Wednesday, January 11, 2012

trust in government

Apparently only 10% of Americans trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the time.

David Brooks interprets this as widespread disillusionment with government and claims that this is why the label 'liberal' is broadly shunned. Karl Smith doesn't agree and provides an alternative interpretation, which rings mostly true, but doesn't address why Brooks is wrong, which is what I want to do.*

The conundrum is, why are many liberal concerns and programs are so well-loved, when they depend on big federal government, which isn't trusted?

Americans don't trust the current set of politicians in the federal government to do the right thing most of the time. But they think we just have to elect better people to make better decisions. They look to government as the only entity that has the power to enact the change they desire, and they love that this powerful tool exists. They love having a clear target to look to for help and to blame for problems. Rather than "of the people, by the people, and for the people", they see government as a parental authority who can step in when things are getting chaotic and make things right.

They just think the wrong people are running it.

I, obviously, think they just don't want to face the logical conclusion. Government attracts politicians rather than people who want to do the most good and are most competent at doing so, and then incentivizes those politicians in a plethora of profoundly distorted ways. Sometimes power accomplishes wonderful things, but mostly, it just corrupts. Electing different people won't change that. The only thing to do is to try hard to get the incentives right, be humble about the efficacy of government, be conservative about what we undertake using the tool of government, and try hard to find alternative solutions whenever possible.

*Yeah, you read that right, I definitely disagree on occasion with my favorite journalist...

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