Depending upon your political orientation, government can mean many different things: a force for either good or evil. Some radical thinkers are starting to question whether society has reached the point where government as we know it has outlived its usefulness.
In the abstract government is simply a collection of individuals who set and administer public policy, exercise executive functions, and apply sovereign power through various outlets such as laws, regulations, and military force. Historically, government has functioned as a semi-closed society featuring a bureaucracy which remained in residence at all times and carried out the policies, programs, and directives of the officials who exercised executive function and made policy.
In the days of quill pens, travel by horseback, and newspapers who hadn’t yet developed moveable type, this model made sense. It placed the decision makers and their bureaucracy in the same place, enabled communications, and provided access to the reams of records such a bureaucracy requires to operate. That was then, but these archaic structures of governance bear little resemblance to society today.
In these times of instant communications, cloud storage of data, and virtual meetings, there is no reason for the concentration of people and functions into a single location. Even more importantly, the vast bureaucracy that has grown to fill every corner of Washington has outlived its original function. Nearly every function of today’s federal bureaucracy could be provided more efficiently, less expensively, and more responsibly by the private sector. Even more importantly, government can be physically distributed throughout the nation, placing it closer to those who need the services.
Under the distributed government model, the vast Washington bureaucracy, with its burgeoning costs, complete unaccountability, and documented corruption would simply disappear.
Much the same analysis can be applied to the officials of government. Rather than a cloistered club of elitists who have forgotten the needs of their constituents, under the distributed government model, officials remain in their districts year-round. Instead of spending time in Washington, working behind closed doors to produce incomprehensible legislation that they don’t bother to read and that too often benefits them rather than the public, distributed government officials would work remotely and collaboratively to formulate the few new laws that are really necessary to address the critical needs of their constituents.
The advantages of the distributed government model are many. Lower costs of government, better delivery of services, greater accountability and transparency, and better access of the public to their elected officials and federal services are all benefits this model offers. But the distributed government model isn’t going to be implemented by the current political, corporate, and cultural structure. After all, the old establishment is in control of Washington’s power, money, and political infrastructure. Maybe even more importantly, very few of them are comfortable with the connectivity that such a model would require.
If the distributed government model is ever to see the light of day, it will require a new generation raised in the absolute connectivity of the Internet, social media, and ubiquitous cell phones.
The question is whether today’s millennials or the generation to follow them will be capable of grasping the concept of distributed government, leave behind the antiquated structures of the past, and seize the potentialities of the future.