Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Defend the Public Sector

Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Defend the Public Sector

Article excerpt

Social innovation is a three-legged stool. The nonprofit, for-profit, and public sectors each play important roles in addressing social problems. Today, however, there is a wholesale attack on one of those legs-the public sector. The attack is taking place not just in the United States, but in Europe as well, where government programs and the taxes that support them are rapidly being eroded.

It is true that the role of the public sector needs to be rethought. Many problems that people once believed could be addressed only by creating government programs or regulations can in fact be better solved by creatively enlisting the business and nonprofit sectors. Allowing businesses to trade carbon emissions, for example, is in some instances a better way to slow climate change than creating government regulations. And nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity do a better job of providing housing for low-income working families than some government programs.

But the public sector still plays an essential role in providing services like universal public education, basic scientific research, and health care for the poor and seniors. Over the last few decades, however, there has been an erosion of support for the idea that these types of programs are necessary and should be publicly funded and controlled. Tax rates, particularly for the wealthy, have been slashed, which has led to growing government deficits and the rollback of numerous public programs along with public worker pay and benefits.

This trend was not inevitable. …

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