The Congress and the Deficit

Our Confidence in Congress

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Aug 18, 2012    •    498 Views

The preface to This Time It’s Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly tells us that, “We have been here before.”

During 1837, with Martin Van Buren entering the White House and Andrew Jackson leaving, a depression had begun. Called the Panic of 1837, banks failed, stock markets plunged, investment declined, there were fewer goods imported, fewer businesses were formed and economic activity contracted.

Describing how we felt about Congress, this 1837 excerpt from Nantucket’s Inquirer and Mirror sounds rather familiar.

“…and for the past year, the subject of our national currency has been the prominent theme of discussion. We have some faith in the wisdom of Congress, notwithstanding it has been predicted they will do nothing but talk–that they can do nothing towards extricating the country from the perplexities which, it is now but very evident to the candid in every party, the untoward ‘experiment’ of the last administration has either caused or aggravated.”

Fast forward to 2012 and an April Pew Research Center survey that reported just 1/3 of the American people had a positive opinion of the federal government and 54% of respondents believed that the “federal government is mostly corrupt.” Correspondingly, their January 2012 survey reported that just 23% of Americans have a “favorable opinion of Congress.” By contrast, many of us feel okay about our state and local governments. Still though, a majority of respondents “say their state government is not careful with people’s money (56%), is too divided along party lines (53%) and is generally inefficient (51%).”

And sadly, this Bloomberg headline says, “Telemarketers Get Higher Approval Rating Than U.S. Congress.” The article then continues to describe the results of a Gallup survey that reported stockbrokers and banks also got higher marks than Congress.

Sources and Resources: Here and here you can see more from Pew about our attitude toward government and here is an essay on the Panic of 1837. The 1837 news article excerpt was from page 1b, the August 16 edition of Nantucket’s Inquirer and Mirror.

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