Lately, there has been a great deal of debate among scholars as to whether government causes rather than solves social problems, in part because many claim that government action crowds out social institutions. As the government controls more and more aspects of life, the impact that institutions of civil society (like schools and community-based organizations) can have decreases. This can be a problem because in many cases, it is those small institutions of civil society that have the most accurate understanding is what is needed to solve social problems instead of escalating or causing them. For example, the United States federal government often attempts to address the problem of educational inequity by requiring universal standardized tests for all students. But teachers and staff in underperforming schools often voice that these tests create additional, unnecessary challenges for them and their students, when what they really need are things like more equitable funding. But as the government passes legislation that crowds out the influence of groups like teachers’ unions, the voices of those who know best have little to no influence.
Research has also shown that cross-cutting cleavages—social divisions that are further divided into groups that conflict on some issues but cooperate on others—can help moderate social conflict. This is because people who are “cross-pressured” when working to solve social problems want to appeal to the interests of all sides. These cleavages thus give people multiple allegiances that can help keep conflict to a moderate level, something that the government should keep in mind when addressing social issues.
However, cross-cutting cleavages often complicate government efforts to provide umbrella solutions to complex social problems. For instance, consider the example of a cross-cutting cleavage that can be seen in rural white working-class people in the United States. Some people in this group may not support conservative economic policies, just like many working-class people in big cities, but they do tend to support conservative social policies, which separates them from the urban working class. The rural working class is also separated from the urban working class because their economies function on different types of labor and they have different cultural values. When addressing social problems facing the working class, the government has to take into account these cleavages and consider how policies may cause unintended problems for the rural working class by focusing on the urban, or vice versa. However, the government often fails to take such cleavages into account, either because of complexity or lack of awareness, which can end up causing problems rather than solving them.