Prosperity

27 Percent Say Government Investments Made America Great

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Alan Greenspan recounts in Age of Turbulence that after the Berlin Wall fell, former Soviet leaders and economists queried Western leaders and economists about the drivers of prosperity. Greenspan admits there was little consensus from which to derive advice.

Nevertheless, American political leaders have a myriad of varied historical narratives explaining what led the United States to prosperity.

Mitt Romney argues the "nation was founded on the principle of being a merit society, where education, hard work, risk taking, have lifted the individual, and they have helped lift …the entire nation."

Ron Paul contends individual liberty is what made the country prosperous: I believe our country has been the greatest and most prosperous because we had a better understanding about liberty than any other country."

Rick Santorum agrees that liberty is necessary but believes that it "is only possible if we have strong families and strong marriage." He argues, "what transformed the world in this United States of America was a belief in the family."

President Obama asserts "government investments …have made this country great." Similarly Vice President Joe Biden suggests that "every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century, and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive."

Obama suggests that economic equality is also a necessary precondition, "What drags down our entire economy is the growing gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else".

Professor Elizabeth Warren vociferates the social contract drives prosperity, "there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own…you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of use paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate…part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that [profit] and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

Several of these narratives place government at the helm of American success, others place what remains outside of the government domain as the main driver of prosperity. Despite extensive public opinion polling, it remains unclear what the public thinks is responsible for American affluence.

A recent national Rasmussen poll finds that only 27 percent of likely voters think government investments made America great, and 42 percent disagree, yet 32 percent are unsure. Instead 69 percent agree the free enterprise system made America great. Moreover, 50 percent say the society would become less fair if the government got more involved in regulating the economy. Perhaps this is a result of the perception that government contracts tend to be granted based on political connections (66 percent) but private sector negotiations favor those who provide the best service for the best price (51 percent).

Another Rasmussen poll finds that only 18 percent of Americans agree "every great idea in American history required government vision and government incentive." Instead 64 percent disagree government was essential. Moreover, 60 percent agree with the statement "government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem."

Emily Ekins is the director of polling for Reason Foundation where she leads the Reason-Rupe public opinion research project, launched in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @emilyekins.

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  1. I think it’s America’s (once) great love of rugged individualism, as portrayed by the mythos of the Old West.

    Or perhaps it’s whiskey… yeah, whiskey.

  2. President Job Biden

    There’s a Job who would actually deserve his punishment.

    1. I anticipate he’d make frequent use of another G.O.B.’s favorite phrase:

      “I’ve made a huge mistake.”

  3. what transformed the world in this United States of America was a belief in the family

    Yep, that’s right, a new invention we call “family” was invented right here in the good ‘ol USA, and more than anything else that invention has made us great. Sure, sure, you’ll have your occasional pervert uncles and your deadbeat brothers-in-law, but for the most part, people screwing and having babies and living in the same house is what made this the great country it is. Why, if the muslims ever figure out that how to love their mothers, they’ll be great too!

    1. What a dangerous idiot Santorum is.

      Worse even than Romney.

      Perhaps not a bad as Gingrich, but really, why try to choose.

    2. Even beyond that idiocy, what the hell does that sentence even mean?

      what transformed the world in this United States of America was

      I don’t think there’s anything that could follow that and make sense.

      1. “What transformed the world in this United States of America was my father’s overpowering musk.”

  4. 27% is a terrifyingly high number.

    1. add in the 32% who are unsure, and you have a majority of poll respondents who think government may or does drive prosperity

    2. I would have guessed it to be more in the 40-45 range. So I’m happy it’s only 27. 20 per cent believe that aliens are the reason their social security lock box isn’t there any more, so you can’t sweat the first 20 on any survey.

      1. and also screw the spam filter for apparently freaking out over to many percent signs.

  5. Professor Elizabeth Warren vociferates the social contract drives prosperity:

    there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own … you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of use paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate … part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that [profit] and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

    So, because the government stole money from people, and bought off votes by building crappy roads and crappy government indoctrination camps (aka public schools) that displaced cheaper and better private alternatives, we are obligated to repay this “largesse” by allowing even more theft so we can get even more crappy public services?

    She manages to make Scott Brown look good by comparison, which ain’t easy.

    1. fucking comments screen interprets quotes marks as making everything inside it as a single word subject to the 50 character word limit

      1. Apparently only those dog-forsaken smart quotes. Folks have been saying getting rid of those and using good ol’ ‘Merikun-made plain text quotes will do the trick.

    2. When do you suppose the free market would have gotten around to building an efficient national infrastructure and providing universal education? If government does everything so much crappier, why is it always first?

      1. Uh, are you really that dumb, or is just the part you play on H&R? It was the 1950’s before we had a national system of highways and that was built because of the red scare, not for the convenience of business and consumers. There were many private toll roads in this country even before the revolution, but they had to compete with ‘free’ government roads. As for universal free education – yeah, that’s working out real good for us, isn’t it? Because there were no schools in America except for the wealthy until the public school movement of the 1830’s. That’s why this country had a higher literacy rate than most European countries even before the revolution.
        I KNOW, I’m feeding the troll. Bad Bean Counter…back to your adding machine!

      2. “efficient national infrastructure”

        Do you know a damn thing about the history of internal improvements? No, you apparently don’t. Government was not first with investing in roads, or railroads, or aviation. It sure as hell did create many bubbles and bankrupt projects in those things.

        1. Private infrastructure has significant problems. Mainly transaction costs, although there are natural monopoly issues as well. Let’s assume every road is a private road. The cost of collecting payment from every user of the road exceeds the profit after building and maintaining the road. That’s why private infrastructure tends only to be built in places where those transaction costs are lowest– places with limited entry and exit points, like bridges, or highways with few or no exits between cities. Think about having a toll booth at every exit on an urban freeway. That’s really going to be more efficient? And clearly this could never work for rural and urban roads, both because of massive transaction costs and because of the impossiblity of competition. Unless each home, factory and farm has two separate roads leading to it, they’ll get charged tolls at a monopoly rate– not efficient.

          1. The idea of private roads is not necessarily exclusive toll roads. Before automobiles (and bicyclists, who were actually first to demand road improvements), there were toll turnpike roads. But the common rural road or town street was dirt or minimally paved, maintained by adjacent property owners and other users, and open to everyone to use. Under common property law, the street in front of your property is generally considered a public right of way easement that exists on your property. There is even a rarely used legal process to vacate the public right of way easement, and when that happens, full control of the land reverts to the adjacent property owner.

            The point is that the average street can be a publicly accessible thoroughfare on adjacent private property, as they have always been, but the users are not entitled to have it maintained in any particular fashion other than it remaining open for use. Property owners have natural incentive to maintain convenient access to their own property, especially commercial businesses. If streets decayed back in to dirt, that would be fine with me too.

            Limited access highways are not considered public right of way like typical roads or streets are. Roads with limited entry points- like interstates- are easy to privatize as toll roads. Existing toll roads have tolls at strategic points, not always every ramp.

    3. Well, if he moved his goods to market on highways, his trucks paid fuel tax, which is what the gov’t uses to pay for highways (in addition to unending debt). Since huge trucks loaded with goods get bad gas mileage, he probably paid more than he would have on private roads without the fuel tax.
      Also, some minimum age single mom of 3 bastards collecting 7K or so of EIC and child tax credit gets her clothing, food, etc delivered on these highways, reducing her cost of purchasing them.Should she have an extra consumption tax to make it “fair”?

  6. “every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century, and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive.”

    Genocide. Mass slave armies. Gulags. Indiscrimnate targeting of civilians during wartime. Starvation of undesirables. Expropriation. Kleptocracy.

    Yep. Gotta hand it to Joe.

    1. Hey, those were great ideas. As in “greatly evil”. So Joe is still technically correct, which is the best kind of correct.

    2. But…but…GREED…HOARDING…PROFITZ…BACKS OF TEH POOR!

  7. “…only 27 percent of likely voters think government investments made America great…”

    Translation: Vast majority of Americans think President Obama is completely full of shit.

  8. Of course, as in all things, it’s not black and white, and both capitalism and strong government action helped make this country great.

    But you can’t have working capitalism without a strong government, and a list of single actions taken that made the US “great” would include a strong showing of direct, big government initiatives. That includes a lot of warfare, yes, but also a lot of postwar building. The US government even found the resources to turn decimated Europe and Japan into pinnacles of peaceful modern civilization.

    The transition from agrarian to modern society required evolving a new understanding of the role of government in the economy. Very simplified, capitalism helped to innovate longer more prosperous lives, and government helped to ensure access. Government had no small role in innovation either, providing the funding for much of the basic research that contributed to many major advances.

    1. Translation: No one would know what to do unless we told them.

      1. Your idea of a free society differs from feudalism only by the inclusion of some hand waving and empty promises.

        Government is merely the pooling of resources. Useful for certain purposes. I don’t see why people are inherently incapable of innovating in that realm, or why they should be restricted from doing so.

        1. Government is force. Nothing more. It is useful for things like preserving the right to private property and enforcing contracts, but not much else where the economy is concerned.

          When it is used to pool resources it ceases to protect the right to private property.

          How can government protect private property while also giving some a claim to the property of others?

          It can’t.

          The latter negates the former.

          Anyone who claims that it can is either stupid or lying.

          In your case I figure a bit of both.

          Go suck a fallacy.

          1. How does it accomplish police power without the pooling of resources taken as taxes?

            It can’t be the primary function you oppose, just certain applications of it. Good for you. Go sell it in the democratic marketplace of ideas. Don’t tell me I have to accept your policy preferences just because you or god says so.

            1. Providing a service is not the same as transferring wealth.

              I know you can’t wrap your head around that concept, but your inability to understand something does not make it any less true.

              1. Yeah it is. You’re transferring wealth from private parties to the public service. People see it prudent to pay commonly for police power. Some people see it prudent to pay commonly for education and healthcare. One is no different from the other in terms of purpose–providing for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Libertarians are just too dogmatic and narrow minded to admit any innovation in the concept of governance beyond the 18th century or so.

                1. And if you’re referring to a social safety net for the poor and infirm… it’s not freeloading if you realize that a) the poor and infirm have crappy lives because they are poor and infirm and b) you could be poor or infirm yourself one day, and it’s there for you too. It’s just like private insurance without the profit. You don’t have to like it–maybe you prefer a much riskier society–but it’s not an illegitimate use of collective resources. And if you want a much riskier society, you are welcome to try to sell it.

                2. And if you’re referring to a social safety net for the poor and infirm… it’s not freeloading if you realize that a) the poor and infirm have crappy lives because they are poor and infirm and b) you could be poor or infirm yourself one day, and it’s there for you too. It’s just like private insurance without the profit. You don’t have to like it–maybe you prefer a much riskier society–but it’s not an illegitimate use of collective resources. And if you want a much riskier society, you are welcome to try to sell it.

                  1. Tony, there is a logical contradiction in that government cannot protect private property while also giving some a claim to the property of others.
                    You can dress it up in all the emotive language you want, but you can’t resolve the contradiction.

                    Unless you don’t believe in private property.

                    1. Then private property is itself a contradiction, since it requires taxation to pay for police power and such. You’re really hung up on this. Taxes are not the theft of private property. They are taxes. At worst a necessary evil, since without them there would be no such thing as private property or any other basic aspect of civilization. You’re defining the crime of theft as if you get to unilaterally decide what it means, when in reality government itself decides what it means.

                    2. So you don’t believe in private property.

                      Please give me your address so I can relieve you of your possessions.

                    3. Just just described private property as a basic aspect of civilization.

                      It’s by no means the only one, or even the most important one.

                3. Libertarians are just too dogmatic and narrow minded to admit any innovation in the concept of governance beyond the 18th century or so.

                  There has been no innovation.

                  Government has always been used to give people the illusion that they can live at the expense of everyone else.

                  The innovation was in the 18th century. This thing called The Enlightenment. Look it up.

                  Unfortunately those lessons are now lost.

                  1. The Enlightenment was a movement of intellectual elites to reform society, including state power. Its principles were the complete opposite of what you espouse: dogmatic adherence to a strict set of immutable laws. No Enlightenment thinker, including those who founded this country, would ever have said that government can only be one thing and never change–the idea is abhorrent to Enlightenment principles. As many millions of slave ancestors might attest to.

                    1. Now you’re flailing at straw men. -bye

  9. Your idea of a free society differs from feudalism only by the inclusion of some hand waving and empty promises freedom.

    1. I saw freedom written as “free-dumb” written over at Slate. I know it’s slate, but still.

    2. But what about rainbows and puppy dogs?

  10. I can find 27% of Americans that believe almost any stupid shit. That don’t make it so. IOW, a significant portion of Americans are stupid. Alternatively, a significant portion of people hold stupid beliefs because it costs them nothing to do so.

    People are dumb, we’re all doomed, bread and circuses, blah, blah, drink a beer, blah.

    1. About that percentage of the American population believes in astrology.

      1. I think more believe in astrology.

        I’d bet 30% believe in the Tooth Fairy.

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