The New Deal Constitution, I argued in an earlier post, depended on rising affluence to support and sustain pluralist interest group politics. However, it still featured institutional, quasi-corporatist limits, reflecting a residual recognition that affluence requires production. Our Constitution of Affluence, in contrast, recognizes no such limits. It takes affluence for granted and then stages an all-encompassing pluralist festival, on the unspoken premise that we can afford it.
Let’s skip the fact that the premise is no longer tenable (duh!) and, for the time being, the excellent question of what happens next. The point of today’s demoralizing sermon and well-rehearsed litany is that mere policy initiatives, from tax cuts to block grants to tort reform, will make little if any difference. Our unsustainable policy and fiscal commitments are anchored in institutional arrangements that we can change only with very great difficulty, if at all.