15 March, 2014.
In a recent edition of The Economist newspaper the front page announces a 'six page essay' entitled 'What's gone wrong with democracy and how to revive it.'http://www.economist.com/node/21597917?frsc=dg%7Cd Ittalks about a slide towards autocracy in many newly emerging democratic states and about the rise of China which sees its model as more efficient. It also talks about the erosion of trust in government in Europe - a familiar theme for PeopleTalk. It sees the solution in terms of delegating in two directions - upwards towards technocrats in such areas as monetary policy and downwards towards local decision-making but in a manner which must take responsibility for the financial side of things. In all this treatment, however, the word 'service' is only used once and in a context which refers to a consumer product. This reflects the prevailing view that service as in 'public service' is a problem but service as in 'consumer service' represents all things good. In reality the earliest forms of democracy all required a particular form of service of all citizens - military service. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a professional civil service was effectively the backbone of government and, in that particular context, 'public service' was a thing of honour. The crisis facing democracy in our time won't be resolved until the concept of service is once more linked with citizenship. To see government as something to which we pay taxes and from which we demand 'service' is inadequate. We are expecting others – described, often with distain, as 'public servants' - to know our situation automatically and to respond effectively. In our complex technological world public service cannot happen unless we play our part and, if we do, we will be doing a service to ourselves and others. Everyone benefits; that’s what makes it ‘public service.’ This is what modern citizenship is about - playing our part in ensuring that the state serves effectively. Fortunately, there are people – both working in public administration and working with neighbourhoods and organisations around the country – who understand this. It seems that the Economist does not quite get the point.