James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Hawks and doves on the Fed

Jan 10, 2011 20:02 UTC

A handy chart from JPMorgan:


Is America growing politically unstable?

Jan 10, 2011 17:27 UTC

Is America becoming less politically stable? A glance at some foreign newspapers would certainly give that impression. This is an important economic question. The global primacy of Treasury bonds and the dollar stems mostly from the nation’s massive economic might. But confidence in U.S. political stability also plays a role. The shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, though tragic, shouldn’t alter those perceptions — unless freedom of speech suffers.

Amateur criminal psychologists in the Democratic Party and liberal punditocracy have been quick to blame conservative political rhetoric for helping nudge an unbalanced 22-year-old into acting on his murderous impulses. Pointed charges have been flung at the Tea Party movement and at Sarah Palin. In 2008, her political team created an online map that featured 20 targeted Democratic congressional districts identified by crosshairs, including that of Giffords.

There’s no evidence at this stage that the shooter — whose bizarre anti-government rants centered on the use of grammar as mind control — ever saw the Palin map or even favored right-wing punditry. And Democratic operatives created similar midterm maps targeting Republicans. Within reason, though, even hard-hitting imagery is not necessarily sinister: political contests, like sports, are steeped in martial metaphors. Bids for election, for instance, are referred to as campaigns.

Yet political violence has been rare in the United States in recent years. That’s despite the disputed 2000 presidential election, the unpopular Iraq war and the election of the first black president.  Indeed, the World Bank ranks America above the UK when it comes to “political stability and absence of violence.” And the U.S. rank has actually been on the rise in recent years.

world bank

That ranking partly reflects the fact that even heated talk doesn’t cause instability. But if the freedom to indulge in such rhetoric and to protest is curtailed, it can be a different story — one reason, perhaps, why China receives low marks from the World Bank. So it’s disturbing that some in Congress are already working on new laws to limit political speech, in addition to ongoing attacks on talk radio. Those efforts, if they move toward limiting legitimate expression, should worry global investors far more than a one-off lunatic act, however shocking its results.


Enjoy your columns, James.

American political “instability” has taken the form of unprecedented (compared to most of the 20th century) turnover in political control of Congress (1994, 2006, 2010). I would argue the real instability is that, in all three cases, Congress changed control in response to failed national leadership (Clinton, Bush, Obama). High national campaign costs for the Presidency in the modern media era ensure that the office will be filled by the candidate who can represent the most monied special interests, as opposed to national interest. America’s presidents have been a series of bad jokes for the last 20+ years, so no surprise that America’s standing as the preferred destination/currency for capital has already started to erode. I think for many foreign investors perception of American political instability is only now catching-up with reality, post-Financial Crisis.

As for Tucson, I would say that if we are to remain a (relatively) free society then one deranged community college dropout with easy access to guns has to be treated as an outlier at this point (but what a horrible culmination of years of failed left-wing and right-wing social & economic policy embodied in one sick individual).

BTW somebody below said “you don’t hear radical members of the liberal left spouting gun metaphors”, which made me laugh considering the current occupant of the White House said, back in 2008, to the effect “I will bring a gun to a knife fight to defend the monied special interests who are working to get me elected”.

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