The Manhattan Institute’s James Piereson has written a fascinating new book, ”Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order” in which he argues that the New Deal liberal consensus has broken down and will soon be replaced by a new model containing several specific features. The coming new model will be the result of a Fourth Revolution of comparable scope to the first three:
- A Democratic-expansionist regime from 1800 until 1860 which dissolved in the midst of the slavery and secession crisis.
- A Republican-capitalist regime from 1860-1930, which was brought down by the Great Depression.
- A Democratic-welfare regime from 1932 until the present, although with faltering support after 1980.
America’s third regime is in the process of fading out or collapsing for three reasons:
- Debt. The national debt of $18 trillion today, at about 100% of GDP, is comparable to the debt at the end of WWII. But once the war ended the government cut spending and stopped borrowing and the U.S. economy grew at 4% for the next 20 years. Nothing comparable to this major debt reduction is in sight today.
- Demography. Today there are about 160 million people in the U.S. workforce of whom 120 million have full time jobs. The workforce will grow by 1 million per year for the next ten years while the number of people turning 65 will grow at nearly twice that rate. The nation will soon reach a point where 150 million working people will be paying payroll taxes to support 80 million people on Social Security and Medicare. Political leaders are doing nothing to address this looming crisis.
- Slowing Economic Growth. The chart above shows how the U.S. economy has been slowing since the 1960’s. Since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, GDP has grown at only 2.2% and is likely (CBO) to continue growing indefinitely at this slow rate under current policies. The second chart shows the enormous difference between 2% growth and, for example, even 3% growth over time.
Why don’t Congress and the President deal with these problems now, before they reach the point of crisis? It’s because Congress has become increasingly polarized, with Democrats having moved leftward and Republicans moving rightward. Polarization is characteristic of regimes as they begin to tear themselves apart in conflicts which defy resolution within the existing structure of politics.
My approach on this blog is that these very severe problems can be solved by politicians working together in a cooperative way. Mr. Piereson makes a very persuasive case that this is not likely to happen and that it will take a huge new crisis, a revolution, to straighten things out.
I hate to say so but he may be right.