By Kevin Stocklin
According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans say that government is their number one problem, beating out inflation for the top spot.
In response to the question: “what do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?” 21 percent of Americans answered “Government,” up from 15 percent last year. According to Gallup’s January 2023 poll, other top concerns for Americans are, in order, immigration, the economy in general, unifying the country, race relations, poverty, crime, and family decline.
“This result is not surprising,” Charles Steele, professor of economics at Hillsdale College, told The Epoch Times. “If we look at the next four most cited problems—inflation, immigration, economy, and divisiveness—people know that politicians and bureaucrats have been making those problems worse, not better. Inflation is a good example. It is entirely created by government spending and by expansionary monetary policy from the Federal Reserve.”
“Perhaps most Americans think government is the most pressing problem because almost all of the other problems are a result of poor government policy and lackluster leadership,” Chris Talgo, editorial director at the Heartland Institute, told The Epoch Times. “If the Biden administration hadn’t spent trillions of dollars, well after the worst days of the pandemic, inflation would be less. If the Biden administration hadn’t opened the border, illegal immigration would not be the catastrophe that it currently is. And, if the Biden administration had not gone all in on its DEI initiatives, it is quite likely that crime would not be as awful as it currently is.” DEI initiatives refer to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Americans ‘Deeply Distrustful’ of Government
The Gallup poll follows a Pew Research poll in June 2022 that stated: “Americans remain deeply distrustful of and dissatisfied with their government. Just 20% say they trust the government in Washington to do the right thing.”
While the Pew report found that a majority of Americans gave the government good marks for responding to natural disasters and fighting terrorism, only 37 percent approved of the government’s economic performance. Before President Joe Biden took office, 54 percent of Americans approved of the government’s economic performance.
The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer (pdf), an annual international survey, found a growing distrust of government across the globe, with a significant decline over the past two years, coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic. “Government is viewed as unethical and incompetent,” the report stated.
Regarding possible reasons for this, the report states that “economic optimism is collapsing around the world, with 24 of 28 countries seeing all-time lows in the number of people who think their families will be better off in five years. … People in the top quartile of income live in a different trust reality than those in the bottom quartile, with 20+ point gaps in Thailand, the United States, and Saudi Arabia.” Trust in the media has also fallen precipitously.
“I believe the COVID-19 pandemic was a watershed moment in U.S. history,” Ivan Pongracic, a Hillsdale College economics professor, told The Epoch Times. “The government engaged in unprecedented actions during the pandemic, and Americans seemed to be eager to trust that the government had our best interests in mind when evaluating and adopting those policies. But in the past year, it has become increasingly clear that was not the case.
“Instead, our society has been harmed a great deal on almost every margin as a result of those policies,” Pongracic said. “The lockdowns have led to a massive learning loss and a mental health crisis for our children from which they may never recover,” as well as declining living standards and a loss of retirement savings as the dollar continues to lose value.
Federal Policies Enrich Those Closest to D.C.
Americans’ increasing mistrust of government may not come as welcome news to the Biden administration, which has spent trillions on expanding federal programs and subsidies, extended the scope of federal agencies to include “climate and social justice,” and pursued an industrial energy policy to replace America’s fossil fuel industry with wind and solar power. The Biden administration imposed coercive policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, including mask and vaccine mandates. And despite having their efforts struck down in federal courts, the administration continues to fight to reinstate transportation mask mandates. The vaccine requirement for non-U.S. citizens entering the country legally is still in place.
“If the American people really believed that was done out of good intentions, they may be willing to forgive,” Pongracic said. “But what we have seen is that the pandemic has led to possibly the greatest-ever wealth transfer from lower and middle-income people to high-income people, most of those beneficiaries being closely involved in government’s policies.
Citing the examples of windfall profits reaped by the tech and pharmaceutical industries, Pongracic added that “we are increasingly finding out about the remarkably cronyist relationship between the government and those industries, with a revolving-door hiring between them. … It seems that Americans are viewing that cronyism with utter disgust, especially as it now seems to be at the very core of almost anything that Washington, D.C., does.”
Speaking at a National Review conference on government and economics last week, Jason Trennert, CEO of Strategas, a financial advisory firm, noted that “10 of the 15 wealthiest zip codes are in and around Washington D.C.”
Fox News host Larry Kudlow, who was also present, said the size of the federal government as a percentage of GDP has increased from a historical average of 18 percent to 24 percent today. If state and local governments are factored in, that share goes up to 44 percent.
In addition to the growth of government, Kudlow criticized the staffing of federal agencies with progressive ideologues, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), “which is run by a leftwing teenager right now,” presumably referring to FTC Chair Lina Khan.
Loss of Freedom
The expansion of government authority has corresponded with a loss of freedom and encroachment on civil liberties.
According to the Fraser Institute’s latest annual Human Freedom Index, published Jan. 26, “human freedom deteriorated severely in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Most areas of freedom fell, including significant declines in the rule of law; freedom of movement, expression, association, and assembly; and freedom to trade.” The report further noted that “Jurisdictions in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significantly higher average per capita income ($48,644) than those in other quartiles; the average per capita income in the least free quartile is $11,566.”
“Freedom is a precious thing, and the growth of government power threatens that,” Steele said. “Many Americans look at the growth of government with alarm. It is a dangerous thing and does not make us safer.”
Solutions to the ‘Government’ Problem
“Government spending and the reckless policies of the FOMC [the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee] are responsible for inflation,” Christoper Whalen, former Fed official and chairman of Whalen Global Advisors, told The Epoch Times. “We need to repeal Humphrey-Hawkins immediately and cut spending.”
Humphrey-Hawkins is a 1978 law, also known as the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act, which directs the Fed to intervene in America’s economy to maximize employment and pursue equity goals, and opened the door for greater government intervention into the private sector. But the recent escalation in government intervention in sectors like green energy, electric cars, and even food production, has led many economists to warn that this, like most other attempts at government industrial policy, will only foster inefficiencies, outdated technologies, and lower living standards.
“The best industrial policy is no industrial policy,” Trennert said.
“One thing which would quickly turn this around would be to cut regulation and red tape,” Steele said. “Regulation directly impacts many Americans, and reducing it would be a fast way to restore strong economic growth. A robustly growing economy would mean incomes rising and much more optimism. Government could facilitate that by sticking to its proper role of simply keeping the peace at home and protecting us from hostile foreign powers.”
“It seems that most Americans are finally beginning to understand, as President Ronald Reagan famously put it, ‘government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,’” Talgo said.