In the progressive era, the economy was in its adolescence and the task was to control it. Today the economy is middle-aged; the task is to rejuvenate it.
He offers three pieces of evidence, which I'll summarize as:
- Our economy is not prone to creating jobs as much as it is to boosting productivity to grow without rapid job creation.
- Our government today has the tools to confront social challenges, but it lacks the institutional effectiveness to make progress against them.
- Our moral culture has deteriorated, requiring government institutions to carry a larger burden than in prior eras.
The United States spends far more on education than any other nation, with paltry results. It spends far more on health care, again, with paltry results. It spends so much on poverty programs that if we just took that money and handed poor people checks, we would virtually eliminate poverty overnight.Spending a lot to achieve paltry results is inefficiency on a large scale. These three issues (and one other) -- health, education, the environment, and poverty -- are the big issues in domestic public policy. More and more, they appear to be ones that our political system is incapable of handling.
There will always be an element of each one that remains in the public realm. Our political system is set up for a split-the-difference approach among two factions that share a common belief that the policy outcomes should be improved. That approach has broken down (and, in prior posts, I have laid the blame on the political right's connectedness problem.) In its absence, the quality of the public institutions that are invariably tasked with addressing them has declined, leading to the inefficiency that Brooks is observing.