Hicks: Voters are massing to fight bad government

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The midterm elections offer your columnist a delicious opportunity to write about elections.

This election demonstrates the short duration of some political “revolutions.” Six years into President Obama’s term, if the polls and prediction markets prove right, this election will see the largest GOP majority since the Truman presidency, along with a strong Senate majority.

This, too, might not last, but it is a remarkable turnaround in political fortunes, animated almost wholly by an electorate dissatisfied with public policy.

The coming weeks will offer much blame-casting, but no thoughtful Democrat should mistake this as anything other than a widespread repudiation of this president’s policies. Fortunately for Republicans, there seems to be a shortage of thoughtful Democrats, a condition the GOP should view with silent empathy.

The meme of the 2016 election is becoming clear. For the Democrats, the leftward pull of Elizabeth Warren will exert great influence. For the GOP, the coming two years offer a chance to lay out a pragmatic opposition to the last decade in economic, social and foreign policy.

Casting a pall over all of this is America’s reluctant but inevitable involvement in what some call a war on terror. I think it is rapidly becoming an Islamic civil war, but whatever it is called, it will consume blood and treasure for much of this century. The next president cannot simply pretend to be involved in setting an agenda. The future will require more than the past and that will animate much of the 2016 election.

Finally, by this election, we should have learned much about the limits to government. From 2009 to the present, we have experienced the most extensive and expansive interventions in private decisions since the Great Depression. Some of that intervention worked, some made no difference, and some made the economy far worse.

The rescue of financial markets ended up costing little and doing much, while the vast government borrowing in 2009-2014 over-reached in a way that will affect two generations of Americans. It also fueled economic inequality (at least that is what Thomas Piketty’s theories suggest), lessened our trust in government, and revealed the extreme inequalities an activist government creates in markets.

Whatever specific policies become the fuel for the next election, domestically a fairer tax system and greater opportunity for young people will emerge as imperatives. One side wants to achieve these goals with a larger, more expansive role for government. The other side wishes to lessen the influence of government to get us there.

I think the 2014 election signals the dominant feeling of most Americans.•


Hicks is the George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.

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