It has long been recognized that government and public sector services suffer an innovation deficit compared to private or market-based services. This paper argues that this can be explained as an unintended consequence of the concerted public sector drive toward the elimination of waste through efficiency, accountability and transparency. Yet in an evolving economy this can be a false efficiency, as it also eliminates the ‘good waste’ that is a necessary cost of experimentation. This results in a systematic trade-off in the public sector between the static efficiency of minimizing the misuse of public resources and the dynamic efficiency of experimentation. This is inherently biased against risk and uncertainty and, therein, explains why governments find service innovation so difficult. In the drive to eliminate static inefficiencies, many political systems have subsequently overshot and stifled policy innovation. I propose, instead, the ‘Red Queen’ solution of adaptive economic policy.