A few weeks ago, I did A post Indicates that the value of public policy in the 21st century is declining sharply. I see the same argument everywhere. Economist There is Long article On trends in Latin America that point to a serious deterioration in the quality of governance. Voters there are increasingly choosing the truly bad candidates on the left and right rather than the more conscientious technocrats.
Tyler Cowen Bloomberg has a section, which suggests that public attitudes are responsible:
My fear is, quite simply, that we have entered an era where the popular taste for good political results and a fair political process is much weaker than before. You might think that people will always want at least decent political results, but that assumption has become increasingly difficult to defend in the last 10 years, both in the United States and worldwide. For example, attachment to democracy seems to be significantly weaker, as is the love for capitalism. People’s tastes are being drawn in different directions, be it Proud Boys or Extreme Awakening.
All in all, a rather simple and rude possibility is becoming more and more: people have stopped wanting good things to happen.
I doubt it’s correct, but it does require an explanation. Tyler mentioned that there is no obvious answer:
I understand that this explanation is general and does not have too much emotional appeal. Many people prefer conspiracy theories, or tightly structured theoretical assumptions, or prefer to blame certain political parties, usually they oppose them. Or they focus on something very specific, such as climate change.
I look at all of these problems, though they may be real, down to a more fundamental problem: why haven’t our government systems responded better to our most pressing problems?
One possibility is that good periods occur when the public learns “lessons” from past mistakes. When I look back on my life, I can think of some lessons that grew out of historical events. In school in the 1960s, lessons of the first half of the 2nd century took on a larger size. We were taught:
1. Authoritarian nationalism was a great evil, which led to two world wars.
2. McCarthyism was also seen as evil, leading to a kind of “culture abolition”.
As I got older, I had additional lessons:
3. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was seen as an example of egalitarianism, because innocent people were ashamed only because of their rich ancestors.
4. When I left undergraduate school, socialism was seen as increasingly disrespectful (although the capitalist welfare state is still viewed positively.)
When I see modern conservatives talking about the benefits of authoritarian nationalism or trying to overturn democratic elections, I am amazed at what seems to me to be an ignorance of history. I get the same reaction when I see progressives calling for the abolition of a kind of culture, or price control, or identity politics where some groups are ashamed to be “privileged”.
Do these people know nothing of history?
We need to keep in mind that 1 in 20 people are not serious about education. Even many straight A students are going through the motions to get good grades to get a good job. People should not be expected to understand what is wrong with nationalism or socialism. Why should they?
In the decades following WWII, any American politician who sounded like an authoritarian nationalist would be rejected in the same way that an immunized body rejects a foreign virus. Similar to the socialist notion after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But immunization does not last forever.
In the past, we have had to go through some extremely painful historical events to teach the general public its “lessons”. Is there a less painful way to vaccinate the public against bad ideas?
PS Certainly Putin’s recent actions form a kind of lesson for the public, although it is extremely painful for the Ukrainian people. This marks the beginning of a rare good news – Sweden and Finland decide to join NATO (and Growing support For NATO in the Pacific.)
Happy 4th July!