Saturday, September 28, 2013
Mark Steyn replies to a comment made by a reader:
an exasperated reader wrote to advise me to lighten up, on the grounds that “we’re rich enough to be stupid.” That’s to say, Western democracies and their citizens are the wealthiest societies ever known, and no matter how much of our energies are wasted on pointless hyper-regulation for the business class and multigenerational welfare for the dependency class and Transgender and Colonialism Studies for our glittering youth, we can afford it, and the central fact of our wealth will ensure that our fortunes do not change.
But we live in a world which is actually very carefully balanced on a precipice. We may be wealthy, fat, living in McManions. But the modern world around us is actually much more than simply assemblies of brick, wood and metal. It’s a finely tuned system that’s very vulnerable to disruption. Let the power go off for a few days or weeks and you quickly find that you can’t cook. Let the time expand to a few months and you run out of food because there is no transportation, no refrigeration, no light or heat, not “health care” system. High rise buildings become uninhabitable to the average urban dweller. It’s at that point that you realize that all the gadgets that make our lives what they are become useless lumps of metal and plastic little more use than the raw material from which they were formed. It’s at that point that the people who are most likely to survive are the naked nomadic herdsmen you once saw pictured in National Geographic magazine, if they actually still exist.
Obama’s pointless, traceless super-spending is now (as they used to say after 9/11) “the new normal.” Nancy Pelosi assured the nation last weekend that everything that can be cut has been cut and there are no more cuts to be made. And the disturbing thing is that, as a matter of practical politics, she may well be right. Many people still take my correspondent’s view: If you have old money well managed, you can afford to be stupid — or afford the government’s stupidity on your behalf. If you’re a social-activist celebrity getting $20 million per movie, you can afford the government’s stupidity. If you’re a tenured professor or a unionized bureaucrat whose benefits were chiseled in stone two generations ago, you can afford it. If you’ve got a wind farm and you’re living large on government “green energy” investments, you can afford it. If you’ve got the contract for signing up Obamaphone recipients, you can afford it.But out there beyond the islands of privilege most Americans don’t have the same comfortably padded margin for error, and they’re hunkering down. Obamacare is something new in American life: the creation of a massive bureaucracy charged with downsizing you — to a world of fewer doctors, higher premiums, lousier care, more debt, fewer jobs, smaller houses, smaller cars, smaller, fewer, less; a world where worse is the new normal. Would Americans, hitherto the most buoyant and expansive of people, really consent to live such shrunken lives? If so, mid-20th-century America and its assumptions of generational progress will be as lost to us as the Great Ziggurat of Ur was to 19th-century Mesopotamian date farmers.George Orwell, after attending a meeting of impoverished but passive miners, remarked sadly that “there is no turbulence left in England.” The Democrats, and much of the Republican establishment, have made a bet that there is no turbulence left in America, and the citizenry will stand mute before Obamacare’s wrecking ball. Unless they’re willing to accept a worse life for their children and grandchildren, middle-class Americans need to prove them wrong.
It takes a lot to destroy a nation as big and wealthy as ours. But the very things that have made us wealthy have created vulnerabilities that most people are as unaware of as were the people who boarded those jet planes on 9/11/2001 and failed to live till the end of the day.