A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
—Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 1848
A new specter is haunting Europe and other parts of the West—the specter of absolute decline. Faced with that threat, an alliance of governments is primarily addressing its symptoms by cutting spending, regulating banks, revising treaties, and reassuring markets. Harder to fix are the underlying causes of the crisis, whether these are understood to be stagnant productivity, rising welfare costs, superannuated infrastructure, or uncompetitive markets.
But if all we do is address the symptoms, the patient won’t recover. Governments’ first priority must be to stabilize the current situation. They then need to move decisively to address the original causes of the crisis and to shape a better future. In other words, they need a strategy. Yet many governments have lost confidence in strategy, resorting instead to what Paul Cornish calls
Rather than abandon strategy altogether, politicians and civil servants need to learn from these failures and frustrations. Around the world, public-sector innovators are doing just that, evolving a style of strategy that combines clear goals with flexible methods. This “adaptive strategy”