Most People Want an Active Government, Working on Their Side. It Is Time Those Seeking Power Took Note.

Yves here. Even though Richard Murphy discusses how British voters have a dim view of nearly everything the Government is doing, the same broad-based dissatisfaction holds in the US. However, as political scientist Tom Ferguson has documented, government policy reflects the pet wishes of well-funded interest groups, and not the general public, so the failure to represent public interest is baked in here.

However, the response in the US to decaying government performance, and with it, legitimacy, are centrifugal impulses. Hard core libertarians like Milton Friedman are closeted anarchists; the real deal i the left are getting more vocal, and both camps are also becoming more interested in survivalism (along with people who are not ideologically driven but see more self-sufficiency as a hedge). What is worrisome is that our putative Democratic party elites are becoming more and more authoritarian when they aren’t good at it, in terms both of strategy and execution.

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

I had not previously noticed an opinion poll brought out by Ipsos Mori in mid-December. They asked people over a range of ten indicators whether they thought that the government was doing a good or bad job. These were the findings:

That’s a negative score on everything bar vaccines. Even in a usually strong area for the Tories, like the economy, there was a significant negative ranking. On many issues the scoring was dire.

I do, of course, know all the weaknesses in polling. But, that being said this is a grim set of data for the government, and as 2022 begins it can only get worse. They are not managing the omicron variant well, and most people will know it.

None of this does, of course, say that people think Labour would necessarily do better. Although their poll ranking has risen significantly that is more a measure of the frustration that this poll indicates than positive support. But, that said, I do take a positive from this. It is that people in this country have yet to embrace the idea that the role of the government is to see a problem and then walk away from it, which is what this government does.

They expect initiative and not inaction.

They demand that issues be addressed, rather than verbiage be offered.

They think that a government should deliver on promises, like levelling up, even if no one really knows what it is.

This is important. There is evidence that some people now despise government for simply being in existence. This appears to be the motive for much of the anti-vax lobby. For reasons that they seem to find very hard to explain they loathe the idea of government, and associate it with the idea of expertise, which they detest with equal venom, although what they would out in the place of either is very hard to work out.

What I read into this poll data is that this is not a comm0n-place view. The framing of the questions is about action e.g. ‘improving the NHS’ rather than simply ‘is the NHS doing a good job?’ Asking the questions in that way gives very poor results. If that is the case then. it is reasonable to conclude that people want pro-active government still.

So do I. But we’re not going to get it with the Tories in office. Those seeking power should take note. The Tory way of ‘leaving things to the market to sort out’ is no longer an option that people want.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    I think a frequently overlooked element is while people often express views in broad brush terms, in reality most people are open to real life evidence of government effectiveness, even if this is inevitably mirrored by their ideological priors. Few people think the government is good at all things, or bad at all things. Take the military for example – anti-government conservatives usually consider it a monument of public service and quality, while dedicated leftists consider it a hell hole of wasted money and resources. For the EPA of course it would be the entire opposite. But even right wingers expect their roads to be clear of potholes and for airline regulation to stay rigid. There are no libertarians in seat 34D on a 737 flight.

    The blogger AKK (often posted in links) has pointed out in relation to South Korea that repeated public surveys indicate a very low public trust of the government (even lower than the US), and yet the public got almost entirely behind the government in its covid response. Why? Most probably because of very good communication and visual evidence that the government had the right motives and strategy. In short, its not enough for government bodies to be competent and have integrity – they must also be seen to be competent and honest. This is why the sort of low level scandal we see with the Tories in the UK are so damaging – it chips away endlessly at the notion that whatever you believe about the leadership, at least they (in some way) mean well. When they are obviously mocking everyone who isn’t in their circle, then you end up with cynicism and nihilism, which can end up being deadly dangerous when government action is in fact essential.

    I think many governments around the world (the Chinese are one unusual exception) have failed to recognise this with covid. Multiple countries – including those who responded well in 2020 – have steadily fallen into line with pressure groups – specifically business groups – and have enacted more obviously political than scientific responses to delta and omicron. People notice this type of thing. Even if people are relieved that their local bar and restaurant has stayed open in response to omicron can’t help but see that the hospitality industry has been listened to, while teachers and hospital staff have been ignored. You might be enjoying your beer out, but this sort of thing will still eat away at any remaining sense of communality, especially if you hear your children teacher has fallen sick.

  2. Elite Idiocracy

    If you want an insight into how irrelevant the impact on the public is for our misleaders, you get the full monty in this quote from Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle regarding the knighting of the war criminal, neoliberal and paedophile Tony Blar:

    “‘They should all be offered that knighthood when they finish as prime minister.

    ‘I would say if you’ve been prime minister of this country, I do believe the country should recognise the service they’ve given.

    It is not about politics, it is about the position they have held in this country: It’s about the position and it’s the respect that we show to those people who’ve led this country.”

    Great stuff! You can kill, rape kids and make people’s lives miserable and we still have to respect you?

    Pure madness!

    1. Questa Nota

      And a book deal.

      Make that two, preferably autobiographies.

      The PMC on both sides of the pond has some royalty envy. They politely, or even impolitely, demand the respect that they deem to be due. Hereditary oligarchies for me, not for thee. Not one of us, old boy.

  3. Amfortas the hippie

    “There is evidence that some people now despise government for simply being in existence. This appears to be the motive for much of the anti-vax lobby. For reasons that they seem to find very hard to explain they loathe the idea of government, and associate it with the idea of expertise, which they detest with equal venom, although what they would out in the place of either is very hard to work out.”

    in america, this is the result of a deliberate campaign, over decades.
    it’s knee jerk and totally unexamined.
    but, if you separate some random non-rich person from the herd(with all the almost invisible reinforcement mechanisms), and apply the socratic method, i find that even the most rabid teabilly will secretly pine for the New Deal Era…and even for de facto Unionism…and what could be called de facto Socialism(especially Sewer Socialism).
    but you can’t use any of those words…because the Mindf&ck has been very successful at making all the useful words into triggers that send them down the rabbit hole of reactionary craziness…often right after you carefully lead them to the mouth of the Cave.
    and, of course, those reinforcement mechanisms are wall to wall…like i said the other day, the white welfare mom working at the convenience store, totally ignorant of political economy, and absent from the voter rolls, is inundated at work by right wing radio…because her more politically aware righty boss plays it on the in-store sound system.
    she absorbs the rhetoric, doesn’t have the mental equipment to interrogate what she’s hearing, and sort of by default starts identifying with that stance, and then parroting it.
    we are at a severe disadvantage in all of this.

    i re-read this this early morning:

    and agree with their assessment almost totally…but scaled up to the entire civilisation.
    while reading it…taking breaks to ruminate and tend the fires, cook First Breakfast, etc…i kept thinking about the working people around here: everyone…from that welfare mom to the dishwasher at one of the greasy spoons…is by default, of “the right”…until they can, again, be separated from the herd and led to interrogate themselves regarding How Things Are vs How Things Should Be.
    then…and only briefly…it turns out that most of them are really closet lefties, more or less…and excluding the culture war BS that represents one of the most effective parts of the reinforcement mechanism.
    for example,the working class around here would be overripe for a labor movement, but for the great wurlitzer they are exposed to all the time.
    they know in their bones that the Boss is corrupt and evil and cheating and hates them and uses them as mere instruments.
    but none of them even know what a Union is…aside from nebulous shibboleths that they are Bad, somehow.
    add to this that they simply don’t have time to think, don’t have the tools to think critically, and don’t even know that maybe doing so would be a good thing, or that it is even possible to change anything….and we’re screwed.
    thinking about this labor aspect around here for 25 years, i’ve often entertained becoming an “organiser”….but i’d end up in a ditch in short order, or in prison for dope, or whatever.
    because there is, in fact, organised class unity around here…it’s just not down below…it’s at the tippy top, and among their enablers in the petite bourgeoisie.
    scale that lopsided organising all the way to the corner offices on wall street.
    the Clintons really screwed us…and a long time ago.

    1. steve

      Their advantage seems to be so entrenched, thanks to the Clintons, its hard, nay impossible to conceive any successful worker organization. Media consolidation was a huge coup. I’m afraid there’s a world of pain and grief between now and even a chance of humbling the elites.

      1. Susan the other

        So let us change the language. Instead of “workers” lets just stick with “people” – maybe add on the rights of the planet and wildlife. And proceed thusly:
        1. resolve oil which resolves the volatility of “the market”
        2. resolve the volatility, resolve the flow and equity of exchange
        3. resolve the flow and equity of exchange, resolve the deadly profit imperative
        4. resolve the profit imperative, resolve the remaining needs of people and planet
        5. resolve the remaining needs, resolve inequality and exploitation
        6. resolve inequality, create a functioning government (imagine it)
        7. create a functioning government, create a functioning civilization… and etc.

    2. NotThePilot

      I expect it’s become much shriller since I was growing up, but I spent much of my life in Texas. I was in the Dixie part, but this all seems familiar, and you have my sympathy, Amfortas. I salute you for not giving up on people and being able to try from the inside. What’s interesting is I think growing up in that sort of pressure-cooker (I was a clear outsider, and regularly reminded me of it) influenced my politics in more cynical and less humanistic, though not necessarily misanthropic ways.

      Much of my life has arguably been trying to find a place free of that herd you described. I never did (by moving around geographically or politically), and in the end I decided God / the Universe was trying to tell me I’m essentially a believer in vanguard parties. The real irony has been to hear more recently, from even conservative people, totally unprompted, a vague desire for more open process in our politics: a real technocracy based in real techne and real accountability.

      As for the media, yeah, I’m not sure much can be done to confront that head-on. Even more than the wurlitzer metaphor, I think Spengler really nailed it when he referred to it as “mind artillery.” Whenever the masses try to amass, the media just has a more target-rich environment.

      Perhaps the supreme irony is that more reactionary people like Spengler & Dostoyevsky were the ones that pointed out it couldn’t last forever. Sooner or later, life and everything irrational in it would find a way, and people would rebel.

      Maybe that’s the real trick: not to confront people on what the media has blasted into them, but cultivate right thought, right speech, & right action in the growing cracks. One last thing you might get a kick out of. I’ve actually had some success convincing my conservative family, that despite me agreeing with the progressives on almost every policy point, I am definitely not a liberal or a democrat. So change is possible!

      1. Amfortas the hippie

        strive for that.
        for as many people as possible.

        it is in my immediate interest that my neighbor can feed his kids, lest he rob me.

        i’m happy and secure only when all of you are happy and secure

        like it, or not

        like me, or not

  4. Charles Yaker

    The above piece is in part proof that Chalmers Johnson was correct in his warning regarding the U.S becoming a totalitarian state. His reasoning involved the Military Industrial Complex and in case you havnt noticed nothing has changed in that regard. Personally I must admit that I never internalized his warning regarding the U.S. becoming a totalitarian state until Jan 6th. I would bet that there are many others that didn’t connect the dots either. If your not familiar with Johnson your missing out

    1. tegnost

      I never internalized his warning regarding the U.S. becoming a totalitarian state until Jan 6th.

      What took you so long?
      And if we were to be a totalitarian state, would not the security forces maybe at least have showed up? Instead, nowhere to be seen, as if the totalitarian state’s fusion centers were inoperable.
      One country, under surveillance.
      That phrase wasn’t made up in the past year, it’s been going arod for a long ,ong time.

  5. ChetG

    If that is the case then. it is reasonable to conclude that people want pro-active government still.

    So do I. But we’re not going to get it with the Tories in office.

    The irony of it all! The UK had in Jeremy Corbyn as progressive a leader (when he was leading Labour) as anyone could hope for; however, look at the results. Mass media and Labour head honchos helped Corbyn lose the general election and are more or less driving him out of Labour. Unfortunately, propaganda is more important than anything else.

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