Reading: Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson (2016): American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson (2016): American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper (New York: Simon and Schuster: 1451667825) http://amzn.to/29ZTpPq
The Loss of Pragmatic Can-Do America: Hacker and Pierson's thesis runs exactly parallel to the thesis of Steven S. Cohen and my Concrete Economics: The Hamilton Approach to Economic Growth and Policy http://amzn.to/2a9xzfg.
Our thesis—and their thesis—is that up until 1980 it was taken for granted here in America that the public and the private sectors were partners in a project of equitable growth. It was never that the government needed to take control. It was never that what America needed was to drown government in the bathtub and let laissez-faire rip. It was always that government needed to do its proper job of clearing the ground, opening up the space, setting up the playing field, building the institutions, and providing whatever support it could that would greatly add value to private enterprise. Government doing all that, private enterprise could then pick up the ball and carry it forward.
But, Hacker and Pierson argue, somehow America fell prey to a fit of amnesia. Sometime around 1980 American conservatism stopped seeing government as primarily a partner to private enterprise and began seeing it as exclusively an enemy. The smaller the government—the lower taxes and the fewer regulations—the faster the economic growth. This was, moreover, not a practical judgment but an ideological imperative. The deregulated low-tax laissez-faire market could not fail: it could only be failed. A failure of policies to deliver results could only be because the policies were not extreme enough.
Hacker and Pierson tell the story of the descent of American conservatism and then the Republican Party from pragmatic engagement to ideological echo-chamber well.
I do, however, think that they miss an important sociological cause and concomitant of the shift: The Republican Party has been transformed. It used to be a group of forward-looking enterprisers who thought they would be rich and could take advantage of the creative destruction that change and economic growth would bring. Now they are a group of backward-looking owners who believe that they are as rich as they will ever be. They feel themselves as under threat from the creative destruction that change and economic growth will bring—economic threat, sociological threat, and political threat.