Americans Seek to Redefine the Role of Government

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Americans Seek to Redefine the Role of Government

As the world’s first and most important democratic republic, the United States has repeatedly redefined the role of its government to fit new realities.

Starting with principles of British common law and the English parliamentary system, the framers of the Constitution grappled with many complex issues. Within a few decades, the Jeffersonian ideals expanded by Andrew Jackson’s Democratic Party came to define U.S. government leading up to the Civil War.

Lincoln and his Republican successors created a stronger central government designed primarily to enable trade and business within and among the states. Despite some regulatory growth and increased federal taxation, the business of America remained business until the early 1930s.

The crisis of the Great Depression empowered Franklin Roosevelt and his fellow Democrats to redefine the role of government once again. Just as Andrew Jackson expanded and codified the Jeffersonian principles, Lyndon Johnson did so with Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Under Roosevelt and Johnson, the federal government embraced the mass production and mass media paradigms of the twentieth century. In doing so, they sought to specify every aspect of life, from cradle to grave.

Admittedly, the “Reagan Revolution” slowed and diminished the realization of Johnson’s vision. However, like the progressive reforms of Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt, it did not redefine government.

Now it appears that the American people are increasingly eager to redefine government’s role for the first time since the New Deal. That redefinition is likely to support and reinforce the redefinition of other mass-production institutions, embodied in trends such as media fragmentation, product proliferation, and peer-to-peer lending.

While digitization has largely transformed other institutions, the United States government is largely based on the organizational assumptions behind vertically integrated behemoths such as Standard Oil, Ford Motor Company, and AT&T as they existed in the mid-twentieth century. So it should be unsurprising that there is massive dissatisfaction on both the right and the left.

Consider the facts: A recent Gallup survey revealed that 75 percent of Americans see widespread government corruption, up from 67 percent as recently as 2009.1, 2

More urgently, 49 percent view the government as “an immediate threat...

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