What Joblessness Does to Democracy

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It's hard to know whether the recession will push Americans -- especially younger Americans -- to the left or the right because generations coming of age during recessions tend to rely on government more but trust it less. We're seeing this play out today. Automatic spending on jobless benefits, food stamps and Medicaid assistance is way up, but 80 percent of Americans don't trust government. It's hard to know which party benefits in the long-term, but easy to predict this doesn't help incumbents in 2010.

What else can we expect from populations suffering extending joblessness? They tend to grow fond rogue leaders (calling Ms. Palin) and don't necessarily love democracy:

We find that personal joblessness experience translates into negative opinions about the effectiveness of democracy and it increases the desire for a rouge leader. Evidence from people who live in European countries suggests that being jobless for more than a year is the source of discontent. We also find that well-educated and wealthier individuals are less likely to indicate that democracies are ineffective, regardless of joblessness. People's beliefs about the effectiveness of democracy as system of governance are also shaped by the unemployment rate in countries with low levels of democracy. The results suggest that periods of high unemployment and joblessness could hinder the development of democracy or threaten its existence.
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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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