David Osborne and Ted Gaebler’s Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector took the country’s political classes by storm. It became the "bible" of the Clinton campaign and it was widely admired by Republican proponents of the "New Paradigm," a set of antibureaucratic proposals for government reform. In Washington, Reinventing Government’s recipes for more-responsive government have kept it at the top of the local best-seller list more than a year after its publication. And it is hard to pick up a magazine or newsletter of government or business that doesn’t debate government policy in terms of the categories the book lays out.
Those categories, by the way, are drawn in part from the work of two contributors to the City Journal, E. S. Savas, whose article "Getting Around New York" appears in this issue, and Louis Winnick. It was Savas who supplied the book’s key concept in a now-famous quote: "The word government is from a Greek word, which means ‘to steer.’ The job of government is to steer, not to row, the boat. Delivering services is rowing, and government is not very good at rowing." It is only fitting, then, that the City Journal publish the first fundamental critique of Reinventing Government, Winnick’s article "Is Reinventing Government Enough?"
Winnick, an old hand at attempted innovations, shows that many of the Osborne proposals have already been tried and found wanting, while many that are successful on a local level cannot be duplicated. Most importantly, Winnick argues that it is policy, not process—the overreach involved in government taking on too many goals, even more than inefficiency per se—that produces bloated, ineffective government.
Policy innovation is also the subject of Jan Rosenberg and Sol Stern’s essay on a pathbreaking private organization called America Works, a company that succeeds at bringing hard-core welfare clients back into the workforce. Welfare reform more generally is the subject of the spirited exchange between The New Republic’s Mickey Kaus, an iconoclastic liberal who argues that the government has to put welfare clients to work, and the Manhattan Institute’s Michael Horowitz, who doubts that government is capable of carrying out the "tough love" policies needed to make "workfare" successful.
Good government, as Winnick argues, involves owning up to failure. In "Hard Lessons on Homelessness," Thomas Main describes how, faced with failure, the Dinkins administration admirably began to reverse its policy, if not all of its ideas, on homeless families. The administration has been far less flexible on budgetary matters. It continues to cling to a wide array of tasks incommensurate with the city’s declining resources. Bruce Bender and Amy Klein provide specific suggestions in "Ten Ways to Trim the Budget" for how to meet the coming costs of Fiscal Crisis II.
What about solving the budget problem by securing more federal aid? Tucker Carlson, in "At Home with Big Government," describes the local government of Washington, D.C., a city flush with federal funds. On a per capita basis, the D.C. government spends more money and employs more people than New York City, while its citizens seem to get even less in return.
Finally, in "Race and Reporting," William McGowan discusses newspaper coverage of the three major racial incidents of the Dinkins administration: the Korean deli boycott and the Crown Heights and Washington Heights riots.
While New York has been preoccupied with racial posturing, cities like Philadelphia, Seattle, and Indianapolis have been thinking about reshaping government. New York is one of the few places where Reinventing Government didn’t set off an impassioned debate. But having missed the opportunity to debate how to make government more efficient in the face of recession, we may be forced by the impending fiscal crunch to ask the more fundamental question of how large a government we can afford.