Thoughts on A Demagogue

We have had roughly 40 years now of a Republican-based political consensus that sought to overturn an existing New Deal consensus in this country. That progressive consensus started roughly in 1936–40 and extended to 1980.

With the election of Ronald Reagan, Americans were taught that Hoover’s failed philosophy of rugged individualism was not merely acceptable but preferred.

Moreover, this was accomplished not simply by deemphasizing government and the idea of public goods but by denigrating government as a social output. Markets must decide public policy even in public enterprises and pursuits where markets had never succeeded to produce socially attractive outcomes.

By asserting that markets would solve our problems, the stage was set to view taxation and public investment as evil; private markets could achieve social welfare. no matter their distributive inequalities and inequity.

Any resulting distributive failure could not be the problem of markets for they existed as a social ideal — those failures must instead lie with the individual. Blame could then be assigned almost as a kind of irreducible form of personal self-fulfillment of destiny — the market could not be blamed and government cannot be asked to help.

Where now does the helpless or disadvantaged appeal for help? To the demagogue.

-atg

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