The 2001 CBC Massey Lectures, "The Cult of Efficiency"

"This is a time of excitement and innovation, but also contradiction, passion, and fierce polemics in our public conversations."

"This is a time of excitement and innovation, but also contradiction, passion, and fierce polemics in our public conversations. As modern democratic societies begin to move through the processes of post-industrialization, we as citizens are re-imagining the role of the state. We speak more and more about efficiency, accountability, and choice, and we're redrawing the face of the state as we experiment with new ways of delivering public goods."

These lectures are about post-industrial society in the making. There is a growing emphasis on efficiency in this era of globalization, and the language of efficiency shapes the way citizens think about their most important shared values. But hidden in the polemics about efficiency are, I believe, much more important and enduring conversations about accountability and choice in post-industrial societies.

To discover how these arguments live in practice, to move beyond the fixed positions of our political warriors, I wanted to look at what we as citizens are saying about public schools and hospitals. It is here that citizens engage in the most immediate and practical ways with the arguments of our times. I think by listening to these very local debates we can explore the dilemmas of democratic processes in a global age, where waste is a sin but the public trust remains sacred. Surprisingly, I find that citizens want to see both less and more of the state. Although citizens in post-industrial society are less deferential, more distrustful of authority, and more confident of their capacity to make the important choices, the escape from the state is more apparent than real.

Still another paradox lies deeper beneath the surface. Our conversation about efficiency has enabled not only a new discussion of accountability, but also about choice. Yet the way we think about choice hides many of the most intractable value conflicts in our society.

The new demand for security in the wake of the attacks in the United States has also turned much of our public conversation on its head. Warriors across the political spectrum have done a dramatic about-face in the way they think about the state and public goods. Yet the challenges,I think, are remarkably similar to the controversies about health care and education: balancing efficiency and accountability, rights and choice, to construct the public good."
- Janice Gross Stein

Janice Gross Stein is the Harrowston Professor of Conflict Management in the Department of Political Science and the director of the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. She holds the rank of University Professor and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
She is the author of more than eighty books and articles and the winner of the Edgar Furniss Prize for an outstanding contribution to the study of international security and civil-military education. She served as the Chair of the Research Advisory Board to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and is currently a member of the International Security Committee of the American Academy of Science and the Committee on International Conflict Resolution of the National Academy of Sciences. She is the mother of two sons and lives in Toronto.

The Cult of Efficiency is published by House of Anansi.



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