When potential earnings are stagnant, ambitious people often look to taking a path to success rather than making. We can see this in the decline of market entrepreneurship and dynamism, alongside a rise in political entrepreneurship: costlier campaigns, more think tanks, and a national slouch towards kleptocracy. Instability ensues when more people see the state as a tool of enrichment, or as a rapacious colonizer.
We must resist the government's metamorphosis into a kleptocratic taker-state. Avoid anonymous power, devolve authority to local levels, and cultivate a suspicion of centralization. Focus political efforts on programs that are universally available, which can be transferred to states or localities, and which voters can readily understand. Centralizing schemes claiming to jump-start income growth are likely to fail, even as they raise the stakes of the winner-take-all political game. Neither party truly favors a more decentralized state, thus neither will be a steady ally. The task will fall to committed citizens of many political stripes.
Bottom line: A direct focus on creating a redundant, distributed, and resilient political system built on localism, federalism, transparency, and separated, limited powers is the best course through the tumults of globalization, a flattened media environment, and unsatisfying economic outcomes.
Other voices in the conversation
- Robert J. Gordon, economics professor, Northwestern University, author The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The political pendulum will swing back
- Darrick Hamilton, director of urban policy, the New School: The dice should not be loaded
- Edmund S. Phelps, Nobel laureate and economics professor, Columbia University: Give us grassroots innovation
- Tobias Stone, founder, Newsquare: Inequality shatters societies