When savers be­came debtors

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

Be­moan­ing de­cline in a dif­fer­ent time, Ge­orge Or­well once said we “have sunk to a depth at which the re­state­ment of the ob­vi­ous is the first duty of in­tel­li­gent men.” Hap­pily for read­ers in­ter­ested in the state of the na­tion, Mark Steyn has re­ported for duty.

As in his pre­vi­ous out­ing “Amer­ica Alone: The End of the World as We Know It,” in “Af­ter Amer­ica: Get Ready for Ar­maged­don,” Mr. Steyn has writ­ten a very se­ri­ous book. Through­out, he braces read­ers with quite a lot that should be ob­vi­ous, yet is over­looked by many who will­fully avert their gaze. He ad­vises us at the out­set that “Amer­ica Alone” was “about the im­pend­ing col­lapse of all of the Western world ex­cept Amer­ica.” In “Af­ter Amer­ica,” he laments hav­ing to re­port that Amer­ica “has de­cided to sign up for the same pro­gram but su­per­sized.” And he hopes that Amer­i­cans will re­dis­cover their his­toric strengths, seize the throt­tle and pull their coun­try out of its cur­rent tail­spin.

Given that the down­grad­ing of Amer­ica’s credit score by Stan­dard & Poor’s roughly co­in­cided with the launch of this book, it’s amus­ing (but hardly sur­pris­ing) that the pro­logue is ti­tled “The Stu­pid­ity of Broke.” Up­front we are in­tro­duced to a raft of un­happy in­for­ma­tion about our na­tion’s un­sus­tain­able spend­ing and bor­row­ing habits. Soon our in­ter­est pay­ments on the national debt will ex­ceed what we spend on de­fense, and by the way, those same pay­ments will fund the en­tire mil­i­tary (some­how I don’t think “de­fense” is the right ad­jec­tive) bud­get of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China. With char­ac­ter­is­tic un­der­state­ment (well, not re­ally) Mr. Steyn ob­serves that when “the Com­mies take Tai­wan, sub­ur­ban fam­i­lies in Al­bu­querque and small busi­nesses in Po­catello will have paid for it.”

While Mr. Steyn gives the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion credit for dou­bling down on deficit spend­ing, he’s appropriately bi­par­ti­san in as­sign­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the decades-long run-up to the cur­rent cri­sis. As he notes, be­fore “the Democrats ac­cel­er­ated to Oba­macrous Speed in 2009,” the govern­ment spend­ing graph had been “a near per­fect straight line across four decades, up, up, up” — with­out re­gard to which party con­trolled the White House and the Congress.

In one gen­er­a­tion, Mr. Steyn ob­serves, “a na­tion of savers be­came the world’s largest debtors, and a na­tion of mak­ers and do­ers be­came a cheap ser­vice econ­omy.” If that over­states the sit­u­a­tion, it does not miss the fun­da­men­tal point, and Mr. Steyn doc­u­ments in ex­cru­ci­at­ing de- tail (with 50 pages of foot­notes fol­low­ing the text pro­vid­ing backup) our de­scent into a “mul­ti­tril­lion-dol­lar debt catas­tro­phe” ac­com­pa­nied by “in­creas­ing de­pen­dency, dis­in­cen­tiviz­ing self-re­liance, [and] ab­solv­ing the cit­i­zenry from re­spon­si­bil­ity for their ac­tions.” This is all brought to us by the core prob­lem, what he terms “the re­morse­less gov­ern­men­tal­iza­tion of Amer­i­can life.”

As he chron­i­cles the de­pen­dency agenda of our lead­er­ship, with rich par­al­lels to cur­rent-day Greece and the United King­dom, Mr. Steyn also points to a moral fail­ing, a de­lib­er­ate ab­di­ca­tion of lead­er­ship and great­ness. Yes, our debt as a per­cent­age of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct was slightly larger in 1945 than it is to­day, but that was “af­ter a world war in which [Amer­ica] van­quished mighty en­e­mies of global reach and es­tab­lished it­self as the dom­i­nant power on the planet.” What do we have to show for our debt to­day? Un­sus­tain­able en­ti­tle­ments, global eco­nomic and mil­i­tary de­cline and a new class war in which “tak­ers” in unions and among our “pu­bic ser­vants” and the per­ma­nently de­pen­dent face off against “the rest of us.”

Within a decade, not so long ago, we put men on the moon and the first to ar­rive had the “in­sou­ciant swag­ger” to salute the world by play­ing Frank Si­na­tra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” on a por­ta­ble tape player. To­day, NASA’s ad­min­is­tra­tor ex­plains Pres­i­dent Obama’s charge that the space agency should “reach out to the Mus­lim world” in or­der to “help them feel good about their his­toric con­tri­bu­tion to sci­ence and math and en­gi­neer­ing.”

Mr. Steyn’s sendup of such non­sense is mar­velous: “Is­lam: The fi­nal fron­tier! To boldly go where no di­ver­sity outreach con­sul­tant has gone be­fore!” As for mak­ing Mus­lims “feel good” about their con­tri­bu­tions to sci­ence, he dryly notes that “as re­cently as the early ninth cen­tury” there was a no­table achieve­ment.

But “things have been a lit­tle quiet since then.” So, even as the author brings us bun­dles of bad news, he’s po­lite enough to do so with panache, with prose that is suc­cinct, lu­cid and en­ter­tain­ing.

In the fi­nal anal­y­sis, hap­pily, he of­fers hope.

He notes that only in Amer­ica have peo­ple taken to the streets to ask the govern­ment to do less. But he urges that time is of the essence, and that a statist Amer­ica will be more like the Third World than Swe­den.

Ray Hartwell is a Washington lawyer and a Navy vet­eran.

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