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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Really Big Government

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It wasn't that long ago that the conventional wisdom was that the federal government was on the way out as a force in society. Here's National Journal columnist Jonathan Rauch, writing in the January 2000 issue of Government Executive:

Washington is about to succumb to old age. But at least its timing isn't bad. Although America's government is decreasingly flexible and adaptive, America's leading problems are increasingly non-governmental. Strangely, government's debilities may have the perverse but useful side benefit of forcing Americans to focus less on Washington at a time when our problems have become singularly unresponsive to Washington solutions.

Then came Sept. 11. And if you thought it would lead to only a temporary expansion of federal power, the new conventional wisdom says you're wrong. Way wrong, according to Newsday columnist James Pinkerton. In a column this week, he foresees a world in which technological advances leading to the development of ever-more-deadly weapons will in turn lead to ever-expanding governmental power:

And what will "give," almost certainly, is freedom. After a sufficient number of tragedies and catastrophes, the survival instinct will assert itself, and the source of the problem will be eliminated, or we will die trying. There's plenty of precedent for such coercive danger-pre-emption: the banning of machine guns, for example, and "cop killer" bullets. Similarly, when home computers have 100 times the power of today's supercomputers - well, then, such futurecomputers won't be allowed in the home.

Thus, the human prospect here on Earth: an all-knowing and all-powerful government.

Unfortunately, Pinkerton laments, "we are nowhere close to fulfilling our potential destiny" to deal with this dilemma: emigration to outer space.

 

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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