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The Performing State: Reflection on an Idea Whose Time Has Come but Whose Implementation Has Not

By Allen Schick

Abstract

The contemporary nation-state exists to perform – to provide financial assistance, public services and other benefits to its people. How well the government performs influences the economic and social well-being of citizens, the mindset that voters take into the election booth, the programmes and behaviour of politicians and bureaucrats, and the relationship between government and the governed. Delivering services and writing cheques are not the sole functions of the modern state, for it still has traditional watchman responsibilities such as defending the country against external threat and maintaining domestic health, safety and order. Although the old tasks are essential, in most nation-states they have been surpassed in the sentiments of citizens and in the fiscal accounts of government by a vastly broader array of public services than were provided generations ago. Government not only does more than it once did, it carries out many tasks differently. One of the themes of this paper is that a performing state is inherently a state in transition, adapting to changing conditions and opportunities. Performance is not a static measure, but one that requires ongoing feedback from situations and results to policies and action. Among the many transformations that the performing state has experienced is in its role as unifier of the people through symbols and actions that forge a common national identity. As the provision of services has gained prominence, diversity has gained ground over uniformity because citizens differ in the services they want or need. The performing state must serve the people, even if doing so requires that it serve them differently...

DOI identifier: 10.1787/budget-v3-art10-en
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