Book Review: The Broken Contract: Making Our Democracies Efficient, Representative, and Accountable

Book Review: The Broken Contract: Making Our Democracies Efficient, Representative, and Accountable

By Luis Arellan

Special to News Talk Florida

We live in an era when our governments are brazenly out of touch with their citizens. That lack of accountability has now become dangerous. Consider the recent extrajudicial police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in the United States. The case of George Floyd is especially instructive; Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, had received 18 prior complaints about his conduct as a police officer. Yet Chauvin never faced a threat to his job—because of the powerful police union that protected him and others like him.

A powerful warning about the disruptive nature of public sector unions is found in Dr. Saqib Qureshi’s The Broken Contract: Making Our Democracies Efficient, Representative, and Accountable. This is not the only way in which this book is especially prescient. In his book, Dr. Qureshi warns that our democracies aren’t meaningful democracies. Yet Dr. Qureshi is not only offering a dire warning but also suggests a number of solutions to get government going again. The key, Dr Qureshi argues, will be accountability not just for faceless bureaucrats (or rogue police officers) but for elected politicians, too.

Dr. Qureshi digs into the data to show that a large number of elected representatives are mostly rich, male, and political lifers, and as such frequently out of touch with a changing society and its demographics. Dr. Qureshi proposes that rather than allowing bureaucrats protected employment for life, some 2% of all underachieving government employees should be regularly removed from their jobs. Some might find this unfair, but Dr. Qureshi points out this is below the annual turnover of a private sector company. Conversely, he argues that we should meaningfully reward the top 5 percent of public sector employees. This is something that he suggests can be done if employees are given effective evaluations each quarter, providing the necessary comparative data.

Listen to “My guest is author Dr. Saqib Qureshi on his new book The Broken Contract: Making Our Democracies Efficient, Representative, and Accountable” on Spreaker.

Some, of course, might contend that comparing the efficiency of the private sector with the largess of the public sector is not possible given that one is driven by the profit motive (at least primarily) and the second is driven by the public interest. Dr. Qureshi contends that we can in fact compare apples to oranges. He makes several arguments why a private to public comparison is possible, some of them anecdotal—compare the energy level in a private sector business to a public sector office—and some of them empirical—if private sector companies had similar numbers of sick days as in the public sector, they would be long since out of business.

Dr. Qureshi continues this line of approach by arguing that modern government must adopt more concepts from the business world to provide the sort of dynamic governance that citizens expect in the 21st century. He cites organizational design, marketing strategy, and key performance indicators as concepts that some bureaucracies around the world have embraced in recent years, and the remaining should. Dr. Qureshi considers that spirit of adaptability critical to the underlying message of his book, which should resonate with readers and citizens: “the gulf between the democracy we think we have and the pseudo-democracy we actually do have.” Now, to be clear, in examining this gulf, Dr. Qureshi does not claim to have all the answers.

But he does believe that we cannot find solutions until we first acknowledge the problems.

Dr Qureshi’s first book, Reconstructing Strategy: Dancing with the God of Objectivity (2015), was more narrowly focused on improving management consulting. But the analyses in both books is grounded in Dr Qureshi’s personal life experiences. Born in the United Kingdom and educated there, he now lives in a leafy Toronto suburb. He has consulted for governments around the world. That experience deeply informs this insightful analysis of the problems facing modern governance. Every concerned citizen would do well to engage his ideas, debate his arguments, and bring his perspective into the center of their conversations.