The New Civil War

The accords we’ve long used to organize ourselves into a functioning society have traditionally been shared among three sectors: government, business and the non-profit sector.

Government has traditionally been the steward of national defense, criminal justice, internal revenue, education, cultural heritage, infrastructure, and social safety.

The business sector has typically ensured employment, wealth generation, and commerce – all of which make possible taxation that funds government.

Gaps in the social safety net, healthcare, education, and the environment have fallen to the non-profit sector.

Today, however, all bets are off. The rising clash of political philosophies, unmediated by skilled leaders, has ignited a smoldering civil war over the appropriate roles of the three sectors. The resulting anarchy of words, fanned by an educational system failing many of our citizens, threatens the social, technical and material fabric of America. We could well lose our status as a mentor for developing countries and a haven for energetic and creative people from all over the world.

Conservatives believe in minimal government, minimal regulation, and the inherent benefits of free-market capitalism. They would prefer to see many government roles reallocated to the business sector with minimal regulation.

The business sector sees new profit opportunities in a shrinking government sector, and is moving swiftly into corrections, transportation infrastructure, private armies, and for-profit education and healthcare.

Pressured for further tax cuts in an historically low-tax period, despite a burgeoning defense budget and the high cost of ad hoc wars, government must increasingly relinquish its social, educational, environmental, and infrastructure commitments to the non-profit sector – which in turn, scuffles through the refuse of abandoned government commitments as it tries to fill gaps in the social and environmental fabric. Its success, however, is often inhibited by its tendency to ignore its own governance and fall back on competitive rather than collaborative problem-solving.

A community-owned, nonprofit retail store, restaurant or bookshop opens up because a departing business sees no return on their investment and closes. Public broadcasting debuts in 1967 to fill a broadcasting gap and offer educational, documentary, and cultural programming to listeners and viewers. Are these assaults on free-market capitalism or economic evolution? Corrections Corporation of America helps develop Arizona’s immigration law to spur their growth in the “immigrant detention” market. For-profit specialty hospitals transfer patients with outcomes outside their specialty to non-profit city hospitals. Are these examples enterprise or crime? These are the dilemmas emerging from our second civil war.

If we’re going to re-assign the organizing elements of society across government, business and the nonprofit sectors, it will require strong leadership and dialog instead of the current fusillade of ideologies.

We can return to the pursuit of equitable growth and social progress we’ve enjoyed historically. But leaders across the political spectrum will have to give up their hortatory media war and get on with the business of again being a great and innovative country.

Any leadership discussion will need to include transparency, measurement, and accountability before we can again resume our path to greatness.

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