Why Growing Government is a Greater Political Menace than Growing Inequality
Boston University Law Review Online, Vol. 98, pp. 21-26, 2018 (Symposium on Ganesh Sitaraman, "The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution")
7 Pages Posted: 8 May 2018
Date Written: May 7, 2018
In his important new book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution, Ganesh Sitaraman argues that growing economic inequality over the last several decades and the resulting decline of the middle class is “the number one threat to American constitutional government.” He also contends that the American Founding Fathers sought to establish a “middle-class constitution” in which the avoidance of extremes of wealth and poverty would ensure the stability of democratic government. These are bold and provocative claims, but large elements of them fail to withstand scrutiny. Economic inequality is not as serious a threat to our political system as the growing size and complexity of government. These forces make it increasingly difficult for ordinary people to exercise effective control over government—or even to understand what it is doing.
In addition, Sitaraman’s focus on the Founders’ fear of excessive inequality of wealth leads him to ignore their much stronger concern for protecting liberty and property rights, and limiting and decentralizing government power. These latter ideas can help us address the more dangerous elements of our present situation.
While Sitaraman overstates the dangers of inequality, he is right to highlight the perils of declining opportunity for the poor and lower-middle class, and the ways in which the modern state offers all too many opportunities for the wealthy and powerful to enrich themselves at the expense of the public interest. But there are ways to mitigate these problems, while simultaneously reducing the size and complexity of government that have undermined democratic accountability and empowered unscrupulous elites.
Keywords: Inequality, Political Ignorance, Democracy, Middle Class, Constitution, Constitutional history, Gilens, opportunity, accountability, incomes
JEL Classification: K10, H41, H70, H77
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation