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Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Decline in Legitimacy of the Federal Government

Simon Johnson is less than optimistic about the long run prospects for "the current governmental arrangement known as the United States of America":

The Long March of the American Right, by Simon Johnson, Commentary, NY Times: With a last-minute agreement on lifting the debt ceiling, the immediate threat of legal and financial disaster from a default on United States government obligations has been averted. But the last week has provided additional insight into how and why the current governmental arrangement known as the United States of America will end.
The mainstream narrative is that the problem is “dysfunctional government” or “paralysis in Washington.” That’s true, up to a point, but the real problem is the steady decline in legitimacy of the federal government – and the way this is related to what has happened on the right of the political spectrum. ...
In the 1940s, many people believed ... in the ability of the federal government to both organize activities at home and to have a positive impact around the world. This was, perhaps, the most lasting effect of the Great Depression..., on the whole, government was perceived as stepping in to help.
This positive view of an expanded federal government never sat well with people on the right, but the organized pushback was limited through the 1950s. It was only with the turmoil of the Vietnam War and other social pressures in the 1960s that the conservatives got their chance – starting with political direct mailing (American Target Advertising was founded in 1965), the rise of talk radio (particularly from the 1980s), and early anti-tax campaigns (including Proposition 13, which cut property taxes sharply in California in 1978). ...
The ... decline in legitimacy of the United States government is real and lasting... Reinforcing and accelerating this trend is perhaps the greatest damage caused by the financial crisis of 2007-8...
Sooner or later, the American public may elect a group of politicians determined to end the belief that the federal government can be trusted. Their initial steps in that direction will strengthen their showing in opinion polls – and they will be encouraged to go further. At that time, the United States will default on its debts and the world’s financial and fiscal systems will be plunged into chaos.

    Posted by on Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 10:51 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (64)


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