Robert Reich tells us two things in one of his recent commentaries on the state of the nation. Two things which together could make us conclude that Robert Reich is responsible for the decline in trust in government over the past century:
Why the Common Good Disappeared (And How We Get it Back)
In 1963 over 70 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing all or most of the time; nowadays only 16 percent do.
I started my career a half-century ago in the Senate office of Robert F. Kennedy, when the common good was well understood, and I’ve watched it unravel over the last half-century.
Resurrecting it may take another half century, or more. But as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once said, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.“
From which we could and should conclude that Robert Reich’s entry into politics was correlated with the beginning of that decline, it’s been continuing all through the period of his political activity and he himself insists that trust in government will increase as he exits the process. He’s caused it all in short.
Fair and reasonable though that may be as an idea it is also cheap and not quite right. No one truly does believe that Reich’s influence has been quite that malevolent. Not quite.
But it is entirely possible for us to very slightly recast this argument to make it correct. For the 1960s are the end of small government and the beginning of large. Once we excise the amount spent on defence, something that was a rather large portion of the economy during WWII and still in Korea, that’s when government expansion really started. And the Federal government didn’t really have much to do with, other than those defence issues and the post office, anyone’s daily lives until roughly that sorta start date.
So Reich’s real contention, the one we can indeed observe to be true, is that Americans’ trust in government has declined as Americans have had more government. Hey, works for us. We can also prescribe the cure. Government should retreat to doing only those things which both must be done and can only be done by government and trust will increase. For we would all trust something which only did those things which it could do well, which would be done worse by other methods, more than something bloated and over extended into gross and abject inefficiency, wouldn’t we?
Note that it’s not true that there’s a decline in trust and or community in more general terms. As Reich points out:
The question is whether we can restore the common good. Can the system be made to work for the good of all?
Some of you may feel such a quest to be hopeless. The era we are living in offers too many illustrations of greed, narcissism, and hatefulness. But I don’t believe it hopeless.
Almost every day I witness or hear of the compassion of ordinary Americans – like the thousands who helped people displaced by the wildfires in California and floods in Louisiana; like the two men in Seattle who gave their lives trying to protect a young Muslim woman from a hate-filled assault; like the coach who lost his life in Parkland, Florida, trying to shield students from a gunman; like the teenagers who are demanding that Florida legislators take action on guns.
The challenge is to turn all this into a new public spiritedness extending to the highest reaches in the land – a public morality that strengthens our democracy, makes our economy work for everyone, and revives trust in the major institutions of America.
The basics exist as strongly as they ever did. It’s the trust in government that has gone, not the trust in humanity, neighbourliness, community or friendship. It’s not, despite the above goading, all that difficult to believe that the reason for this is the quantity and quality of government Americans have been getting these past five decades, is it? Have less of it and better and perhaps it will return?
That is, the cure for the decline in trust in the Federal Government is minarchy. On the grounds that what the Federal Government currently does pisses off a large number of people, it does less and equanimity will return.