February 28, 2024

Economix Blog: Losing Faith in Government

Washington’s dysfunctional political climate not only makes it harder for Congress to pass sound economic policy. It also means that whatever policies Congress manages to pass may be ineffective anyway, since Americans have lost so much confidence in their government’s ability to help.



Dollars to doughnuts.

Americans’ confidence in their government is at historic lows, according to Gallup’s annual governance survey.

The poll of 1,017 adults, conducted in early September, found that 81 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed, the highest share since the question was first asked in 1972.


Additionally, 69 percent of Americans say they have little or no confidence in the legislative branch of government, also a record high, and nearly three times the share of people who said this in 1972.


Americans estimate that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every dollar it spends, the highest number on record since that question was first asked in 1979. (Because the margin of sampling error was plus or minus four percentage points, however, that is not a statistically significant difference from last year’s poll, when Americans said 50 cents of every dollar the government spent was wasted.)

Almost half of Americans (49 percent) believe the federal government “poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.” In 2003, less than a third of Americans said they believed this.

Perhaps most worrisome, Americans’ trust and confidence in the government’s ability to handle policy problems has plummeted.


The light green line above shows that just 43 percent of Americans say they have “a great deal or fair amount” of trust in the federal government to handle domestic problems. That is lower than it was at any time in the past four decades.

If we have another federal government shutdown in the next few days, which is entirely possible, these sentiments will only get worse.

My concern about these survey responses isn’t that they might hurt politician’s feelings. It’s that, in order for government policy to be effective, people must believe it will be effective. This is as true for economic policy as it is for anything else.

In particular, part of the reason that economic stimulus works is that it gives consumers and businesses confidence that the economy will improve. That belief becomes self-fulfilling as they feel more comfortable increasing their purchases and investments.

Likewise, if Americans believe that Congress cannot be counted upon to do anything that will help the economy, nothing that Congress does — no matter how well designed and well executed — will succeed in helping the economy. Perception matters.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=314b98067e29827a80fda299a621699c

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