Arnold Kling  

One-Party State Watch

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Steven Greenhut writes,


The United States had 2.3 state and local government employees per 100 citizens in 1946 and has 6.5 state and local government employees per 100 citizens now. In 1947, Hodges writes, 78 percent of the national income went to the private sector, 16 percent to the federal sector, and 6 percent to the state and local government sector. Now 54 percent of the economy is private, 28 percent goes to the feds, and 18 percent goes to state and local governments. The trend lines are ominous.

It has gotten to the point where one often hears that saving jobs requires supporting state and local governments. (Note that sometimes the solemn pronouncements that aid to states is a compelling public need are made by professors on the salary of state governments.)

A reader wrote to me to gloat over the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts, asking if I would update my "one-party state" watch. I will admit that the fortunes of the Democratic Party have taken a faster and larger drop than I would have expected. But the Scott Brown election is one short-term event. The Greenhut article explains what we are up against in terms of long-term trends.

Which is a greater threat to democracy: political activity of public-sector unions, or political activity of corporations? I would argue that it is the former, by a lot. However, it is regulation of the latter that is topmost on the agenda, to the point where some are suggesting amending the Constitution.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (12 to date)
Greg Ransom writes:

And think how many of those government jobs from 1947 were replaced by computers. I'd guess at least half.

psychonomer writes:

Yep, its a feedback loop. The more government we have the larger the bloc of voters to demand more government. Also, I assume many private companies supported by taxpayers are included in the "private" sector.

Something better change in the next couple decades or economic growth will fade away.

Ed Hanson writes:

The long term trend of government growth in the United States is in fact just a short term trend of a recurring fact of human existence. Over and over again a free people of turned their liberty over to others in exchange for perceived security.

Milton Friedman was a great voice from the economic community connecting economic autonomy with individual freedom. Of course, other contemporary economic voices made the same case, such as Hayek. But other loud and important economic figures paved the way for government largess, Keynes.

I hope but that voices of the dangers of large government are not forgotten, but how unknown is Ibn Khaldun (14th century), one of Reagan,s favorites to quote, who explained the rise and fall of empire by the bite of taxation.

Fenn writes:

Last year you brought up the subject of cutting workers' pay to save government jobs. The city of Tulsa actually put it to a vote of the city workers: a 5% pay cut vs. 70 layoffs. The vote was not close.

http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20100120_11_0_Aflurr479445

superdestroyer writes:

Look at the percentage of the public sector that is non-whites, look at the percentage of the private sector that is non-white, and then look at the non-white birthrate.

The coming one party state will be a fight between middle class whites and lower class non-whites over the size of the government. The future of the politics in the U.S. will be the few competitive elections in the districts that are not draw to ensure a certain demographic win.

Loof writes:

According to Arnold:
"Which is a greater threat to democracy: political activity of public-sector unions, or political activity of corporations? I would argue that it is the former, by a lot. However, it is regulation of the latter that is topmost on the agenda, to the point where some are suggesting amending the Constitution."

While wondering how much democracy is left to threaten with tweedle-dee’n’dumb party politics twiddling away, why “a lot”? The bias simply doesn’t make sense: when the size and power of corporations have grown phenomenally; while unions have shrunk significantly. It does make sense for a pundit starting with an objective in mind, a positive bias for private-sector corporations and a negative prejudice for public-sector unions. In that basketcase, union bashing would occur until their dying day.

ILo, the principle of incorporated bodies (unions, corporations, states, etc.) given legal personhood as individuals is the primary problem that undermines democracy.

Strategic75 writes:

This is a wonderful article because it highlights a shocking trend. Although the idea that the age of big government is over gets put out there like a mantra, it just isn't true. For exeaample, why did we have to create a Department of Homeland Defense? An alleged conservative thought this one up. I don't think we really needed one. We just needed focus, will, and a political climate that wasn't so short-sighted. What's historically peculiar about this debate is that the only president who eliminated all national debt, during any time in our nation's history, was the father of the modern, key word modern, Democratic party, Andrew Jackson.

R. Richard Schweitzer writes:

Some claim it all began with the rise and domination of the primary systems, but the demise of the "party" functions is likely the reason for the trends.

AnnaMerkin writes:

How much of the federal spend is from military-defense spending?

How much of the state and local spend result from "infrastructure" maintenance (e.g., roads and bridges), police-firefighters-teachers, and other programs?

Hard to draw too many conclusions without a little more detail, IMO.

fyi writes:

"As Heritage Foundation legal analyst James Sherk explained "

Sherk is not a legal analyst at Heritage, he is a labor policy analyst.


Jeremy, Alabama writes:

Democracy is a blunt weapon. Hence the famous quote, "you can't fool all the people all the time".

We can say only that something is going on in Democrat-controlled Washington that even natural Democrats do not like. Spin that as you will.

But being a blunt instrument, pols can sweeten the pudding with a few short-term tokens aimed at triangulating votes - a bit more drilling, a mini-surge in Afghanistan, a miniscule tax credit for small business hiring - while keeping their core agenda intact.

Note that conservatives get a contemptible handful of temporary concessions, while Democrats push on with irreversible fundamental change.

For instance, Arnold mentioned that residential mortgages are becoming increasingly socialized. This is a brilliant plan that does not even require a check with the electorate. Once instituted, it creates a large middle-class constituency that will vote against frightening market-based solutions like foreclosure in favor of higher taxes for everybody.

The strongest sanction a democracy can express is a wrist-slap, when the incumbents fail to fool all the people all the time. Usually, though, they can ignore the fact that the US is a center-right country, and execute an agenda that moves towards a one-party state.

Loof writes:

Americans view themselves as a center-right country, social liberals are Left and social conservatives Right. The central and traditional values of individualism, well expressed by Tocqueville, have been left behind. To the world, though, America is much more a right-right country moving more to the right in its societal construction of right-wing socialism. As such, America appears as a one-party state of serfs objectively following Greedy Archimedes down Dystopia Road.

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