Here’s an engaging oped by Jon Grinspan that makes one of my favorite points, one which is obvious but under-appreciated, I think: generalized and pervasive negativity about government perpetuates broken government.
As Grinspan (a name that sounds like the answer to the crossword puzzle clue: “happy central banker”) puts it:
First, we need to realize that surging anger at Washington favors those who would like to drown government in a bathtub. When Democrats blame politicians as a group, they support the idea that our system can’t be trusted to make positive change in Americans’ lives, while pushing candidates into a quiet reliance on big donors.
During the latest installment of the debt ceiling crisis, I wrote:
I’m reminded of a particularly pernicious rule of today’s politics: the self-fulfilling prophecy of dysfunction. Many of today’s conservatives run for office on a platform that government doesn’t work. And when they’re elected, they work their hardest to prove it true. They say, “we’re Greece!” when of course we’re nothing like Greece, then they threaten default to make us Greece.
This is an alarmingly simple ploy, but once you tune into it you see it everywhere. The prophets of dysfunction must convince us a spending crisis, an entitlement crisis, and debt crisis despite their factual inaccuracies. It there’s no crisis—if, as is clearly the case [and this is even more the case now than when I wrote this over a year ago]—our fiscal challenges can actually be met with reasonable policies involving analysis (e.g., squeezing inefficiencies out of health care delivery) and compromise (spending cuts and revenue increases), these hair-on-fire-slash-and-burners have no use.
An important job of progressives throughout history is the exposure of such false prophets. Of course, these prophets have huge profits riding on their ruse, so they won’t leave quietly. But we must expose them nevertheless. Our system is broken because a broken system works for the false prophets of dysfunction. It doesn’t work for the rest of us.
To be completely candid, I myself play into this by occasionally and lazily inveighing against “Congress” as if it’s a monolith and “gridlock” as if everyone is equally implicated. I well know—because I interact with them—that there are members on both sides of the aisle who want to work together to accurately diagnose and try to solve problems. And members who decidedly do not.
In this regard, those of us who believe that there’s an essential role for government in meeting the challenges that private markets cannot—pollution externalities, risk pooling, social insurance, safety nets, countercyclical policies, enforcement of fair trade, education, public infrastructure, financial and product market regulation—must name names and have the courage to ruffle feathers (Grinspan drops the ball a bit here too, I thought).
Sweeping broadsides against the institution are both wrong and play right in the hands from which the keys to good government must be taken.