What happened to the idea of the Great Society?

John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge in the Financial Times: “Most of the interesting experiments in government are taking place far from Washington: in Singapore, which delivers much better public services at a fraction of the cost; in Brazil, with its “conditional” welfare payments, dependent on behaviour; in Scandinavia, where “socialist” Sweden has cut state spending from 67 per cent of GDP in 1993 to 49 per cent, introduced school vouchers and brought entitlements into balance by raising the retirement age. In the US, the dynamic bits of government are in its cities, where pragmatic mayors are experimenting with technology.
What will replace the Great Society? For Republicans, the answer looks easy: just shrink government. But this gut instinct runs up against two big problems. The assumption that government is evil means they never take it seriously (Singapore has a tiny state but pays its best civil servants $2m a year). And, in practice, American conservatives are addicted to Big Government: hence the $1.3tn of exemptions in the US tax code, most of which are in effect a welfare state for the rich.
For Democrats, the problem is even worse. Having become used to promising ever more entitlements to voters, they face a series of unedifying choices: whether to serve society at large (by making schools better) or to protect public sector unions (teachers account for many of their activists); and whether to offer ever less generous universal benefits to the entire population or to target spending on the disadvantaged.
This is where the politics of the future will be fought, on both sides of the Atlantic. It will not be as inspiring as the Great Society. It will be about slimming and modernising government, tying pensions to life expectancy and unleashing technology on the public sector.
But what the US – and Europe – needs is cool-headed pragmatism. Government is neither a monster nor a saviour but an indispensable part of a decent society that, like most organisations, works best when it focuses on doing a few things well.”