Is America entering into a historical period that will be marked by the end of the welfare state? That is the premise behind a recent article by Michael Barone for Townhall.com. In observing American history he noticed what he believes are 76 year intervals marked by specific themes and thinks that we are coming out of an era characterized by:
The 70-plus years since 1941 have seen a vast increase in the welfare safety net and governance by cooperation between big units — big government, big business, big labor — that began in the New Deal and gained steam in and after World War II. I immodestly offer my own “Our Country: The Shaping of America From Roosevelt to Reagan.”
The original arrangements in each 76-year period became unworkable and unraveled toward its end. Eighteenth-century Americans rejected the colonial status quo and launched a revolution and established a constitutional republic.
Nineteenth-century Americans went to war over expansion of slavery. Early 20th-century Americans grappled with the collapse of the private sector economy in the Depression of the 1930s
He sees this era characterized by the dominance of large centrally controlled institutions as at its end:
We are seeing something like this again today. The welfare state arrangements that once seemed solid are on the path to unsustainability.
Entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid — are threatening to gobble up the whole government and much of the private sector, as well.
Lifetime employment by one big company represented by one big union is a thing of the past. People who counted on corporate or public sector pensions are seeing them default.
Looking back, we are as far away in time today from victory in World War II in 1945 as Americans were at the time of the Dred Scott decision from the First Inaugural.
We are as far away in time today from passage of the Social Security in 1935 as Americans then were from the launching of post-Civil War Reconstruction.
Nevertheless our current president and most politicians of his party seem determined to continue the current welfare state arrangements — historian Walter Russell Mead calls this the blue state model — into the indefinite future.
Some leaders of the other party are advancing ideas for adapting a system that worked reasonably well in an industrial age dominated by seemingly eternal big units into something that can prove workable in an information age experiencing continual change and upheaval wrought by innovations in the market economy.
The current 76-year period is nearing its end. What will come next?
“What will come next” is a good question. As mentioned, today’s Democratic party is committed to speeding up the direction we have been traveling in during the era of large centralized institutions. Will the GOP actually offer an alternative or merely propose to slow down our current path of centralized control?