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Recalling that they weren't led by a single president of note between Lincoln's death in 1865 and the advent of Teddy Roosevelt in 1901, and yet became the world's largest economy, Americans are appreciating that political leaders aren't essential to national success. Individuals and corporations in particular are providing public goods and services to an extent that they rarely did in the past, and are doing it far more efficiently than the government does.

Increasingly, all that Americans are asking of their sclerotic civil service is that it simply gets out of their way; indeed, if you want to see "the Big Society" working in practice, forget Scandinavia and look towards "the land of the Free".

The Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy, the main research institute that tracks corporate giving trends, reports from its database of 184 companies (63 of which are in the Fortune 100) that corporate giving overall has increased by 53 per cent since 2007, i.e. since before the economic crisis. Instead of cutting back on their generosity and involvement in the hard times, individuals and corporations are actually giving more. The sum of contributions across all respondents totalled more than $15.5 billion in cash and products. The biggest increases were unsurprisingly to be found among those companies that work in the healthcare sector which, because of the dislocations inherent in Obamacare, are giving away more medicines to Americans than ever before.

In America's vast educational-industrial complex, private money is making a huge impact, with philanthropists acting far more proactively than in the past. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, noting that the average graduation rate in US high schools is only 57 per cent among black and Hispanic students, has poured money into consultancies, research institutes, testing groups and for-profit school networks to try to improve the system. The foundation virtually invented the concept of  "common core standards" in English and maths.

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