I'm going to start an occasional series here at EconLog titled "Research That Should Get More Attention" based on books and papers I read (and re-read) that more people should, in my humble opinion, read (and re-read). The first installment: Daniel Klein's "The People's Romance: Why People Love Government (as Much as They Do)," which appeared in 10(1) of the Independent Review in 2005.
I was inspired to re-read it by a review I'm writing of Pauline Dixon's International Aid and Private Schools for the Poor which will make its way (in some form or fashion) into a book Deirdre McCloskey and I are writing. Dixon notes throughout that the attachment to government-financed, government-operated schooling--particularly in poor countries--is a product of ideological commitment rather than scientific evidence.*
This is where Klein comes in. Love for the state--and I use love intentionally--is a bit perplexing. My impression is that people are enthusiastic about collective action because it is collective, and it is difficult not to conclude that a lot of people prefer government "solutions" even when they produce demonstrably worse outcomes (witness, for example, the outpouring of contempt directed at economists who defend price gougers after natural disasters). Here is Klein:
If people see government activism as a singular way of binding society together, then they may favor any particular government intervention virtually for its own sake--whether it be government intervention in schooling, urban transit, postal services, Social Security, or anything else--because they love the way in which it makes them American.
Or, as I've said before in borrowing from the title of Chris Hedges' book, Government is a Force that Gives us Meaning.
Klein's paper is, of course, a fine complement to co-blogger Bryan Caplan's excellent The Myth of the Rational Voter. You can find a short version here, and Bryan discusses it in an EconTalk podcast here.