In a simpler time, not too long ago, we governed the U.S. in what might be called issue “boxes”. There was a box called “the economy,” one for education, one for energy, one for health, a big one for defense and security, and of course one called foreign policy. Virtually overnight these boxes became irrelevant and all these issues became interlinked.
Today, still early in a new century, the economy is globalized and related to energy dependence, and thus to foreign policy, especially in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, and thus to national security and defense. But the economy is also related, at home, to education, job training, environment, and even health care. Workers, including those trying to enter the job market (such as it is), have to have a host of new skills, particularly information and technical ones. The computer has replaced the assembly line in importance. And if you are obese or undernourished, or both, you can’t contribute as much as you should.
Wouldn’t you know, however, that Congress, and to too large a degree the Executive branch, still govern using those “boxes”. Obviously, there cannot be one big Congressional committee for everything, or one big administrative department for everything. But surely by now major efforts should have been underway in both branches of government to reorganize themselves, perhaps using inter-agency task forces, to construct policy along more coherent and productive lines. Security cannot be provided absent reference to our total energy picture, to climate, to foreign policy, and so on.
Perhaps the problem is the lack of a single threat or demon, such as we had with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, that provided the central organizing principle around which to coordinate policy. That’s the way we got a Department of Defense, but also an interstate highway system and a national education program.
Despite all the policy centers and think tanks in Washington, New York, and elsewhere, to my knowledge none has produced a proposal to reorganize our government and its strategies (if it had any) into a coherent whole that matched the realities of the 21st centuries. Perhaps this is because they are all pursuing their own ideological agendas.