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The State’s New Balancing Act

Today, new digital technologies and organizational structures can enable the state to balance policy effectiveness with citizens’ freedom. But achieving this will require governments to be responsive, inclusive, willing to experiment, and entrepreneurial.

CAMBRIDGE – For over a century, the size and role of the state has been a hotly debated issue, and is so once again in the wake of COVID-19. Should governments involve themselves in ever more areas of social and commercial life, or does more government necessarily mean less freedom and more waste?

On one side are libertarians, who regard governments as at best incompetent and inefficient, and at worst a threat to individual liberty. This is the intellectual tradition of Friedrich A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, and of political leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Ranged against them are statists, who think government is inherently benevolent and seek to expand its powers to influence society and the economy. This is the view of Fabian socialists and central planners, contemporary politicians such as US Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and European political parties like Greece’s Syriza, Italy’s Five Star Movement, and Spain’s Podemos.

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