenges currently facing many of our local communities and national governments, and society more generally, are substantial and profoundly concerning. These have all been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic and its especially terrible impact upon the least fortunate in society (Long et al., 2020). As a consequence of these and other terrible and tragic occurrences in many parts of the world, the challenges confronted by, and demands placed upon, those who practice, as well as those who teach and research, public administration inevitably are and, for the foreseeable future, will continue to be complex and profoundly difficult to address.

    Unfortunately, in far too many situations, the seemingly insoluble economic, environmental and social problems facing our societies are both magnified by, and made far more consequential by, the increasing fragility of democratic institutions in many nations and the growing prevalence of autocratic leadership in countries that traditionally have been perceived as stable democracies. Similarly, in nations which historically have been far less than democratic, in many cases governmental leadership is becoming significantly more authoritarian and hence more overtly hostile to democratic regimes (Levitsky and Ziblatt, 2018; Rudd, 2022; Kendall-Taylor and Komsomol, 2022).

    So, the obvious question for the public administration community is, given these realities, what is to be done? While all of the various issues cited in the call for papers (economic security, war in Europe, the deficiencies in health care systems and more) are of great consequence, underlying them one might suggest are two even more critical issues. These are, first, a significant decline, especially in democratic nations, over the past several decades in government resources and capacity. This increasingly limits the ability of these countries to respond to the most critical needs of their societies. Second is the profoundly destabilizing, worldwide growth in inequality which frequently underlies the declining public confidence in democratic governments. The significance, and negative consequences, of these developments will, to some degree, vary in intensity in different parts of the world, but, in one way or another, they ultimately are central to the economic and societal well being of a large part of the population in most, if not all, of the countries of the world.

    For the remainder of this essay, we shall examine each of them and their consequences and, finally, what can be done to address them.

  2. Government capacity: a declining resource

    The decline in government capacity is not a new phenomenon. One of the negative consequences of the post-World War I era for many countries, often magnified by the subsequent Great Depression of the 1930s, was the decline in the ability of government to effectively address the critical economic challenges and social problems presented by the depression. In some countries, this gave rise to the fascism that led to World War II and the devastation which it brought. However, in many countries of Western Europe, the aftermath of World War II, gave rise to conditions that ultimately led to the emergence of the robust governments that rebuilt a significant part of the continent and brought with it a high degree of prosperity and a rising middle class. Particularly notable was the rebuilding of strong, robust and democratic governments within the principal defeated nations of the war--Germany and Japan.

    In the United States, the emergence of robust government had occurred earlier as the administration of Franklin Roosevelt was able to utilize the trauma of the national depression of the thirties to create the most dynamic and progressive government in the history of that nation. Governmental capacity in the US grew even stronger with the entry of the nation into World War II. The significant government actions required to mobilize a country, and a private sector, totally unprepared for war were critical in this regard. Even more important was the fact that US industry, guided and stimulated by government action, quickly became the major source of the vast quantities of weaponry needed to successfully fight the war. Consequently, the national government became both the driving and the guiding force of a vast industrial machine that was central to the successful conclusion of the War. Even more significantly, the partnership, initiated by the government with the private sector, created a quarter century of extraordinary growth and dramatically increasing prosperity for large parts of the nation (Hacker and Pierson, 2016).

    However, even as governments were rebuilding societies, anti-government movements, usually, but not always, politically conservative, began to question the efficacy of robust government, especially in more economically developed democracies. By the mid-1980s, the New Public Management (NPM) philosophy--really an ideology--which had emerged very forcefully out of New Zealand and Australia, had spread to Great Britain, the European Continent and the US. In response, theoretical critiques...

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