At Fox News: “Why our heated political rhetoric will only get worse, not better”

Jun 20, 2017 | Featured

Dr. John Lott’s latest piece at Fox News starts this way:

Some hope that the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others last Wednesday will lead to more civility in politics.  It’s clear that the attack was politically motivated — the Democratic shooter even carried a hit list of Republicans.  The political viciousness has been everywhere.

While some will blame the violence on the grotesque picture of Kathy Griffin holding the President’s severed head or a play where the president is being stabbed to death, this Sunday Jill Abramson, the former chief editor of the New York Times, told CNN that it was “President Trump and the congressional leadership on the Republican side [who] are extremely divisive.”

But all these discussions miss something more fundamental that is driving all this, and, unfortunately, the viciousness isn’t likely to abate.

One reason that previous generations didn’t treat their presidents with similar levels of hated is because so much is at stake today.   As government has grown, so too have the stakes.  This simple point explains everything from increases in campaign spending to increasingly heated judicial confirmations.  It explains why political discourse has grown generally more vicious.

Two baseball teams playing in the seventh game of the World Series are probably going to play a lot harder than two teams competing in August with no chance of making the playoffs. In the same way, as the size and scope of the federal government increases, interest groups will spend more on elections in an effort to influence the levers of government.

If federal spending still amounted to two percent to three percent of GDP — as it did a century ago — people likely wouldn’t care as passionately about election outcomes.

In the Journal of Law and Economics in 2000, I studied spending on gubernatorial and legislative races from 1976 to 1994.  The growth of state governments could explain almost 80 percent of the increase in campaign spending over those years. . . . .

The rest of the piece is available here.