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Government's End: Why Washington Stopped Working Paperback – December 23, 1999
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At a big press dinner one night in early 1985, when I was settling into my first job in Washington, I found myself sitting next to a man who was a lot more interesting than the official speaker at the rostrum. In person, David Stockman, the architect of the "Reagan Revolution," was as brilliant as his reputation, but what was most striking was his candid bitterness. Stockman had come to Washington, with Ronald Reagan, determined to change things. But he had failed, and he knew it. They had failed.
Over the next few years, I encountered a few other young reformers. One was the earnest and deeply knowledgeable governor of Arkansas. Bill Clinton's mastery of the inner workings of government policy was astonishing. Ask him about health or welfare or education, and his answers combined the savvy of a politician with the knowledge of a bureaucrat. Then there was an obscure but ambitious young Turk congressman by the name of Newt Gingrich. I'll never forget this starry-eyed back-bencher explaining to a gaggle of conservative activists how Washington could be changed--if only you'd think "outside the box."
Clinton and Gingrich, as I saw first-hand, had brains, talent, determination. They both attempted "revolutions" to rival Stockman's. And they both failed, each more spectacularly than the last. This book revisits the ideas that I first published in my book Demosclerosis, which suggested that Washington's disease is more complex and cunning than even a Clinton or a Gingrich realized. The new edition has a new title, because it is partly a new book. The earlier ideas are here, but I've also tried to account for the experiences of the 1990s--and to peer into the future, where a new relationship between the people and their government is taking shape.
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The lobbying and legal interests in Washington (and in statehouses) forms the particular parasite economy. It wins no matter what outcome eventually prevails. And it shows no sign of slowing even though it is clearly more and more disconnected from the populace it is supposed to represent. As for the populace, it grows more dependent on government and at the same time feels more entitled to the various benefits it receives. Probably fair to say that the author doesn't paint a pretty picture, nor does he believe that the situation is going to change much for the better - although he has a few modest proposals (none of which have happened since the book was written).
All in all, his belief that "government" in the sense that we thought of it decades ago has probably "ended" - that's the meaning of the title. It could have been interpreted as "the objective of government" as well but isn't. The end is something akin to the metastatis of cancer - the parasites are devouring the host.
For me this book was like looking into the mechanism of democracy and seeing clearly for the first time why it doesn't work, and can't work, very well over the long-term. I highly recommend it.
If you read this book, I recommend "Power and Prosperity" by Macur Olson next.