This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, January 27, 2016:
Two of the best-known aphorisms on freedom come from Samuel Adams and Anonymous. First, Anonymous: “The essence of freedom is the limitation of government.” Samuel Adams expanded on it with this:
If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.
The rattling of those chains appear to be increasingly unsettling to Americans, if two recent polls measuring angst are correct. The first, by Pew Research, shows that the average American’s level of trust in the federal government has declined from a high of 77 percent in 1964 to 19 percent.
Pew’s results from an extensive survey on 12 issues of more than 6,000 citizens show “the American public … deeply cynical about government, politics, and the nation’s elected leaders … [with] just 19 percent say[ing] they can trust the government always, or most of the time, among the lowest levels in the past half-century.”
The Pew study provided insights into how the average American views the government, Washington, and politics in general. Seventy-four percent of those polled think that most elected officials put their own interests ahead of their constituents, while 55 percent think that ordinary Americans could do a better job of solving problems than the government.
The political divide between Republicans and Democrats is very large, according to Pew, with 80 percent of Republicans saying they want a smaller and less intrusive government while just 31 percent of Democrats agreed.
On specific issues like government involvement in healthcare and helping poor people, the divide is equally wide. Only 34 percent of Republicans think the government should be involved in providing healthcare while 83 percent of Democrats think it’s the proper role of government to do so. Concerning government’s myriad anti-poverty programs, only 36 percent of Republicans support them, while 72 percent of Democrats do.
Pew’s results were confirmed by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which concluded that Americans’ satisfaction level in dealing with federal agencies has fallen for the third straight year, reaching an eight-year low.
Not surprisingly, Americans’ ire was concentrated at the Treasury Department, which oversees the Internal Revenue Service. Explained Forrest Morgeson, ACSI’s director of research:
If you think about the most contacted government agency, it’ll be the IRS. If you think about what the IRS does, which is take money from citizens, you’ll have low satisfaction.
Even when averaged in with higher levels of satisfaction with agencies like the Department of the Interior, which oversees public parks, the federal government scores well below “every private economic sector in user satisfaction,” said Morgeson.
Americans’ distrust, dissatisfaction and nervousness about the size, reach, power, growth, and intrusiveness of government did nothing but increase during the Obama administration. As Pew noted:
13% of Republicans, on average, have said they can trust the government always or most of the time – the lowest level of average trust among either party during any administration dating back 40 years. During George W. Bush’s presidency, an average of 47% of Republicans said they could trust the government.
By contrast, the share of Democrats saying they can trust the government has been virtually unchanged over the two administrations (28% Bush, 29% Obama).
Proof of direct correlation between this increasing level of angst and the growth of government must fall to more capable hands, but the relationship is striking. The growth of government as measured by the growth of the federal debt (see St. Louis Fed source below) clearly accelerated at the beginning of Obama’s first term and shows little sign of slowing down.
The Founders fashioned different chains from those to which Samuel Adams was referring: chains that would “bind men down from mischief” (Thomas Jefferson) by limiting the national government to specific, carefully enumerated powers as provided in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.
And then, to make sure, the 10th Amendment was ratified: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
The farther the ship of state drifts away from its moorings, the more nervous people are getting. These two studies prove the point.
Pew Research: Beyond Distrust: How Americans View Their Government
St. Louis Fed: Federal Debt as a Percent of GDP