The New American Majority: People Who Dislike/Distrust Goverment as Insurance Agent

Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds points to the trend of more and more Americans disliking and distrusting the federal government. From his latest USA Today column:

Americans are out of sorts, and increasingly they're unhappy with the government. According to a Pew poll released last week, more than half of Americans view government as a threat to their freedom....

Add this to another recent poll in which only 22% of likely voters feel America's government has the "consent of the governed," and you've got a pretty depressing picture -- and a recipe for potential trouble.

What's driving the disaffection with government? Reynolds notes that as government gets bigger, more people are willing to do whatever it takes "to seize the prize" of increased power, wealth, and domination (he likes to use a Hunger Games metaphor to describe the way in which riches are flowing from the provinces into the Capital District).

That's true and it's no way to win the hearts or minds of citizens. A few weeks back, New York Times blogger Nate Silver suggested a related reason for growing disaffection: The government has morphed over the past 40 or so years from providing basic infrastructure and services to being the nation's insurance agent. That is, the portion that the feds spend on health care, welfare, and retirement pensions has steadily - and seriously - increased as a percentage of overall government spending and as a percentage of GDP.

Looking at the increase in relative and absolute spending on social insurance and the long-term declines in trust of government, Silver writes:

The declining level of trust in government since the 1970s is a fairly close mirror for the growth in spending on social insurance as a share of the gross domestic product and of overall government expenditures. We may have gone from conceiving of government as an entity that builds roads, dams and airports, provides shared services like schooling, policing and national parks, and wages wars, into the world’s largest insurance broker.

Most of us don’t much care for our insurance broker.

Glenn Reynolds notes that after the 2004 elections, liberals and Democrats started talking about taking the country back, which is similar to conservative and Republican complaints post-2012. He even suggests that if current trends persist, we might even hear calls for a Constitutional convention. I doubt that but I do hope that as support softens for the government (and as a majority continues to believe that government is doing too much), we'll see some real changes over the coming years.

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  • sarcasmic||

    Don't worry. Before long the only item in the federal budget will be interest on the debt.

  • Chloe||

    If they can pass a budget

  • some guy||

    There are other ways of getting money than borrowing it...

  • The Late P Brooks||

    It's almost as if people might be beginning to see a difference between what has been promised, and what has actually been delivered.

  • RG||

    I'd like to be hopeful, but as previous polls showed, Americans are pretty clueless regarding the budget and what government actually spends on. I doubt that many people are against the free stuff mentality.

  • Drake||

    Most people have no idea what a "Trillion" actually means. Something more than a million and less than a bazillion.

    They also don't understand the difference between the debt and the deficit. So a news report about a $1.5 trillion deficit and $16 trillion debt just breezes past their ears without gaining any traction.

  • kinnath||

    A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking about real money.

  • some guy||

    That's why it is so useful to compare the federal budget to a household budget, something that (most) people actually understand. And that's why so many Statists, particularly on the left vehemently reject this comparison.

  • Brandybuck||

    To be fair, there is a difference between a family budget and a government budget. A family usually can't print its own money and doesn't control any banks.

    But the principle of the comparison is sound. You can't spend more than you bring in. You can still borrow, but you need to have sufficient revenue to pay it back.

  • some guy||

    Another key difference is that parents can't force their children to pay off the parents' personal debt.

    All of the differences boil down to evil things that the government is exclusively allowed to do.

  • rts||

    Most people have no idea what a "Trillion" actually means. Something more than a million and less than a bazillion.

    There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.

    - Richard Feynman

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    That's true and it's no way to win the hearts or minds of citizens.

    The only way is to employ a fawning fourt estate to cover and sugarcoat, to distract and evade. It also helps that the opposition party is now talking about changing its "anti-government" rhetoric from government bad to government good.

    Yet people sometimes actually see that government safety nets are safety hammocks for so many, and expensive ones at that.

  • Not a Libertarian||

    Why the upsurge in faith in the federal government that began to occur in 1994? It would seem that the post-911 surge was a continuation of a trend (or its apotheosis) rather than some exogenous event.

  • sarcasmic||

    Maybe people have more faith in the government when the economy doesn't suck?

  • some guy||

    That has to be it. People still think government has the ability to make the economy boom, when really it only has to ability to make the economy bust.

  • Virginian||

    Leftwingers always believe in government. 1994 gave rightwingers a chance to believe in it too.

  • sarcasmic||

    Leftwingers do not understand the distinction between society and government. Thus they feel that if you don't believe in government, you do not believe in society.

  • JD the elder||

    That's kind of my take on it. If the percentage of people trusting the government can go from 17% to 60% in only about seven years, we're probably measuring something other than deeply held philosophical beliefs, probably something more like, "Does the guy in the White House have a nice smile".

  • SugarFree||

    Why the upsurge in faith in the federal government that began to occur in 1994?

    The left began to finally understand that they were going to get the control they always wanted. Between Reagan and Bush I, the Boomers were middle-aged by the time "one of their people" came to power in the form of Clinton.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Nick, charts need alt-text love too!

  • some guy||

    The government has morphed over the past 40 or so years from providing basic infrastructure and services to being the nation's insurance agent. That is, the portion that the feds spend on health care, welfare, and retirement pensions has steadily - and seriously - increased as a percentage of overall government spending and as a percentage of GDP.

    Not to mention "insuring" our individuals and financial institutions against their own stupidity and malfeasance.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Maybe as the government continues to take on more and more responsibilities, people become frustrated that it isn't meeting their increasing expectations. Maybe the more things people expect the government to do, the more frustrated they become with the government for failing to do them.

    40 years ago, for instance, very few people expected the government to do something substantial about global warming. The government's failure to solve the problem of global warming is now a significant source of frustration for a lot of people. And that's just one example!

    If ObamaCare continues on its present course, people will become frustrated with the government's failure to provide us all with cheap quality healthcare, too. We've been manufacturing new unmeetable expectations for quite some time--eventually, somethin's gotta give.

  • some guy||

    This is one way in which that chart can be misleading. It doesn't break down the individual reason for the answer. Surely some of those people are unhappy because they think the government should be doing more in the economy or foreign policy, etc.

  • RG||

    Just read the question. How many people are blaming the obstructionist Republicans for not doing the right thing and passing the benevolent one's agenda?

  • Ken Shultz||

    You're absolutely right.

    There's an old management rule that really has stood the test of time: "under-promise and over-deliver".

    You want to exceed people's expectations. Don't tell your boss you can do it in the least amount of time possible; if you tell him you can have it done in two days, and it takes you three--then he thinks you're a failure.

    But if you tell him you can have it done in five days and it takes you three, then you've exceeded his expectations!

    It works that way with customers--everywhere. Exceeding people's expectations is what makes them satisfied, and not exceeding people's expectations is what makes them hate you and sue.

    That's what most cons are about--inflating people's expectations.

    Here's a story today from Ars Technica about the MSM inflating people's expectations--telling us that, pretty soon, the government's gonna give every American free Wi-Fi.

    It's bogus! There's no way the government's gonna be able to do that! So, now there's another instance where people's expectations of government will never be satisfied--adding to the dissatisfied-with-government bottom line.

  • robc||

    See the Coase interview with Reason from the late 90s and his research into effective government regulations.

    He is sure they exist, but not anymore. Once the government is past a certain size, in his theory, its impossible for them to do anything right anymore.

  • Ken Shultz||

    That's makes a lot of sense.

    There are reasons why corporations spin companies off or sell divisions off when they get too big or distracted.

    The government's kinda like a corporation that never ever spun off a business when it should have.

  • wareagle||

    is govt taking responsibilities or are people ceding them? Folks love to bitch about change but, in reality, it scares the hell out of them, and too many think change applies to everyone but them.

    The U-6 number is ridiculous, food stamp participation is almost double what it was a decade ago, and disability is the new unemployment. The tipping point has been reached, and only America's sheer size and ability to print money prevent a Greece-like occurrence from happening sooner.

  • TallDave||

    We need NGDPLT to get out of the economic mess -- it's a monetary problem, which is why fiscal solutions have failed.

    Read Scott Sumner on this. His model is the only one that explains why we have low nominal interest rates, low growth, and low inflation all at the same time, while profitable companies are seeing huge piles of cash as a better investment than expansion. If we just target 5% NGDP growth things will start to get unstuck.

  • ||

    What's driving the disaffection with government?

    It's the Economy, stupid. I'd love to buy into Glenn's argument, but I'm skeptical. When there's a national security emergency or when everyone is employed, the Government is awesome no matter how big it is. But when there's a peacetime recession, fuck 'em.

  • Lord Humungus||

    but yet Obama, a big government lover, was easily re-elected. Obviously BG, no matter how "unpopular" is still not a deal breaker. Yeah, Romney is certainly no small-g Libertarian, but he was certainly cast as one.

  • robc||

    Has The Lockhorns ever been funny? Even once?

  • sarcasmic||

    I googled "funny lockhorns", and no. Never been funny.

  • SIV||

    Not just anyone can be an Ernie Bushmiller or a Bill Keene.

  • FucktheNannyState||

    Hysterically anti-everything, I mean, Libertarian? check out my friend's political distro. cheers,

  • Tim||

    You see Clinton, after a rocky start steadily build up trust and it climaxes around 9/11 under Bush, who then clubs trust in the head and leaves it for dead at the roadside. Later Obama comes along and buries it in a shallow grave.

  • TallDave||

    There won't be a constitutional convention for the same reason there won't be any more Amendments -- we don't have rule of law anymore. It's been replaced by the emanations and penumbras of partisan judges. That's the progressive legacy.

    Like something? It just became a "right!" Don't like something? Not a right anymore! The Constitution is a living document that says whatever we want it to!


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