Rheostat Government: Replacing the On/Off Switch with a Dimmer

When the coronavirus pandemic begins to subside, communities should use a nuanced, calibrated approach to allowing businesses to reopen and residents to return to work and school, argues Kennedy School Professor Stephen Goldsmith.

Written by Stephen Goldsmith, originally published on Governing

Two friends in different states told me similar stories recently about how social distancing was being enforced at parks with relatively isolated hiking trails. Because getting to the trails caused too many people to use the same narrow steps or park their cars too close together, access was blocked for everyone.

Clearly government needs to take action in these kinds of situations, which it did, in this case, the way it knows best: by throwing a switch — you are open or you are closed. But when the coronavirus nightmare begins to subside, state and local officials will face difficult decisions about when and how to begin reviving local economies by allowing residents to return to work and visit shops and restaurants. It will be a time for officials to embrace rheostat government, replacing the binary on/off switch with a dimmer. Instead of closing the park, perhaps meter the number of people climbing the steps or parking cars, or even the hours the park is open, to spread out usage.

Nuanced, calibrated use of regulatory powers can help local governments in metering normal life back on….

↗️ Read the full article on Governing

About the Author

Stephen Goldsmith is a professor of practice at the Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Innovations in American Government Program at the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. The former deputy mayor for operations for New York City, he previously served two terms as mayor of Indianapolis.

Goldsmith served as the chief domestic policy advisor to the George W. Bush campaign in 2000, as chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and, from 1979 to 1990, as the district attorney for Marion County, Ind.




A resource center, curated by the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School, for public sector practitioners to highlight cases, teaching, policy solutions, and other examples of how governments are responding to the outbreak

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Harvard Ash Center

Research center and think tank at Harvard Kennedy School. Here to talk about democracy, government innovation, and Asia public policy.

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