Recent high-profile mass shootings have inspired yet another “national conversation” about mental illness. But as we appropriately focus on such incidents of violence, we must also remember the more common and mundane repercussions of mental illness. A look at national mental-health policy reveals that, for decades, public resources have frequently been used to undermine essential mental-health services, leaving the sickest of the sick without the help they desperately need.
Conventional wisdom holds that regulation has evolved toward ever greater rationality, economic efficiency, and respect for market forces. But the opposite is true: Regulators are moving toward an ephemeral vision of rules free from trade-offs, endorsed by purportedly free-market economists, and buttressed with seemingly authoritative cost-benefit analyses. Genuinely rational rule-making would require, instead, a recovery of skepticism and humility.
The spending undertaken by federal appropriators — just like private businesses and households — is restrained by a budget. But federal regulators face no such constraints. They can impose costs on the economy without limit, as long as they can somehow claim sufficient benefits connected to their rules. It is time for Congress to establish a regulatory budget to contain the cost of our administrative state.
For decades, comparisons of projected costs and benefits have guided federal regulation. But new developments present challenges to those analyses. The first involves behavioral economics and accounting for the costs of harmful biases. The second involves accounting for structural weaknesses in the labor market. And the third involves rules with international benefits but domestic costs. We must re-evaluate some of the assumptions underlying modern regulation.
When discussing how the regulatory state might be reined in, many conservatives argue that Congress should stop delegating its authority to administrative agencies. But such delegation runs so deep in modern government that it might make more sense to think instead about how it should be overseen and governed — opening the way to a badly needed recovery of the separation of powers.
Debates about fiscal policy often traffic in grand fictions. And none is grander than the notion that massive trust-fund reserves exist to finance Social Security and Medicare, the very programs that threaten to drive our country into a debt crisis. An honest assessment of how these programs are funded is an essential first step toward recovering fiscal sanity and reviving self-government.
The War on Poverty, launched half a century ago, has certainly improved the material condition of the poorest Americans, but it has not done nearly enough to encourage self-sufficiency and genuine mobility. If we are to advance those crucial objectives, we must learn from our decades of experience, and so transform the safety net in ways that emphasize work.
The last few years have witnessed extraordinary bipartisan agreement on the need to reform our criminal-justice system and reduce our prison populations. This has not been the work of moderates, but of a coalition of ideological diehards from both sides, who worked for years against near-hopeless odds before their labors bore fruit. This story offers lessons about what agreement across party lines might look like in our polarized age.
In last year’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision, the Supreme Court not only legalized gay marriage nationwide but also quashed an ongoing democratic debate about an important political issue, proclaiming the Court alone had the final word on the matter. The Court thus raised the question of judicial supremacy in our constitutional system, revealing confusion about that question in all quarters of our politics.
Radicals seeking to remake society often claim their efforts have a scientific basis, and accuse conservative opponents of being anti-science. They dismiss the warnings of Burke, Hayek, and others who have doubted the individual reformer’s ability to fully comprehend the social order he wishes to overthrow. Ironically, a growing body of academic research now supports the conservative view, with scientific evidence of the limits of social science.
To live in working-class and lower-income America today is to be surrounded by the debt culture. Need money? Get “EZ Cash” from your friendly neighborhood payday lender “in minutes!” It was not always this way. The deep commitment to thrift that once characterized our society would strike many Americans today as astonishing — and can teach us a lot.
Nathan Glazer — the sociologist and social critic, essayist, and long-time co-editor of The Public Interest — has spent more than seven decades helping Americans better understand our society. His wide-ranging commentary and analysis, and his humble, detached, but respectful approach to his subjects remain a model of scholarship. But it may be his sharp critiques of America’s elites and their vices that speak to us most powerfully in this challenging moment.