Advertisement

Historical Perspective On Polarization

Brendan Nyhan brings some historical perspective on partisan polarization in the United States:

The post-World War II economic system was built around the US economy at a time when partisan polarization was relatively low, which increased stability and gave elites substantial room to maneuver in economic policy matters. Now, however, growth in polarization has fueled a debt ceiling standoff that threatens to destabilize financial markets at a time when US still makes up a substantial proportion of the world economy and plays a crucial role in bond and currency markets.

A related point I would emphasize is that not only does the United States play a much larger role in the global economy than it did during the Gilded Age, but the federal government plays a much larger role in the domestic economy. A lapse of appropriations leading to a “government shutdown” had relatively modest implications in 1911 compared to what it means in 2011. Another point about this is that a lot of us who spent much of the past decade noting that rising polarization was simply a return to the pre-New Deal status quo have actually missed the part where polarization has, in fact, rocketed to the highest level on record.

Advertisement