Monday, March 6, 2017

Mother should I trust the government

On my office wall is a Pink Floyd concert poster.  The poster art is a graffiti-covered section of the Berlin Wall, fitting since the concert occurred on July 4, 1988, in West Berlin.

The most prominent piece of graffiti on the poster is a Pink Floyd lyric, "Mother, should I trust the government." A new staff member noticed the poster and asked if I was a Pink Floyd fan.  "I am," I said, "but I also really like the irony."

One of the single most important (and disturbing) trends in American public administration is the public's loss of trust in government.  The Pew Research Center has charted this long decline.  Quoting from the PRC,

"Fewer than three-in-ten Americans have expressed trust in the federal government in every major national poll conducted since July 2007 – the longest period of low trust in government in more than 50 years. In 1958, when the American National Election Study first asked this question, 73% said they could trust the government just about always or most of the time."

Colleagues often are quick to argue that public opinion of state and federal government is lower than that of local government.  That's a bit like a business saying Comcast and the IRS have lower customer satisfaction ratings.  Not being the worst doesn't make one good.

What does it say about the profession of public administration that during the past half century, we have come to a point where less than 20 percent of Americans think "the government is run for the benefit of all"?

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