New Priorities

One of the articles in Dancing Toward The Future (IC#32)
Originally published in Summer 1992 on page 6
Copyright (c)1992, 1996 by Context Institute


Dr. Peter Drucker, the dean of management consultants, met this past winter with members of the US Congress. His remarks are relevant and instructive as we ponder the potential of government in this particularly unpromising election year. We’ve excerpted them from What’s Next: A Newsletter of Emerging Issues and Trends, which is published by the Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future. You can reach the Clearinghouse at 555 House Annex 2, Washington, DC, 20515 Tel. 202/226-3434.

Every 200 or 300 years, there is a very short period when the world suddenly changes – the way it does in a kaleidoscope. This is one of those periods when the old solutions no longer work. One can clearly see new priorities.

Since the French Revolution, we have believed in what I call "salvation by society," the belief that government and society could basically mold the human being. Communism was the extreme manifestation of this secular religion. In this country, that belief peaked in the Kennedy years, and by now, it is pretty much gone. It is gone in the rest of the world, too. And so we have a world that has no ideologies. We can expect that within 20 or 30 years, we will have major new political alignments. In this country, our parties have never been ideological. […]

For 200 years, all the debates have been over what should be done. Since 1792, nobody has asked, what can government do? Now, for the first time, we are asking the question. Government, like any other institution, has core competencies. We have learned from other institutions what happens when institutions try to do things that don’t fit their competence – they usually end up flat on their belly. Of all government [social] programs of the last 40 years, not one has worked. Head Start is the only exception. This is not an American phenomenon; it is worldwide. Japan is an exception, [but] it is beginning to hit Japan. […]

We started the Core Management Foundation one and one-half years ago with the avowed aim of tripling the effectiveness of nonprofit institutions and doubling their share of the GNP. Those are realistic, but not easy, goals.

One of the great movements in my lifetime among educated people is the need to commit themselves to action. Most people are not satisfied with giving money; we also feel we need to work. That is why there is an enormous surge in the number of unpaid staff, volunteers. The needs are not going to go away. Business is not going to take up the slack, and government cannot.

I think we will depend on the nonprofits. The nonprofit sector is the largest employer in the American economy.

Productivity [in manufacturing and agriculture] has increased 50-fold in the last century … and is growing as fast as ever. [Now] both sectors together employ fewer than one-sixth of the labor force. […]

Knowledge has become the central resource. [But] the productivity of knowledge workers is incredibly low. Does anybody here believe that the teacher of 1991 is more productive than the teacher of 1900? The productivity of service workers is even lower…. Over three-fourths of our workforce are service and knowledge workers. By the end of the century, 90 per cent of total workers will be knowledge and service workers. Productivity of knowledge work and dignity of service work are the two great priorities.

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