Thursday, August 25, 2005

Public Good on a Small Scale

Thought I'd shoot you guys a Q&A with Chris Maher, a prominent e-mail marketer from Austin, TX. Wanted to share it with you because he's wondering how to connect work with the larger purposes of life, and how he can use his business to promote the Public Good and create a value chain. (His words, not mine.)

Have a look. He had a particular part that caught my attention:

Government has been characterized as the enemy. The enemy. The government that built the highways and bridges; that stepped forward for civil rights (albeit under the flag of interstate commerce); that defends our liberties; that, when all is said and done, can be a voice for the voiceless: This is not my enemy. The question becomes, How do we bring such dead institutions back to life? But, that's not for this discussion.

So, with governments largely irrelevant and with a new breed of public servants who seem conflicted about the role of government to begin with, who can belly up to the bar and look at social problems in new ways? Who can make a useful analogy between core business processes and core civic processes, and start rethinking access to health care, food distribution, provision of shelter, affordable housing, literacy, etc.?

If not business people and other citizens, then who?

Of course, I would substitute "Library staff members" for business people and other citizens there!

Get the whole story through Sept. 2 on


Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued as to how this post connects to the back-and-forth between George and Alane on the subject of teaching, digital divide, appropriate use of libraries, etc.

"The government is the enemy?" I'm reminded of the joke that a conservative is a liberal who has recently been mugged, and a liberal is a conservative who had to file for bankruptcy.

Government "of the people, by the people, for the people..." Somebody important said that at one point. There is no disembodied, shadow "government" (well, there's the NSA...).

The government is my brother-in-law, Tom, who works as a G-something-or-other in logistics, helping to make it easier for the army to get stuff from "here" to "there" more efficiently and inexpensively. It's my wife, who has worked on two government-funded longitudinal health-care studies. One of which was the Framingham Study, the longest-running study of its kind in history, and one of the ones that has provided much of the data that has gone into many of the "studies have shown" stories you read in Newsweek and Time, etc.

The government is the National Institutes of Health, who fund most of the initial, "blue sky" medical research in this country. Stuff like the initial research into trans-fatty acids, which helped improve IV solutions so that everyone (that's everyone) undergoing surgery can get healthier faster, and, thus, out of hospitals faster, saving us billions of dollars a year in overnight stay costs.

The government is teachers, cops, firemen, road crews. The government is the Public Utilities Commission.

The government is librarians.

We've confused "the government" with "politicians." Which is sad. Because politicians are essentially the equivalent of the salesforce for the government. And while sales is a necessary part of any business, it's not the one that takes care of customers after the fact. But they're the ones on TV all the time, aren't they?

Libraries help take care of people, just like cops and firemen do. Just like millions of people in the government do. We need better marketing for many areas of the government, libraries included. We need to remind people why it's important that there are computers and DVD players -- and kids watching videos -- in the library. There's a host of reasons we are a society "by and of and for the people," not simply "by and of and for the economy." Libraries represent many great aspects of those reasons.

George said...

Part of the legacy of Thatcherism and Reaganism is the demonization of the government. Ronald Reagan had a knack for taking silly jokes ("I'm from the government and I'm here to help you...") and urban legends (the Cadillac-driving welfare queen) and turning them into public policy.

What we've seen over the last 25 years is that everyone wants to get rid of the government that is full of waste, corrpution and stupid ideas (you know, the part that serves someone else), and keep the government that is wise, frugal, and absolutely vital (you know, the part that serves them.)

We've also seen the criminalization of politics take off in a big way. I'm no fan of Governor Bob Taft, but the crap he is accused of doing here in Ohio is so petty, so venal, that you wonder why the courts are spending time going after him. The bigger issues, the pay-for-play attitude that pervades ALL one party states is the real villain, but no one is going after that (unless they happen to be members of the party that's on the outside.)

OK, let me off my soapbox here.