The era of the Third American Republic is coming to an end, writes James V. DeLong in The American. He means we are seeing the end of the Special Interest State. What is the Special Interest State?
Starting in the 1930s, the theoretical limitations on the authority of governments—national or state—to deal with economic or welfare issues were dissolved, and in the course of fighting for this untrammeled power governments eagerly accepted responsibility for the functioning of the economy and the popular welfare.
But the way this new system worked was in a contest of the special interests.
Control comes to rest with those with the greatest interest or the most money at stake, and the result was the creation of a polity called “the Special Interest State” or, in Cornell University Professor Theodore Lowi’s terms, “Interest Group Liberalism.” Its essence is that various interest groups seize control over particular power centers of government and use them for their own ends.
Originally, the Progressives had declared against the rule of the corrupt special interests, the city political machines and the corporate trusts, but under the rule of New Deal liberals, special interests became a feature, not a bug.
The problem is, of course, that "special interests try to convert themselves into moral entitlements to convince others to agree to their claims." That way, the special interests are not hogs in the trough but noble moral activists working for a better world.
But why shouldn't this system go on forever? DeLong counts the ways:
Sheer size The system just gets bigger and bigger.
Responsibility As the government's reach increases, people will blame it for the failures.
Lack of limiting principles There is no principle that says enough is enough. Thus the special interests will keep competing for the moral advantage until the whole system collapses.
Conflicts Eventually the special interests will be competing against each other rather than leaching off the unorganized American people.
Leaders don't get it No leader is indicating that they grasp the problem.
When all these problems go critical we will have a crisis of legitimacy. And then things will change.
Perhaps the Tea Party movement represents the leading edge of the change that is to come. Or perhaps not. DeLong quotes Herbert Stein (father of our beloved Ben Stein).
“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
But in the long run, we are all dead.