There's a connection between the Secret Service's Colombian hooker scandal and Americans' increased worry about Ebola. Both have to do with trust.
Until recently, if you'd asked Americans to pick government institutions characterized by efficiency and professionalism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Secret Service would likely have been at the top of the list. In both cases, recent evidence now suggests otherwise. And that's especially destructive because both agencies depend on trust to do their jobs.
The head of the Secret Service recently stepped down in the wake of several semi-near-misses involving the president's safety. In the "Colombian hooker scandal," which involved agents and other White House-connected folks carousing ahead of Barack Obama's arrival in that country, Reynolds points out the investigation was delayed and torqued out of political considerations. In particular, a politically connected member of the White House advance team was not reprimanded while others were canned for the same behavior.
The CDC's spate of problems with handling other dangerous pathogens like anthrax, smallpox and deadly influenza samples doesn't inspire much confidence either.
As George Will observed, on Ebola, Americans want to trust the government, but can't. And as MSNBC's Chuck Todd observed, the problem stems not just from the CDC, but from the administration as a whole: "I think one of your challenges though is a trust deficit that has been created over the last 18 months."
In support of this statement, Todd listed a litany of government defaults: The IRS scandal with its mysteriously crashed hard drives and erased emails, Veterans Affairs' lies about wait times, the Secret Service's failures, and more. And he's right. After so many lies and failures, we'd be fools to trust them.
As J.D. Tuccille noted here yesterday, generals levels of trust in the government are at or near recorded lows. The Reason-Rupe Poll found that "70 percent of people think public officials abuse their power to help their friends and hurt their enemies."
I've written elsewhere about the troubling relationship between levels of trust in government and calls for more government regulation. According to a 2010 paper comparing levels of trust in government around the world, Philippe Aghion, Yann Algan, Pierre Cahuc, and Andrei Shleifer found "one of the central puzzles in research on political beliefs: Why do people in countries with bad governments want more government intervention?"
You got that? It turns out that the less people trust their governments to do the right thing or be competent, the more people call for the government to regulate every aspect of their lives.
Especially from a libertarian perspective, such findings are deeply troubling. As government incompetency and failure becomes more self-evident, it doesn't mean that people want less from government. They want more from government, ostensibly to protect themselves. And when you combine that impulse with the heavily discounted price of government—between 2009 and 2013, taxes covered just 66 percent of every dollar spent by the feds—perhaps it's no surprise the size, scope, and spending of government keeps growing as trust or confidence in government declines.
If the work by Aghion, et al., is accurate, one possible way forward is to actually focus on government functions and programs that actually work decently or tolerably well (add your suggestions in the comments).
Use those areas as models for re-establishing trust in government and from there make the argument that government with clear, limited missions and functions will inspire the sort of trust that allows people to start envisioning a world in which they don't need ever-bigger government to protect themselves from slightly-less-bigger government's actions.