The Politics of Distrust


I define myself as a fiscal conservative with a social conscience, because I want to address budget deficits and income inequality at the same time.  There is so much divisiveness in politics these days that liberals accuse me of favoring austerity while, at the same time, conservatives accuse me of being soft on welfare.
The author Jay Cost has an article, “The Politics of Distrust” on this topic in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.  He says that the principal cause of this distrust is “the stubborn torpor of the American economy.”
Capture0According to Mr. Cost:

  • For roughly half a century after WWII economic growth averaged 3.6% a year.
  • Over the past 14 years, real growth has averaged only 1.7%.
  • Persistently weak economic growth has contributed to our sour civic mood in three important ways:
  1. It has prompted voters to turn against the incumbent party time and again.
  2. Underwhelming growth has heightened anxieties about economic anxiety – liberals blame the unfairness of market-based capitalism and conservatives blame the corrupting hand of government – in taxation, regulation and monetary policy.
  3. Finally, weak economic growth has damaged the credibility of the experts – the experts failed to foresee the slowdown of the early 2000s, failed to anticipate the housing bubble, failed to predict that economic growth would remain weak after it burst, and failed to implement policies to return it to our postwar norm.
  • These trends amount to a comprehensive assault on the political equilibrium of the past half century. During the postwar era public policy could evolve because broad agreement existed. Now the consensus has vanished and we are left with gridlock, indecision and drift.
  • The tonic to this stalemate is as obvious as it is elusive: economic growth that approximates the levels of the late 20th century.

Perhaps surprisingly there is a fair amount of agreement between liberals and conservatives on how to speed up economic growth. This will be the subject of my next post.

4 thoughts on “The Politics of Distrust

  1. Jack,
    Yes, I find your conscience not so different from mine. But here are some differences. I don’t have the faith that you do in the capitalistic system. I struggle with the power the corporation and the government have over the individual citizen/worker. I see too much power in several American institutions, whether it be the media, the blend of education and capitalism on a college level and the general concentrated thought on the so-called ‘objective and free’ market whether it be in ideas or things that are sold. Humans are by nature not rational animals, which is why we have such ugliness as racism and other forms of domination. Self-interest and irrational thought too often predominate in all societies. They are even worse when found in imperialistic countries, such as the U.S.

    But yes, we need to continue the dialogue in order to clarify our differences. In my mind, it is ideas not profits that should prevail in a just society.


    • I agree that free-market capitalism is imperfect, but compared to what? Although human civilization has existed for about 10,000 years, think how far we’ve come just since our country was founded 225 years ago. Whenever I’m feeling down in the dumps, I remind myself that at least we have indoor plumbing which only became widespread about 125 years ago. Progress only comes slowly and with great effort from many individuals and with many setbacks along the way. I think that America is moving forward slowly but surely. I don’t see us as imperialistic but rather as willing to provide leadership to make the world a better place.

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