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Toward effective government

First published by The Hill on 1/18/2021


A new Biden administration could make government effective again after 40 years of Republican ascendency that deliberately made it ineffective.


Such swings have occurred before in American history. Theodore Roosevelt’s administration from 1901 to 1909 and Woodrow Wilson’s administration that followed used government effectively to weaken the grip of “Gilded Age” monopolists while strengthening the position of American farmers and workers. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal used government for the same purposes. The New Deal put millions to work on construction projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Rural Electrification Administration, laid the foundations of Social Security and a social safety net and then financed the mobilization of the country’s vast unutilized resources to win World War II.


The New Deal approach, the effective use of government to help ordinary people, kept successors to FDR in power for almost 50 years from 1933 until 1980. Since then, Ronald Reagan and Republicans who do not believe in effective government have worked steadily to undermine it. Biden’s win and the retaking of the Senate could mark the end of 40 years of anti-government ascendency that deliberately prevented government from doing what polls show that Americans want it to do.


The country in 2021 is not unlike the country in 1933. It has under-utilized labor and resources that could be used to deal with the country’s problems. Effective government could deal better with the Covid-19 epidemic and recession, putting 13 or 14 million people back to work. Effective government could deal with the financial abuses revealed by the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and the rapaciousness of corporate bosses who essentially set their own outrageous levels of compensation. Effective government at all levels could make progress in dealing with the racism revealed by George Floyd’s killing.