Ross Douthat wonders aloud if any political movement, any reaction on the part of the electorate, can possibly overcome the one directional dynamic of Progressive Statism.
This feels like a populist moment. Americans are Tea Partying. Greeks are rioting. Incumbents are being thrown out; the Federal Reserve is facing an audit; Goldman Sachs is facing prosecution. In Kentucky, Ron Paulâ€™s son might be about to win a Republican Senate primary.
But look through these anti-establishment theatrics to the deep structures of political and economic power, and suddenly the surge of populism feels like so much sound and fury, obscuring the real story of our time. From Washington to Athens, the economic crisis is producing consolidation rather than revolution, the entrenchment of authority rather than its diffusion, and the concentration of power in the hands of the same elite that presided over the disasters in the first place. …
Taken case by case, many of these policy choices are perfectly defensible. Taken as a whole, they suggest a system that only knows how to move in one direction. If consolidation creates a crisis, the answer is further consolidation. If economic centralization has unintended consequences, then you need political centralization to clean up the mess. If a government conspicuously fails to prevent a terrorist attack or a real estate bubble, then obviously it needs to be given more powers to prevent the next one, or the one after that.
The C.I.A. and F.B.I. didnâ€™t stop 9/11, so now we have the Department of Homeland Security. Decades of government subsidies for homebuyers helped create the housing crash, so now the government is subsidizing the auto industry, the green-energy industry, the health care sector …
The pattern applies to personnel as well as policy. If Robert Rubinâ€™s mistakes helped create an out-of-control financial sector, then naturally you need Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers â€” Rubinâ€™s protÃ©gÃ©s â€” to set things right. After all, who else are you going to trust with all that consolidated power? Ron Paul? Dennis Kucinich? Sarah Palin?
This is the perverse logic of meritocracy. Once a system grows sufficiently complex, it doesnâ€™t matter how badly our best and brightest foul things up. Every crisis increases their authority, because they seem to be the only ones who understand the system well enough to fix it.
But their fixes tend to make the system even more complex and centralized, and more vulnerable to the next national-security surprise, the next natural disaster, the next economic crisis. Which is why, despite all the populist backlash and all the promises from Washington, this isnâ€™t the end of the â€œtoo big to failâ€ era. Itâ€™s the beginning.