The next two Republican presidential debates, including this evening’s, will focus on the economy, a testimony to the weakness of our recovery from the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the continued relevance of James Carville’s campaign advice to Bill Clinton over 20 years ago (“It’s the economy, stupid!”), and the all-but-universal assumption that American Presidents can, should, and must create the conditions for widespread prosperity.
Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in the United States in the late spring of 1831. His official business was an investigation of American prison reforms as a potential model for France, but his gaze was considerably broader and deeper. Tocqueville’s nine-month visit resulted in Democracy in America, a towering achievement that looms even larger in a time like ours, when political attention spans seem to last no longer than the latest trending topic.
Benjamin Radcliff of the University of Notre Dame appeared in The Washington Post this week to discuss his recent book The Political Economy of Human Happiness, which looks interesting except that Tocqueville already wrote it. Radcliff’s thesis, backed, he says, by hard data gathered from stable democracies, is that bigger governments lead to happier people. His conclusion is that bigger governments are therefore advisable. QED, the purpose of government is to make people happy. For the sake of argument, grant him step one. Steps two and three need work.