Americans trust their government more than you are being told

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the opening:

Americans’ trust in their government is abysmally low, according to both survey data and a more subjective reading of opinions about President Donald Trump and Congress. I hold a contrarian view: Trust in the actual operations of government is pretty high, and the real growing mistrust is of each other.

Consider first that the Trump administration’s record spending and deficits don’t seem all that unpopular, even among those who detest Trump or might favor different spending priorities. No major candidate is campaigning on a platform of fiscal responsibility and restraint, and that is a sign of high trust in government.

I go through the major government programs, and show they are (mostly) pretty well trusted by the American people.  Here is another consideration:

Finally, interest rates on government debt have been remarkably low for years, probably the single best measure of trust in a government; less trusted countries such as Argentina and Turkey have to pay very high interest rates to borrow. The recent rise in U.S. rates is due more to an economic expansion than to rising fears of default.

Here is the basic model:

In reality, as people get older, they rely on government for more and more. While that is indeed a form of trust, it also increases anxiety about those in charge, and their values and priorities. The higher level of anxiety exists precisely because there is, for better or worse, greater dependence. Don’t confuse the resulting nervousness with a lack of trust.

Our leaders aside, we trust the actual operation of government on the ground, so to speak.  These days, what we do not trust is each other:

Many Democrats and Republicans do not want their children to marry into the other political party, for instance, and these preferences are growing stronger. So when one branch of the government is affiliated with one of the parties, as it inevitably is, members of the other party will voice a low level of trust. But their complaint may be about the supporters of that branch of the government as much as the government itself.



"I hold a contrarian view' "
Count me as unsurprised. Is anything as it seems?

Tyler is insane.

You might think that an article saying "People like and trust the government; it's the citizenry they have a problem with!" would be unpublishable anywhere but the USSR circa 1961, but no, you can find it right here at Tyler Cowen's place.

Evidence? Who needs it? Let's just say that people don't care about deficits (which they never have) and call it a day!

'Americans trust their government more than you are being told'

Best satire site on the web, or the most unaware one, considering how public choice economics has apparently failed to convince Americans that Will Rogers was right.

Though one could also say that this is exactly what the current repudiation of Reaganism looks like.

Conflating "dependence" with "trust" is an obvious error in thinking. Simply because we rely on Uncle Sam does not imply we trust them. I'm reminded of that awful experiment with the infant monkeys forced to choose between a (fake) warm and cuddly mother and one with a food supply. Simply because they nursed on the non-nurturing manikin (monkikin?) and spent the rest of their time on Mrs Warm and Fuzzy doesn't show which, if either, they trusted.

Right. Decades ago in high school, our class bully had the best quality weed, and he was never out no matter how dry the market at that moment.

Never liked him, never trusted him, but was wholly dependent upon him.

Each generation forces a monetary regime change One half of the country attacks the other half and kills 10% of the population. Interest rates have nearly doubled since Trump ran up the deficit again. At times, in California, nearly a third of the folks want to secede. And, finance is already hedging our monetary regime change.

There are seven factual assertions in your remarks, all of them false.

The Civil War never happened? News to me.
We didn't have six different monetary regime changes since the founding? Not according to my history book.
Interest rates on the ten year bond did not go from 1.5 to 3.0 in the last few years? The bean counters must have erred.

The Cost of War: Killed, Wounded, Captured, and Missing
The Civil War was America's bloodiest conflict. The unprecedented violence of battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, Stones River, and Gettysburg shocked citizens and international observers alike. Nearly as many men died in captivity during the Civil War as were killed in the whole of the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands died of disease. Roughly 2% of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty. Taken as a percentage of today's population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls.


OK I was high on the Civil War deaths, at 10%. But I was quoting Lincoln, and there was still a large immigration process, nor does this mention civilian casualties. I claim 5%, on an adjusted basis.

But it still stands, we do not trust government when we engage in civil war.

that no major candidate is campaigning for fiscal responsibility and restraint is a sign of despair and defeat more than high trust in government

Pretty much. And in the socialist hell that is Germany, the federal government is looking at its sixth year of retiring the federal deficit, not adding to it.

'Having spent big in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the government then pulled back to put the budget in the black -- the so-called “Schwarze Null.” It’s run a surplus for the past five years, and debt-to-GDP is set to fall below the EU limit of 60 percent for the first time since 2002. Italy’s government is looking at debt levels exceeding 130 percent of GDP, and France’s ratio is close to 100 percent.'

Almost as if the Germans are eager to show that the only real problem with Keynesian economic theories is a lack of discipline in resisting letting the good times roll.

Something Sailer should be familiar with, considering his past, as noted by wikipedia - 'In an article on Hurrican Katrina, Sailer said in reference to the New Orleans slogan "let the good times roll", Sailer commented: "Let the good times roll" is an especially risky message for African-Americans. The plain fact is that they tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society. The article on Hurricane Katrina was criticized for being racist by Media Matters for America and the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as some conservative commentators. Neoconservative columnist John Podhoretz wrote in the National Review Online blog that Sailer's statement was "shockingly racist and paternalistic" as well as "disgusting".' The odds of Sailer changing 'African-Americans' to 'Americans' is about zero, regardless of how long has passed since that observation.

As if admitting that culture matters more than race would be anathema to people of his ilk. After all, the largest single ethnic group in the U.S. are Germans.

You think culture and genes aren't co-determined?

That's sweet.

'You think culture and genes aren't co-determined?'

I'm American, meaning that I have experience of what is still referred to as a 'mongrel nation.' And am quite proud of being part of that nation, being one of the most successful nations in human history, regardless of its flaws.

Of course I don't believe that 'culture and genes' are 'co-determined,' at least in the sense that genes determine culture. After all, Benjamin Franklin was demonstrably wrong when he wrote this - 'Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.' (Oddly, after pointing out just how wrong Franklin actually was in this regard, among others, Sailer has stopped quoting him here.)

'That's sweet.'

Bless your heart.

Your reply to Crikey at the beginning of this sub-thread was a non sequitur. You changed the discussion to one about race.


"that no major candidate is campaigning for fiscal responsibility and restraint is a sign of despair and defeat more than high trust in government"

It means Democrats have finally heard the voters: government should be like Uber: constantly losing money while giving customers better service for lower prices while screwing those doing the actual work.

And woe betide someone who mistakenly gets into a non-Uber car

Fiscal responsibility is only in fashion as a campaign platform when Republicans are out of power.

Fear not, just as soon as there's a Democratic President, the GOP will be clutching their chests about the deficit again.

Counterexample: the Tea Party movement.

Then again, they were hated by all right thinking people.

An interesting example.

My take was that moment in time was an opportunistic effort to capture populist anti-bank sentiment and divert it back to anti-government anti-regulatory rhetoric.

Which worked, and those persons are generally back on the Rez now.

The Tea Party sprung up under a Democratic President, exactly like McMike said. How is that a 'counter'example?

When Biden wins, those tricornered hats will be back.

The Tea party was holding rallies/marches during the GWB years (specifically, in response to the initial TARP bailout proposal).

I'm not entirely sure despair and defeat is the reason or even a primary -- could be -- but agree that the lack of fiscal responsibility in the campaign rhetoric indicates anything about general trust in government (be that the people in government or the institutional structure, as it is practiced).

I think the campaign landscape this round is more about the existing base rather than getting a new coalition (as it were) of voters. In other words, it's about talking to the narrow special interests that support the parties and candidate.

That is what? Between 25 and 30% of all eligible voters for each party? That is hardly the general public showing it trust the current government or the ability of the institutions of government to protect us from any errant government.

Do you think America will exist in ten years? Yes? Then it's OK to buy government bonds.
Will you accept money from the government? Yes? Then accept Social Security payments.
Do you trust the court system to give you justice? No.
Do you trust politicians to live up to their promises? No.
Do you trust people who write legislation to consider your best interests? No.
But will you buy bonds and take money? Yes.

Theoretically, some of that “government money” I’m accepting in the form of SS payments was supposed to be my money plus interest. I have decades of pay stubs and hot air by politicians to suggest that.

Yep. Investors willingness to use American bonds as a relatively low-risk store of value is I think less a show of faith in government than a show of faith in the US economy, faith that the Fed won't let ruinous inflation occur, and faith that the government won't screw things up to Venezuelan or Greek or etc. proportions -- a rather low bar.

There are plenty of countries where citizens do not have even that level of faith in their governments, and correctly so. So American faith in government is high by those standards -- again though that is a low bar.

Americans have the government they deserve.

Come on, it's not *that* bad...yet.

But soon it will be. The collapse of America's system is a historical Inevitability.

+1 to Hyena. Underrated comment.

Repeating what I wrote here:

And no, distrust in government is not contradictory with wanting more public services and welfare – one classical argument that the “man of the street” use to defend some public program that they want is, exactly, some variant of “the alternative to spend the money in [program X] is the money being stolen by them, the politicians and their friends”

And could be useful if Americans had different words to differentiate what Portuguese call "governo" (the prime-minister and his cabinet) and "adminstração pública" (the whole machine of civil servants) - you can distrust one without distrusting the other.

I have already linked a Gallup poll with a long list of questions about attitudes toward big business and government that defy both Cowen's and Caplan's belief that Americans don't trust big business but do trust government, but I will accept that Americans, like any five-year-old, don't know what they believe. I would re-write Cowen's lead as follows: "Americans trust their government more than Americans tell pollsters and each other".

I've not read any of Cowen's books. But the more I hear from Love Story, the more horrified I become. When he posts excerpts, is he, like, leaving out the parts where he justifies his strawmen, and provides independent support for his assumptions, and, like, makes actual arguments rather than base assertions?

mebbe this is how it works
Dr. Cowen gets to make assertions
then everbody gets to throw rocks at his assertions
if they wanna

Sure, all fine for a blogger. He's clearly having fun with some of the troll-bait hack studies he posts.

But the guy's a frigging Bloomberg columnist. Maybe I give Bloomberg too much credit

You do.

Stop that.

we apologize
sometimes we get emotional
heres an objective assertion(idea) for those just starting their
"learning to code" journey

people named buttgieg who assert stuff like this-
" God doesn't belong to a political party, but 'I can't imagine' God would be a Republican"
at the end of the day
turn out to have multiple drg codes!

I'm reminded of that awful experiment with the infant monkeys forced to choose between a (fake) warm and cuddly mother and one with a food supply.

We don't trust government (or other large institutions) but we don't do much about it, because we're... complacent.

I don't trust government to be capitalist since Reagan. The more the GOP gains power, the greater government shifts to rent seeking and pollage and plunder.

Capitalism is too costly to conservatives. Maintaining roads, school buildings, dtc requires the costly paying or workers because capital must lose, not gain. Entropy rules.

However, by pillaging capital, capital becomes scarce, which results in price inflation.

The conservatives then call for government to take the property of the less powerful. Eg, single family homes should be taken from the workers who bought them and turned over to the Trumps to build luxury condos.

Building more roads, water, sewer, schools, transit, to vacant land requires paying too much to workers, then it destroys wealth by allowing workers to build lots of new capital, eliminating scarcity, and the inflated prices that created the "wealth".

I grew up when lots of new housing was built, and it wasn't by eliminating zoning, cutting taxes, cutting spending. It was by government building lots of capital, and charging users enough to pay off the debt from paying workers, then paying workers to maintain it.

Today, the constant refrain is paying workers costs too much, and high costs kill jobs. Consumers need cost cuts putting money in their pockets, not wages putting money in their pockets.

Americans don't trust the media, congress and politicians.

"Put not thy trust in princes." (Psalm 146)

What is the proportion of Americans that receive money from, or are employed by, the numerous government entities? They "trust" the government. They vote in their pecuniary interest; and when punching-bag business acts thusly, it's evil.

What is the numbers gap between looters/moochers and taxpayers? "Aye, there's the rub." Hamlet

Of course, it needs to be much longer.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Tyler,
Than are dreamt of in your Bloomberg article."

Nonsense, a sizable portion of GOP supporters accept Social Security and Medicare and still reliably show up at Trump rallies to foam at the mouth about big gummint

That's entertainment.

I’m always interested in reading these comments by young people about SS.

From my POV, I got out of bed for decades in all types of weather, slogged to and from work and had 7.65% taken from each paycheck.

My employer might have also paid 7.65% for me, but then we get into the argument that it’s really the employee who pays it all.

I get the impression I’m supposed to have worked all those years for you and not get one penny of my money which I earned back.

So I’m supposed to have a minimum increase in my taxes of 7.65%? What about those business owners who pay both sides? They’re supposed to accept what is a 15% increase for you?

When the USG blew I think about $79 billion to spend the rest of their budgets at the end of the fiscal year?

"Nonsense, a sizable portion of GOP supporters accept Social Security and Medicare and still reliably show up at Trump rallies to foam at the mouth about big gummint"

Yes, people accept things that they paid for.

Democrats constantly complain about the risks of environmental change but they still gas up their cars and run their TV's and AC.

Does your complaint extend to the Democrats in that case? Or is it purely partisan?

that's a non sequitur to this thread

Robbing Peter to pay Paul tends to gain the approval of Paul. It doesn't imply that Paul must trust the robber.

"No major candidate is campaigning on a platform of fiscal responsibility and restraint, and that is a sign of high trust in government."

Or ignorance. That said, you are probably correct for the most part. When asked about our education system most people dont like it too much, but an awful lot of them like their individual teachers.


And they hate Congress but love their specific Congressman and incumbents almost always get re-elected. And they hate big government, but like the specific things government does (Soc Sec, Medicare, national defense)

It is true that Americans show implicit trust in many of the same things they complain about.

But the idea that this makes faceless "people" responsible for our problems, or that it's all the same, just leads to "nothing matters anymore."

Four or five hundred attorneys say they would indict the president if he were not sitting. That's just people talking, right Tyler? All the splendid people here talk too, so it's all the same. It cancels.

It means people are the problem, without anyone in particular.

That's just people talking, right Tyler?

It's dishonest partisan Democrats talking, advancing an absurd thesis. No surprise there.

See, isn't just so easy to spew those words disconnected from any reality?

You're the boss. I don't know why you use the funny handle, because MR is clearly your home.


maybe something more subtle in an attempt to undermine? I cannot tell if it's the fan club or 5th column.

Maybe his head is about to explode.

Oh no, I am you student now. I have learned that random, drive-by, insults are the MR way.

THIS is how we discuss the political economy.

Should I say something bad about you now?

I live to serve.

So let’s be clear. What you learned from people challenging your logic is to double down on word salad, emoting, appeals to authority, and virtue signaling.

My son, you are a Democrat. Go forth and emote! Fallacy your way into alienating anyone with a brain! You can always offer hard cash.

No, I've learned that life is much easier at MR(*) when you don't need to know anything, or use any logic.

Your mother went to a medium quality state university!

So easy.

If you don't have any values, no one can say you are signalling.

* - or in the the Republican Party

Naturally our Great Leader is the master at this. The Mueller report at once:

1) exonerates Trump.

2) is on sale at Amazon with a forward by Alan Dershowitz.

3) is protected by executive privilege, so Congress can't see it.

No one limited by any foolish sense of internal consistency could come up with that.

Let him be our model.

"Four or five hundred attorneys say " lol. Now do Hillary and the emails - a case where there was an actual crime.

I won't be mean, but I don't think you've spotted the new rules.

I agree that Hillary cancels Trump now and forever, because they're both people.

It's so simple, and it frees us all from any responsibility.

Hillary should have been punished. Trump should be punished.

I argued that Hillary should have been held accountable at the time, I think Trump should be accountable now.

Anonymous on the other hand ridiculed the idea that Hillary was in the wrong and didn't believe she should be punished, but is certain that Trump is and believes he should be punished. That's because Anonymous is a partisan hack.

I agree that you should be judge, jury, and jailer!

Never defer to due process, we are MR!

I mean, consider our trust in institutions.

Someone might have believed James Comey when he said Hillary's actions did not rise to a crime, and that same person might still have believed James Comey when he said a new President obstructed justice.

You might think this trust in a high official was consistent and justified.

But no!

We are MR, and we can override both of these conclusions, and declare the FBI outlaw to boot!

Anything else would be an appeal to authority.

It's not that hard, mouse. Hillary is a criminal, Trump is a hero. Your time is done.

Wait, isn't Santa a fraud and the Easter Bunny in charge?

Many Democrats and Republicans do not want their children to marry into the other political party,

If this indeed be true, it shows that the tweedle-dee/tweedledum nature of the two political parties that compose government in the US have managed to use their theatrics to retain the ludicrous binary system. The man on the cul de sacis a patsy.

A zero sum game is fun while you're not losing. A fool and his money are soon parted.

I guess the real trick here is that a libertarian may never ask for a specific repair, say to the government debt, but is free to celebrate it.

Leaking roof?

Why have houses!

Citizen as bad homeowner.

Your opening example is seriously flawed: "No major candidate is campaigning on a platform of fiscal responsibility and restraint, and that is a sign of high trust in government."

It could just as easily be explained away by despair at getting these incompetent clowns to act like adults.

as for all the freebies, you mention, of course people will hold out their hands for the freebies. . . but I bet a large portion of them are doing so out of the basic fear that it won't be going on forever. That ain't trust.

No Tyler, here I claim you are dead wrong.

"record spending and deficits don’t seem all that unpopular...

A sign of apathy, not trust.

Here in Seattle, every major city campaign issue (homelessness, housing affordability, etc) has gotten steadily worse over the last 15 years. But the same people get voted in year after year! Is that trust or apathy? I think it's apathy. Most people just don't give a crap.

Then there is separation of powers. Why did we put that in the Constitution? We do not trust government, so in fact, it is the law, thou shall not trust government.

"Many Democrats and Republicans do not want their children to marry into the other political party, for instance, and these preferences are growing stronger."

I wouldn't want my children to marry into a family that would even consider making that kind of "the political is personal" distinction. So I guess that means I'm worse, if alienation from one another is in fact our problem.

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