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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Weisberg on Voters

Monday, February 8, 2010

Weisberg on Voters

In "Cruseturner on Democrats and Republicans," I blamed voters for electing officials who promised benefits through government programs that cannot realistically be filled as unsustainable levels of deficits and debt mount.  Jacob Weisberg writing for Slate ("Down With the People") who appears to politically left of center agrees with my hypothesis that voters want the impossible, lots of unfunded government programs, but offers an explanation for the seemingly irrational behavior: voters are ambivalent toward government.  I have no ambivalence, I want a small government sector, but he may be right. 
At the root of this kind of self-contradiction is our historical, nationally characterological ambivalence about government. We want Washington and the states to fix all of our problems now. At the same time, we want government to shrink, spend less, and reduce our taxes. We dislike government in the abstract: According to CNN, 67 percent of people favor balancing the budget even when the country is in a recession or a war, which is madness. But we love government in the particular: Even larger majorities oppose the kind of spending cuts that would reduce projected deficits, let alone eliminate them. Nearly half the public wants to cancel the Obama stimulus, and a strong majority doesn't want another round of it. But 80-plus percent of people want to extend unemployment benefits and to spend more money on roads and bridges. There's another term for that stuff: more stimulus spending...
...Increasingly, the crucial distinction is between the minority of serious politicians in either party who are prepared to speak directly about our choices, on the one hand, and the majority who indulge the public's delusions, on the other. I would put President Obama and his economic team in the first group, along with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Republicans are more indulgent of the public's unrealism in general, but Democrats have spent years fostering their own forms of denial. Where Republicans encourage popular myths about taxes, spending, and climate change, Democrats tend to stoke our fantasies about the sustainability of entitlement spending as well as about the cost of new programs.

Our inability to address long-term challenges makes a strong case that the United States now faces an era of historical decline. Our reluctance to recognize economic choices also portends negative effects for the rest of the world. To change this story line, we need to stop blaming the rascals we elect to office and start looking to ourselves.


  1. Patricia Gager17/2/10 1:39 PM

    I found this blog of great interest. I too have no ambivalence when it comes to government...there is currently way too much government and continues to expand each day. Contrary to the blog, there are many taxpayers, like myself, that have no conflicting feelings when it comes to government spending and how they attempt to fix our problems. Somehow CNN passed some of us up when they inquired what was thought about balancing the budget. I have no problem with the government implementing spending cuts to reduce the deficits. The problem that makes many people frustrated is the items Washington decides gets cut. Why does Washington continue to implement pork into bills that are unnecessary and hidden to the average taxpayer? Also, Washington needs to set an example to the people that elected them by reducing their unnessary spending costs during their daily activities. There are many ways to reduce the budget, but Washington refuses to sacrifice their high dollar expenses. Furthermore, not all Americans want the government to "fix all the problems now." For example, why does Obama insist in completely overhauling healthcare? Why can't the areas that need the most attention be reviewed and revised? Besides, many people have no problem with their healthcare. Instead it's the government run healthcare such as Medicaid and Medicare that continue to have financial problems that don't seem to get resolved. In my opinion, the hard working folks at the bottom of the food chain are doing what they are told, so now it's time the elected officials set the examples they preach about doing when running for office.

  2. Heidi Carroll21/2/10 5:11 PM

    I definitely believe in laissez faire. It usually is the government run operations that have the most trouble and in turn, the government then focuses on its own problems, when if they wouldn't have been stupid in the first place, they wouldn't have to waste their time. The government shouldn't decide what we should spend our money on or how much money we should spend. Our lives. Our decisions