The Corner

Politics & Policy

Donald Trump and the Future of Government

Over 60 percent of Americans agree that the country is heading in the wrong direction. At the same time, President Trump enters the Oval Office with historically low approval ratings. In a recent piece over at Reason, Nick Gillespie and I write: “Washington is broke, unpopular, and dysfunctional and the only important question is what will come next.”

We offer an answer:

Clearly, we need a government that spends less and does less but also appeals to most Americans of whatever ideological persuasion. We know what sort of operating system has improved our commercial, cultural, and personal lives: It’s one that flows directly from libertarian ideas about maximizing options for individuals and the groups they form to discover and follow their bliss. This commercial-cultural-personal system provides basic frameworks and expectations that facilitate the creation of reputation and expectations of being treated with respect and reciprocity. It’s built on persuasion not threats or coercion and allows people to turn away and leave if they want to. It neither requires pre-approval nor does it demand forced affirmation (simple tolerance will do). It calls for consensus as rarely as needed and only when absolutely necessary. When there were only three or four channels on TV, conflict over what was “acceptable” was likely inevitable. In a world of infinite choices that cannot be forced on anyone, discussions over what is good or bad take the form of conversation and not censorship. We have managed to create an operating system that is better than the one it replaced because it lets more and more of us launch whatever applications we want without crashing the whole computer or network. We can learn from each other and mash-up things we want to, however we want to. When we shop at Whole Foods or on Amazon, when we stream at Netflix, when we eat what we want and marry whomever we want, we’re all libertarians, regardless of whether we voted for Jeff Sessions or Elizabeth Warren.

The trick, of course, is to translate that live-and-let live ethos, the cornucopia model into politics and government, which by definition precludes exit. Here, Trump’s brashness and divisiveness is forcing all of us to realize government isn’t and can’t be all things to all people without endless conflict. We don’t agree on enough to give the power the ability to dictate terms to all of us (and needless to say, such a system can’t possibly be fiscally sustainable).

If you think about it, most of us expect the private sector to produce companies that get us incredible goods and services delivered quickly, efficiently, and cheaply at the touch of a button. However, we too often put up with a government that produces worse and worse services for more and more money. Can you imagine if Apple was continuously selling the same (or worse) phone for more and more money? How long would the company survive? We shouldn’t continue to accept a government that fails to deliver on its promises over and over again.

We may not have to for much longer. A growing number of people already understand that when they need a ride late at night, they’re better off calling Uber than a heavily regulated taxi cab. Also, no matter how pro-government and pro-Bernie Sanders many voters are, when push comes to shove, will the generation raised on Reddit, instant messaging, Instagram, and Amazon Prime really tolerate waiting in line to get government health care?

It’s time to decisively look into the future and offer an alternative vision for how the government can and should serve us. Now is the time to make the case that we shouldn’t have to ask permission of bureaucrats in Washington and in our respective states before we can innovate, trade, shop, work, marry, consume goods and services, and play. Now is the time to challenge the old, outdated, know-it-all model of government for one that fits our time better.

The whole thing is here.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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