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Professor Jaideep Prabhu of Cambridge Judge Business School discusses his new book

A new book by Professor Jaideep Prabhu of Cambridge Judge Business School explores the role of government in a world transformed by technology and shocked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Professor Jaideep Prabhu. Picture: Keith Heppell
Professor Jaideep Prabhu. Picture: Keith Heppell

How Should a Government Be? The New Levers of State Power, published on February 11 by Profile Books, looks at what’s possible in government – ranging from a programme in India to provide a digital identity to one billion citizens, to a Dutch initiative that allows nurses to operate almost entirely without management.

The book, which includes comparisons of cases and government approach in developed countries such as Denmark and Canada and developing countries such as India and Kenya, is designed to outline for both people who work in government and for the general reader “how to make governments work faster, better and cheaper”.

Jaideep, whose previously published books include Frugal Innovation: How to Do More with Less (written with Navi Radjou) which details how to do more with fewer resources, said of his new effort: “It’s been a few years in the making, and it really continues the work I’ve been doing from a private sector perspective into the public sector.”

He continued: “Most of my career, I’ve looked at innovation – how companies come up with new solutions to problems, and I’ve been particularly interested in this notion of frugal innovation – the phenomenon which is now increasingly global, of small teams of people, sometimes students, being able to do things that only large companies or the government could have done, say, 10 or 20 years ago.

“If you take something like WhatsApp, it took just four months and four people to come up with it. Then of course it created so much value that they were able to sell it to Facebook for nearly $20billion.”

Jaideep also mentioned Raspberry Pi in Cambridge as an example of “very affordable hardware” and notes that he has written two books about the notion of frugal innovation in the private sector, with start-ups and big companies trying to achieve it all over the world – “one in 2012 and 2015”.

Professor Jaideep Prabhu. Picture: Keith Heppell
Professor Jaideep Prabhu. Picture: Keith Heppell

He said: “Whenever I would talk about these books at events, somebody would invariably ask me, ‘So what does this mean for governments?’ And sometimes they would even venture to tell me what it meant for governments, and they would give me examples of what governments were doing.

“So I became interested in that question, and the more I thought about it the more I realised that there were probably two aspects to that question. One is what governments could do internally, in terms of their own working and how they respond to citizens’ needs and solve problems, deliver services, etc.

“The other was how governments should view these developments in the economy; how they should regulate and perhaps cultivate this kind of innovation in the economy. So I set about writing this book and five years later, here it is.”

He continued: “One of the things I delved into was to look at what people have thought about how a government should be, and there are really two opposing views to this.

“One is what I describe as a libertarian view, which has a long pedigree – and that is that governments, for various reasons, are not very efficient or effective at best, and at worst they can be dangerous if they’re given too much power over citizens and the economy.

"Then there’s a contrasting view which I call the ‘statist view’, which is people who believe that the state is really the final guard against the vagaries of nature and the market – and they trust government to do the right thing.

“I think perhaps these views are a false dichotomy, and that increasingly it might be possible for us to expect our governments to be efficient and effective while preserving our freedoms. That’s what I explore in the book: how do we maintain that balance?”

The arrival of Covid-19 had an effect on the finished version of the book. “Most of it was written before the pandemic hit,” explained Jaideep. “The book was actually ready about a year before it came out.

"We started doing the proofing around February last year, and then of course the pandemic hit and the question of how should a government be became perhaps even more pressing.

“It became even more clear that governments have a huge role in society, particularly in times of crisis – and so I had to rethink, or at least flesh out, some further ideas throughout the book.”

The book is available now. For more on Jaideep Prabhu, visit jbs.cam.ac.uk/faculty-research/facultya-z/jaideep-prabhu/.

For more information on the book, go to profilebooks.com/work/how-should-a-government-be/.

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