*American Amnesia*

That is the new book by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, and the subtitle is How the War on Government Led Us To Forget What Made America Prosper.  It is well written and will appeal to many people.  It is somewhat at variance with my own views, however.  Most of all I would challenge the premise of a “war on government,” at least a successful war.  How about a “Dunkirk on government”?

Most forms of regulation continue to rise, noting that the stock of regulatory law is rising, and increasingly constraining, even if the flow is steady or declining, which I believe it is not.  Government as a percentage of gdp is roughly constant, and since gdp is growing that means government is growing in absolute terms.  If at least some of government is public goods, government should not grow in proportion to population (e.g., the nuclear umbrella), so some of this percentage constancy is a kind of real increase.  Long-run trends are for more of the economy to flow into the relatively regulated, government-intensive area of health care, and so with population aging, government as a percentage of gdp is slated to go up.

You may or may not agree with all of that government, but who exactly is winning this war?

I would better characterize the authors’ complaints as old people winning a war against young people for control of government.  And I agree with much of what they have to say on this.  But then tales about extreme right-wingers (mostly failing right-wingers, I might add) are then injected into the narrative to make it seem that this is a successful war against government per se.


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