There’s nonsense, and then there’s damned nonsense

Here’s a truly thoughtless piece from David Brooks (not in itself an especially newsworthy phenomenon) about the "new" trend in nonprofits: social entrepreneurship!  Note that the only consideration he gives to the role of the commonwealth in determining the common good is to shudder at the prospect:

There’s obviously a
danger in getting government involved with these entrepreneurs.
Government agencies are natural interferers, averse to remorseless
competition and quick policy shifts.

The danger is in getting government involved with providing for the welfare of its citizens?  And the solution is having private individuals determine what public-welfare programs work best and should be supported?  That must be because privatizing government functions has worked so well in Iraq, and at the State Department (where contract employees are reading your passport files), and in the public schools that have been captured by for-profit companies.

Their problem now is scalability. How do the social entrepreneurs
replicate successful programs so that they can be big enough to make a
national difference?

America Forward, a consortium of these
entrepreneurs, wants government to do domestic policy in a new way. It
wants Washington to expand national service (to produce more social
entrepreneurs) and to create a network of semipublic social investment
funds….to invest in
community-run programs that produce proven results. The government
would not operate these social welfare programs, but it would, in
essence, create a network of semipublic Gates Foundations that would
pick winners based on stiff competition.

If the problem is replicating successful programs so they can be big enough to make a national difference we could use, uh, what’s that called?  Public funding?  But that would mean all these wealthy people would have to pay taxes.  And worse, that would mean all these brilliant people–and they must be brilliant, right?  Otherwise they wouldn’t be wealthy, because the market allocates rewards perfectly and life is completely fair–would have to consult something other than their own attitudes, prejudices and needs before deciding what’s best for the rest of us.



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3 Responses to “There’s nonsense, and then there’s damned nonsense”

  1. Scott E. Walters Says:

    Hello! While I don’t have a whole lot to say about David Brooks, I will take issue with your dismissal of social entrepreneurship. There are many people — and I consider myself one — who are impatient with the cautious approach government agencies take to problems, and to government’s tendency to totally screw it up and kill innovation. I’d recommend some excellent books on social entrepreneurship, especially “How to Save the World” and “Getting to Maybe.” I am not in the least a libertarian, however I think that government is best operating on Big Issues, and more local or intractable issues are more efficiently addressed by NGO’s — Grameen Bank is a perfect example. The Skoll Foundation, Ashoka, and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship all are excellent places to start. I guess I find the entrepreneurial impulse and its focus on innovative thinking attractive!

  2. Tom Welsh Says:

    Thanks for this thought-provoking observation, although you sum up Mr. Brooks’ relevancy in your first parenthetical phrase.

    There is far too much “this VS. that” thinking informing our decisons, imho. And not enough “how can this COMPLEMENT that?” Governments AND NGO’s are organizations and thus have strong and weak points as to their various applications. They are also possessed of political considerations, both internal and external, and these need to be recognized.

  3. Tom Cannon Says:

    To the Nonprofiteer,

    David Brooks is paid to wear blinkers; I read him to see how someone of intelligence and privilege can get it wrong when he has no contact with the 99% that can’t ski in Gstaad or scuba dive off St. Barts. I personally think it’s time for a national service program that emphasizes service to the nation and its citizens. In the overall program, I would throw in the Peace Corps as well (to get us off our large island called North America and into the world, but without the religious fervor), but I would leave the military their “volunteer” status, as if the young men and women who provide the bulk of our volunteers have much in the way of other options.

    I think a new CCC should be a part of the national service option, so young men and women can see what’s at stake when we treat the natural world as just another item for the bottom line. One of the most important impacts of the national service program would come from requiring that ALL 18-20 year olds end up in it, the rich (5%) and the rest (95%). It’s very easy to insulate yourself from the nation and your fellow citizens these days and national service could play a vital role in pulling away their swaddling clothes, if only for a time.

    Sincerely, Tom Cannon
    LTC, US Army (Retired)

    PS: 1) Have the national service folks ride on the Greyhound Bus to their first assignment: it WILL open some eyes! 2) First class passengers on The Titanic lived about an hour longer than the ones in steerage (except for those who scrambled on board one of the few lifeboats.) 3) We’re all on the same leaky boat.

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