The end of big government ... but an epochal opportunity for local government?

Author:Kavanagh, Shayne
Position:Book review

The End of Big

Nicco Mele

St. Martin's Press

2013, 321 pages

In The End of Big, Nicco Mele explores the impact of what he calls the "radical connectivity" created by mobile technology and social networking. He points out that these technologies empower the individual to the detriment of big institutions, perhaps even leading to their demise (hence the title of the book). The End of Big starts with a brief history of modern information and communications technology because Mele believes that the creators of these technologies subscribed to belief systems of radical individualism, which then influenced the design of the technologies.


Mele explores some of the implications of these design choices. For example, new online groups can be created anywhere, at any time, for any purpose. Furthermore, the power of a social network grows exponentially as more nodes join the network, and modern technology has reduced the cost adding more nodes to, effectively, zero. To illustrate, consider the "phone tree," which was a means of networking before the advent of modern communication technologies. Compare the time and energy needed to make that network operational, compared to what it would take for similar number of people to communicate via e-mail. One of the most insidious effects of how easy it is to form groups is that people can more easily opt into homogenous groups, thereby strengthening the sense of identity and connection within these groups and weakening the sense of identification with other social entities (e.g., fellow citizens of the political jurisdiction).

Mele then goes on to explore the implication of these phenomena for a variety of political, entertainment-based, higher education, and corporate institutions. Perhaps of greatest interest to Government Finance Review readers is the implication for democratic governance and local government.


Just like all of the other "big" institutions covered in Mele's book, traditional government is being upended by radical connectivity. New political groups organize and make their views known through the policymaking process, public officials are inundated with citizen input over social media, and, in some cases, citizens may even take direction action (e.g., violent protest, private service organizations). Direct action might be the most worrisome of these forces because, in some cases, it has the potential to directly threaten the legitimacy of...

To continue reading