A ‘Next Big’ Idea: Civic Entrepreneurism

As I have argued in prior posts, crisis offers liberation and it is indeed time to reboot “We the People.”   But, how do we do that?  Does the combative divisiveness and invective of the Tea Party or Moveon.org provide any answers?  Will Obama’s State of the Union address illuminate new pathways to what David Brooks calls “dynamic optimism?”[1]  Is Sarah Palin poised to launch a campaign of patriotic renewal?  I doubt it.  Rebooting America will be accomplished one entrepreneur at a time.  One of the ‘next big’ ideas is civic entrepreneurism.

Civic entrepreneurism embraces the retreat of government services in the face of economic decline.  Its biggest markets are municipal, county, state (and eventually) federal programs.  California—historically an entrepreneur’s dream—remains a golden state of opportunity. Civic entrepreneurs form for-profit, non-governmental organizations to provide essential services formerly provided by government.  Their rewards are both social and economic.  They are part mercenary, part altruistic; and they provide enormous opportunity for those displaced during the Great Recession and those looking for a long and productive career.

While some will no doubt argue against civic entrepreneurs as invasive privatization of the public sector, their arguments fall short given the reality of government’s necessary abandonment of such services.  Civic entrepreneurs should take a close look at state and municipal government budgets to identify those ‘essentials’ that are now available to be filled by private enterprise.   Existing infrastructure—built by government agencies—may even be available for purchase for cents on the dollar, and staff may be in place, or re-hired to launch the new service provider.

Tomorrow night, Obama will be announcing the freeze of government expenditures on certain programs for three years.  California’s woes are well documented.  There are few, if any, states, counties, or municipalities that are able to meet their existing public obligations.  It is time for entrepreneurs—the backbone of America—to step in and fill the void. ‘Public goods’ are the next private enterprise.

[1] David Brooks, ‘Populist Addiction,’ New York Times, January 26, 2010