Ring out the new, ring in the old 8

Mark Steyn predicts an unhappy New Year.

Everything he warns about is real, but he writes about it so engagingly that he waltzes with our minds rather than rubs our noses in the messy facts.

Ring out the new, ring in the old. No, hang on, that should be the other way around, shouldn’t it?

Not as far as 2011 was concerned. The year began with a tea-powered Republican caucus taking control of the House of Representatives and pledging to rein in spendaholic government. It ended with President Obama making a pro forma request for a mere $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling. This will raise government debt to $16.4 trillion — a new world record! If only until he demands the next debt-ceiling increase in three months’ time.

At the end of 2011 … tens of millions of Americans remain unaware that this nation is broke — broker than any nation has ever been.

A few days before Christmas, we sailed across the psychological Rubicon and joined the club of nations whose government debt now exceeds their total GDP. It barely raised a murmur — and those who took the trouble to address the issue noted complacently that our 100% debt-to-GDP ratio is a mere two-thirds of Greece’s.

That’s true, but at a certain point per capita comparisons are less relevant than the sheer hard dollar sums: Greece owes a few rinky-dink billions; America owes more money than anyone has ever owed anybody ever.

Public debt has increased by 67% over the last three years, and too many Americans refuse even to see it as a problem. For most of us, “$16.4 trillion” has no real meaning, any more than “$17.9 trillion” or “$28.3 trillion” or “$147.8 bazillion.” It doesn’t even have much meaning for the guys spending the dough.

Look into the eyes of Barack Obama or Harry Reid or Barney Frank …

Please no!

… and you realize that, even as they’re borrowing all this money, they have no serious intention of paying any of it back. That’s to say, there is no politically plausible scenario under which the $16.4 trillion is reduced to $13.7 trillion, and then $7.9 trillion, and eventually 173 dollars and 48 cents.

At the deepest levels within our governing structures, we are committed to living beyond our means on a scale no civilization has ever done. Our most enlightened citizens think it’s rather vulgar and boorish to obsess about debt. The urbane, educated, Western progressive would rather “save the planet,” a cause which offers the grandiose narcissism that, say, reforming Medicare lacks.

So, for example, a pipeline delivering Canadian energy from Alberta to Texas is blocked by the president on no grounds whatsoever except that the very thought of it is an aesthetic affront to the moneyed Sierra Club types who infest his fundraisers.

The offending energy, of course, does not simply get mothballed in the Canadian attic: The Dominion’s prime minister has already pointed out that Canada will sell it to the Chinese, whose politburo lacks our exquisitely refined revulsion at economic dynamism, and indeed seems increasingly amused by it. Pace the ecopalyptics, the planet will be just fine: Would it kill you to try saving your country, or state, or municipality?

The “ecopalyptics”: a coinage that should go into general circulation.

Last January, the BBC’s Brian Milligan inaugurated the New Year by driving an electric Mini from London to Edinburgh, taking advantage of the many government-subsidized charge posts en route. It took him four days, which works out to an average speed of 6 mph — or longer than it would have taken on a stagecoach in the mid-19th century. This was hailed as a great triumph by the environmentalists. I mean, c’mon, what’s the hurry?

What indeed? In September, the 10th anniversary of a murderous strike at the heart of America’s most glittering city was commemorated at a building site: The Empire State Building was finished in 18 months during the Depression, but in the 21st century the global superpower cannot put up two replacement skyscrapers within a decade.

The 9/11 memorial museum was supposed to open on the 11th anniversary, this coming September. On Thursday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced there is “no chance of it being open on time.” No big deal. What’s one more endlessly delayed, inefficient, over-bureaucratized construction project in a sclerotic republic?

Barely had the 9/11 observances ended than America’s gilded if somewhat long-in-the-tooth youth took to the streets of Lower Manhattan to launch “Occupy Wall Street.” The young certainly should be mad about something. After all, it’s their future that got looted to bribe the present.

As things stand, they’ll end their days in an impoverished, violent, disease-ridden swamp of dysfunction that would be all but unrecognizable to Americans of the mid-20th century — and, if that’s not reason to take to the streets, what is?

Alas, our somnolent youth are also laboring under the misapprehension that advanced Western societies still have somebody to stick it to. The total combined wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans is $1.5 trillion. So, if you confiscated the lot, it would barely cover one Obama debt-ceiling increase.

Nevertheless, America’s student princes’ main demand was that someone else should pick up the six-figure tab for their leisurely half-decade varsity of social justice studies. Lest sticking it to the Man by demanding the Man write them a large check sound insufficiently idealistic, they also wanted a trillion dollars for “ecological restoration.”

Hey, why not? What difference is another lousy trill gonna make?

Underneath the patchouli and pneumatic drumming, the starry-eyed young share the same cobwebbed parochial assumptions of permanence as their grandparents: We’re gayer, greener and groovier, but other than that it’s still 1950 and we’ve got more money than anybody else on the planet, so why get hung up about a few trillion here and a few trillion there?

In a mere half-century, the richest nation on earth became the brokest nation in history, but the attitudes and assumptions of half the population and 90% of the ruling class remain unchanged.

At this stage in a critical election cycle, we ought to be arguing about how many government departments to close, how many government programs to end, how many millions of government regulations to do away with. Instead, one party remains committed to encrusting even more barnacles to America’s rusting hulk, while the other is far too wary of harshing the electorate’s mellow.

“Harshing the mellow”. Only Mark Steyn could write that.

The sooner we recognize the 20th century entitlement state is over, the sooner we can ring in something new. The longer we delay ringing out the old, the worse it will be. Happy New Year?

Individuals find their happiness – if they find it – in their private lives. “Public affairs  vex no man,” said the great Dr. Samuel Johnson.

The trouble is, a wrecked economy affects private lives by reducing the chances for happiness.

But may we all still pursue it. The Declaration of Independence says it’s our right to do so. And if we can get rid of the collectivist-minded Obama and his henchmen and henchwomen, maybe we’ll catch it eventually in a bright new year.

  • George

    Thanks Andrew M . I couldn’t respond under your post. I’ve been in and out of the hospital, and doctor visits and also chiropractor visits as well. I’m suppose to take over $500.00 worth of medications per month for life which I can’t afford and I’m over my head in debt  in paying medical co-payments.  Severe pain all over ,  head , neck, back and arm and leg injuries . I’m limiting my medical treatments so I don’t lose my health insurance because of too frequent treatments.  Keep up the fight guy . You are a very noble gentleman and amazing friend.  I have the utmost respect for Jillian and the staff of this website.    I’ll keep Jillian posted at a much later time.   We have to keep the torch of freethought burning for future generations . Take care my friend and my best regards !

  • George

    Happy New Year  &  Best Wishes   !!

    • Jillian Becker

      Welcome back, George. 

      We’ve missed you. 

      A very happy New Year to you too!

      • George

        Still undergoing medical treatment and care  &  gotten worse. In excruciating  pain 24/7 .   Take care ——–Luv ya  ,    George

        • So sorry to hear about your pain, George. I’ve missed you and your insightful analysis greatly.

          I hope you start feeling much better for this New Year!

  • mark e

    I like Martin Amis’s comment on Mark Steyn’s style: “his thoughts and themes are sane and serious – but he writes like a maniac.”

    What depresses me is that Christianity is part of Steyn’s package of beliefs and I suspect without it Steyn would not be Steyn.

    I endorse his condemnation of the cultural and intellectual elites – but those elites are right about one thing: religious doctrines are false. And if you accept that religious – specifically Christian – doctrines are false it’s very difficult to maintain the hope or optimism which helps to give writers like Steyn their verve and energy.

    • Liz

      Interesting point, but not sure I agree.  I think the beliefs of Christians do give them a false sense of ‘hope and optimism’ – kind of like a drug does – but if they were rid of the false hope, I think they would find an even firmer ground for it in a fully rational perspective.  After all, capitalism beats utopian collectivism hands down for rationality. 

      • mark e

        Cultures and countries rise and fall and it seems clear that Western civilization is in decline. But this in no way weakens my commitment to reason, the importance of free markets and a whole set of Western values.

        Let me also add my good wishes for the new year.