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More Jobs, a Strong Economy, and a Threat to Institutions

Saturday, November 5, 2016 12:11
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Adam Davidson in the New Yorker:

More Jobs, a Strong Economy, and a Threat to Institutions: …Institutions are significant to economists, who have come to see that countries become prosperous not because they have bounteous natural resources or an educated population or the most advanced technology but because they have good institutions. Crucially, formal structures are supported by informal, often unstated, social agreements. A nation not only needs courts; its people need to believe that those courts can be fair. …

Over most of history, a small élite confiscated wealth from the poor. Subsistence farmers lived under rules designed to tax them so that the rulers could live in palaces and pay for soldiers to maintain their power. Every now and then, though, a system appeared in which leaders were forced to accommodate the needs of at least some of their citizens. … The societies with the most robust systems for forcing the powerful to accommodate some of the needs of the powerless became wealthier and more peaceful. … Most nations without institutions to check the worst impulses of the rich and powerful stay stuck in poverty and dysfunction. …

This year’s Presidential election has alarmed economists for several reasons. No economist, save one, supports Donald J. Trump’s stated economic plans, but an even larger concern is that, were he elected, Trump would attack the very institutions that have provided our economic stability. In his campaign, Trump has shown outright contempt for courts, free speech, international treaties, and many other pillars of the American way of life. There is little reason to think that, if granted the Presidency, Trump would soften his stand. …

…it’s easy to imagine a President Trump refusing to heed our own highest court, which, as President Andrew Jackson observed, has no way, other than respect of institutions, to enforce its decisions. No one knows what Trump would do as President, but, based on his statements on the campaign trail, it’s possible to imagine a nation where people have less confidence in the courts, the military, and their rights to free speech and assembly. When this happens, history tells us, people stop dreaming about what they could have if they invest in education, new businesses, and new ideas. They focus, instead, on taking from others and holding tightly to what they’ve already amassed. Those societies, without the institutions that protect us from our worst impulses, become poorer, uglier, more violent. That is how nations fail.

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