The Stone blog at the NY Times has an interesting post up on the Tea Party today focused on the anger displayed in that movement. There are a few things that I'll probably take up later today but first it gives me an excuse to give my 2 cents on one aspect of the movement.
Bernstein's post reminded me of something I've thought often about the Tea Party that I think is loosely related to Bernstein's thoughts on the subject. The Tea Party is an example of what happens when the social contract is violated and also shows to some extent that such a social contract does implicitly exist. Specifically, they seem angry that what could loosely be called the American social contract, roughly a thin safety net in return for higher economic growth, doesn't seem to be working so well recently.*
Of course, the Tea Party's anger isn't just about this but is also about a response that has tried to make our social contract more like that of other nations. The social contract isn't something that can be swapped at will, they want ours. They reject violently any reforms that seem to be inspired by the experiences of other societies. Since they too see a need for reform however they also have ideas on how to get back to our social contract. Their response is not to look abroad but to advocate for a more extreme (or pure perhaps?) expression of our existing social contract.
*I tend to see the basic part of the social contract that the Tea Partiers are angry about is the link between the safety net and economic growth. I think there is some truth to this, I do believe that our lower job security translates into additional growth, but I think much of the rest of it, such as low taxes and relatively lax regulation (though I'm sceptical as to how true less regulation is in practice), has had ambiguous effects on growth. The Tea Party is angry that the promises of how are social contract works are not being fulfilled and expect something to be done to restore this proper balance, not to replace this social contract with a new one. A problem with this attitude would be if the links we've been told are there, such as low taxes leading to high growth, are far weaker than those advocating them would like to believe. In any case, there are certainly some high costs to how we do things that are being exposed in this recession and this is leading to anger across the political spectrum. Other parts of our social contract, such as representative government etc., also seem to be of concern to the Tea Party, but not to this particular post.