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Surveys make you wonder why anyone believes government is good for the economy

07/07/2008

Two Rasmussen Reports surveys released today cause me to wonder (as I often do) why so many people believe that government is the solution rather than the problem.

First, as TKeeley mentioned in an earlier posting on these pages, the Congressional Performance survey in which "Congressional approval fell to single digits for the first time ever.

"This month, just 9% say Congress is doing a good or excellent job. Most voters (52%) say Congress is doing a poor job, which ties the record high in that dubious category."

Positive ratings for Congress were given by 13% of Democrats, 8% of Republicans, and just 3% of unaffiliated voters.

55% said it was unlikely that "Congress will address important problems facing our nation in the near future", with 72% saying that "most members of Congress are more interested in furthering their own political careers" than in helping people.

While the only surprising thing to me is that we haven't seen numbers like this earlier in our history, another survey (from July 4th) is more disturbing: Half of voters surveyed believe that America's best days are behind us, with men more optimistic than women and Republicans more optimistic than Democrats. The only glimmer of light is that "82% say the U.S.A. is the best place in the world to live."

The second Rasmussen survey released today shows that Americans' pessimism isn't limited to their perception of government:

At the same time, the Rasmussen Investors Investor Index fell to a new all-time low. Consumer confidence in the United States fell for the ninth consecutive month and set an all-time low for the fourth consecutive month. At 79.5, the Index is down four points over the last week, eight points over the past month, and thirty-three points since the beginning of 2008. The previous low—79.7—was established less than a month ago on June 12. Prior to this calendar year, the Investor Index had never fallen below 91.1 and it had not been below 100 since early in 2003.

And as if that weren't bad enough, "For the first time ever, Rasmussen Employment Index data shows more workers report their firms are laying people off than hiring. As a result of these changes, the Rasmussen Employment Index fell six full points to another all-time low at 78.6. This is the third all-time low for the Employment Index in four months."

Although things are clearly not great in our economy, they're also not as bad as mainstream media would have us believe (maybe in their quest to prevent the election of John McCain). But when it comes to politics, perception is more important than reality and the party in power is blamed for circumstances which are generally (and should be) out of government's control, such as a business cycle.

While it's obvious to me that people should rely on government less, it's possible to imagine a thought process from these surveys which lead to a different conclusion, and it goes something like this: If things get bad when government does a bad job, then wouldn't things be great if government just did things better?

What people who think that way don't understand is that from an economic point of view, "better" in most situations simply means doing less. So the better government does, the less need we have for it to intrude other than in areas such as regulating true monopolies and punishing fraud and other criminal activities. Surely, given poll results which show that Americans understand politicians' true motivations, nobody expects government to will itself to a position of less influence. And that means government will never get "better" (namely smaller) without a fight.

It is certainly true that the government is best which governs least, but despite surveys like those released by Rasmussen today, enough Americans continue to live with a naive hope that "change" is all we need.