When government spends on the scale Washington’s got used to, that’s not a spending crisis, it’s a moral one. The Irish have a useful word for the times -- flaithiulacht -- which translates to ruinous generosity, invariably with someone else’s money. There’s nothing virtuous about “caring” “compassionate” “progressives” demonstrating how caring and compassionate and progressive they are by spending money yet to be earned by generations yet to be born. That’s what “fiscal Conservatives” often miss: this isn’t a green-eye-shade issue. Increasing dependency, disincentivizing self-reliance, absolving the citizenry from responsibility for their actions: the multitrillion-dollar debt catastrophe is not the problem but merely the symptom. It’s not just about balancing the books, but about balancing the most basic impulses of society. These are structural and, ultimately, moral questions. Credit depends on trust, and trust pre-supposes responsibility. So, if you have a credit boom in an age that has all but abolished personal responsibility, it’s not hard to figure how it’s going to end.
The U.S. Bureau of the Public Debt (and no, that’s not a satirist’s fancy but an all too real government body) uses as its motto the words of Alexander Hamilton:
The United States debt, foreign and domestic, was the price of liberty.
But in the early twenty-first century, foreign and domestic debt piles up to the cost of liberty. As I wrote in America Alone, it’s not the “deficit”: these programs would be wrong if Bill Gates wrote a check to cover them every month. They’re wrong because they represent a transfer from the citizen to the state not of money but of power. And over time, as we see in the urge to expunge words like “default” and “foreclosure” and indeed any form of consequence from life, they have a debilitating effect. A society can cope with corroded infrastructure and a devalued currency more easily than with corroded liberty and a devalued citizenry.
King Belshazzar’s wild party began with an act of desecration:
Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem: and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
Similarly, the statists took the vessels of the American republic and filled them up with Big Government happy juice. The United States joined the rest of a cosseted western world in voting itself a lifestyle it was not willing to pay for. The bad news is our children will not enjoy the American Dream. The good news is that under the next “stimulus” bill they’ll be eligible to apply for a position as a federally funded American Dream Awareness Assistance Coordination Program Grantwriter. If the political class plus their dependents in the underclass and their cheerleaders in the media and academy have disconnected themselves from the animating principles of the American idea, what then is the point of America? Like President Obama, the progressive elite doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, yet somehow assumes that the very exceptional peace and prosperity Americans have enjoyed since 1945 are eternal -- as permanent a fact of life as the sky and the oceans.
The “bubble” is not the property market or cheap credit. The bubble is twenty-first-century America itself, from the financial sector to a wretched education system culminating in languorous, undemanding “college” courses whose absurd soaraway prices were affected not a jot by the economic downturn. When you weigh America in the balances, it’s not just wanting, it’s wanting a sugar daddy -- urgently: if Europe’s somewhat agreeable post-war decline was cushioned by America, who’s volunteering to do the cushioning for America?
There is no good answer to that question.
Taken from After Americaby Mark Steyn. Copyright 2011 by Mark Steyn. Used by permission of Regnery Publishing, Inc., Washington, DC.
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