Editor's Note:Allison Stanger is Russell Leng ’60 Professor of International Politics and Economics and Chair of the Political Science Department at Middlebury College Middlebury College. She is the author of One Nation Under Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of Foreign Policy.
By Allison Stanger - Special to CNN
The Occupy Wall Street movement has sparked diverse reactions – applause, disdain and much in between. But what strikes me as most interesting is what is not being said by anyone: No one is arguing that the system isn’t broken.
Republicans claim we can get the country back on track by budget cuts that continue to starve government; when government is itself the problem, the solution is to fund less of it. Democrats argue that repairing our nation’s dysfunction must start by reining in business to prevent a repeat of the financial crash of 2008. But the debate over whether big business or big government is the real enemy misses the real crux of the matter: the big government versus big business narrative is history. The interests of big business and big government increasingly intersect in ways that effectively make them one and the same. Both have an interest in maintaining the status quo, because the status quo serves the interests of both Wall Street and Washington elites.
These mutual interests are easy to miss, because most Americans misunderstand the shape of government in 21st century America. For example, the right criticizes President Obama for “growing government at record pace.” It is true that the federal government has never been bigger in terms of the sheer amount of money it burns through. But it has also never been smaller in terms of the number of people it employs. The number of people on the direct government payroll today is roughly the same as it was in 1966 but the size of the federal budget in that same period of time has more than tripled in real terms.
So who is the doing the work of government? A big part of the answer is contractors.
In a process embraced by both Democrats and Republicans alike, the federal government has over time been slowly hollowed out, with Washington handing over its analysis, evaluation and execution duties to the private sector whenever possible, both as a perceived means of reducing costs and of increasing efficiency. This blind faith in the superiority of market solutions has had one large unintended consequence. Government has become wholly dependent on the private sector to do its daily work, blurring the once firm line between business and government.
Add in the revolving door that spins so rapidly between government, K Street, Wall Street and what Tom Friedman has called the contractor-industrial complex, and the illusion that there is still a sturdy and independent government that can defend the public interest and stand up to the interests of organized money is further exposed as wishful thinking. This is an underappreciated aspect of Washington’s dysfunction and our present predicament.
Prosecuting the most prominent rule-breakers like Goldman Sachs’ Rajat Gupta is a step in the right direction to restoring some sort of balance between the interests of the 1% and those of the 99%. But it will do nothing to address the core problem of a government that has embraced outsourcing as a solution to any problem and in the process lost its sense of those things that only government can do well, as well as its very ability to promote the common good.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Allison Stanger.