Monday 8 August 2011

The Wicked Debt of the West

How quickly things are moving. It’s not that long since I wrote about the great euro rescue (A New Old Young Plan). There they were, our leaders, all beaming smiles and all self-congratulation. I’ll just remind you of part of what I said;

Be assured: the crisis is over. The smug smiles said it all, as the European leaders emerged from the end of last week’s summit on the euro debt disaster. They emerged bearing gifts to the Greeks, a second bail-out of the profligate nation worth over $130billion. The details are all a bit vague, though; who, exactly, is going to pay what? Never mind that. Rejoice; the crisis is over; the euro lives; the European ideal lives. The crisis is over…until the next time.

My goodness, not even I, as prescient as I am, foresaw that the ‘next time’ would be a fortnight later! The rolling show rolls. A little like the Black Death of the fourteenth century, the contagion has now entered Italy and Spain.

There is a crisis here alright, a crisis not of economics but of politics; of stupidity, mismanagement and hubris. It’s crisis that’s besetting much of the Western world; it’s besetting America, which has for the first time in its history lost its impeccable credit rating. Sometimes I feel as if I’m standing on the sidelines looking at some impossible drama; stop, look, learn, I want to shout but nobody is listening; it’s all pictures in a dream.

I’m dipping in to The Federalist Papers at the present, those brilliant political musings by a brilliant generation, people rich in an understanding of law, politics, philosophy and history, all helping to shape their vision for the constitutional future of the infant United States. Having escaped one perceived tyranny they were anxious to avoid another; of the majority, of unrestricted executive power, of irresponsible government. Checks and balances were built into the system, intending that no one element should dominate at the cost of the other, at the cost of the nation itself.

Now America is drowning in debt, a figure so large that it’s beyond the comprehension of most people. In ordinary terms, or understandable figures, it now stands at $40,000 for every man, woman and child in the land, and climbing by the second. It could not come at the worst time in the nation’s history, a time when Presidential authority is at the lowest point ever. I once wrote that one would have to go all the way back to James Buchanan to find a President less equal to the task than Barack Obama. I now think that there may be some virtue to Buchanan.

In Federalist Number Ten James Madison wrote that “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; they have been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

But America has ignored Madison’s warning; America advanced towards a form of pork barrel democracy which has all but destroyed the securities built into the system by the Founders. Executive power, from Lincoln, to Wilson, to Roosevelt and beyond has increased beyond all measure, as has fiscal irresponsibility, the attack on property, the misuse of taxation, the appalling dependence of a great part of the population on government, something that would have horrified Madison and Jefferson.

It isn’t just the Democrats who are at fault here. The costs incurred by George W Bush’s ‘war on terror’, out of all proportion to the results, should have raised the alarm, should have led to an awareness that there was a serious need for fiscal retrenchment, But no, Obama built debt upon debt in attempting to turn the country into a European-style social democracy. It was as if the executive was gripped by a kind of madness.

Now it’s over. The state has bloated to the point where it represents a serious danger to the future well-being of the American economy and polity. The best comment I’ve seen on this dreadful situation was that of Janet Daley writing yesterday in the Sunday Telegraph. Contrary to what the Obama Democrats were claiming, the recent face-off with Congress did not show that the nation’s politics were ‘dysfunctional’; it showed, rather, that they were functioning precisely as the Founding Fathers intended, that the legislature was acting as a check on the executive;

The Tea Party faction within the Republican Party was demanding that, before any further steps were taken, there must be a debate about where all this was going. They had seen the future towards which they were being pushed, and it didn’t work. They were convinced that the entitlement culture and benefits programme which the Democrats were determined to preserve and extend with taxes could only lead to the diminution of that robust economic freedom that had created the American historical miracle.

It’s a kind of sport to scoff at the Tea party, the grass roots and populist movement, by the shallow East Coast literati, the chattering classes whose minds are filled with the nonsense purveyed by the likes of New York Times. But from my point of view, that of an outsider, though one who happens to love America and all that it has given the world, the Tea Party is far truer to the original spirit of the Founding Fathers and that original principle of liberty upon which the nation was built.

As Daly quite rightly says, the hardest obstacle to overcome will be the idea that anyone who challenges the prevailing consensus of the past 50 years is irrational and irresponsible. “That is being said about the Tea Partiers. In fact what is irresponsible is the assumption that we can go on as we are.”

By coincidence, besides the Federalist Papers, I’ve been reading Michael Newton’s The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s descent into Tyranny, which finishes with a chapter on the United States, written well before the present crisis. He concludes as follows;

The United States is repeating the mistakes of the past: redistributing wealth through a progressive tax system, expanding the size of government, creating fictional wars were none exist, enriching the political class, establishing an army of unelected bureaucrats to control the lives of the people, and promoting democracy at the expense of the republic. The United States government is approaching bankruptcy and there are two likely outcomes if the current direction is maintained.

The first outcome, he continues, is that wealth will simply be exported to places with less burdensome tax regimes. The second is even more alarming. As people become aware that the current political system cannot fix the problem the call will go up for a single individual or group to restructure the government and country. My guess is that he result will not be Solon, the Greek law giver, or Cincinnatus, the noblest Roman of them all, but something along the lines of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip. Yes, It Can Happen Here, it could happen here. The Constitution has been no guarantee against massive irresponsibility and the unscrupulous use of power. It is no longer a guarantee against tyranny.

In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents.


  1. It is all very distressing, watching the deliberate destruction of such a fine machine. I remain optimistic, however. Each day the circumstances and choices grow clearer, and there are a great many citizens who have turned from the tainted media to more personal forms of communication to share their ideas and worries. No one, I think, wants revolution, but a growing number are willing to apply a lot of pressure for reform. I expect the arguments to be as contentious as the Continental Congress . . . which is just as it should be.

    Meanwhile, what on earth are you going to do about Europe?

  2. Ana, you're right---old Buck Buchanan looks good compared to what we've got in the Oval Office now. I penned this today: Given his abysmal track record, if Barack Obama was a horse instead of a horse’s ass, he’d long since have been trotted off to the nearest glue factory. But he’s not a horse, he’s a Democrat—at least on the surface—and the next trailer to the rendering factory doesn’t leave for another 14 months.

  3. The west is in decline and a Nationalist revolt is in order.

  4. Awesome piece. I find it interesting that someone across the pond is taking the time to go through the Federalist. I've been making my way through as well.

  5. I hope the P.M. and Parliament will heed your words of wisdom regarding these matters. I think the U. S. is headed for financial disaster as long as the current regime holds power in the Executive Branch (B.H.O.) & Senate. Maybe a miracle (that, along with hard work by liberty-minded citizens) will happen in the forth-coming elections to steer America back to realistic fiscal & economic policies. Hope springs eternal. As Trevor Loudon writes in his New Zeal blog - as the U. S. goes (for better or worse), so goes most of the Free World. I prefer the Era of Her Majesty Queen Victoria better. No riots in London in those days like what we're seeing now. Hope you are well and safe? Saw some ugly footage online. Most of the ringleaders seem to be foreigners. I hope they are deported to their home countries as soon as possible. Current U.K. immigration policies and Leftist agitators seem to be responsible for much of the civil unrest happening now.

  6. Calvin, understanding that to be a question specifically directed at me, I would get out and out soon. But our little boat may be swamped no matter what.

  7. Anthony, I would rather have a counter-revolution.

  8. Martin, as political theory they are among the most impressive documents I have ever read.

  9. BNA,yes, I am well and safe; thanks for your concern. You are absolutely right; years of irresponsible immigration policy and left-wing politics have created a poisonous mixture. I've corrected one or two mistaken impressions on Broowaha, a piece I'm about to add here.

  10. An excellent analysis . . . to draw a literary parallel, how can we account for the great tragedies and comedies of Fifth Century (BC) Greece, and Elizabethan and Jacobean English drama? One principle answer is that these playwrights had great audiences--there is a symbiotic relationship between an artist and his audience, and the same holds true, if not more so, for politics. The Englishmen morphing into Americans of the last 18th century produced great leaders and constituted a great audience . . . the Americans and Europeans of the early 21st century have mediocre leaders and seem to be a similar quality audience--or electorate--but reading reflections like this one in your blog gives me hope that, as the I Ching and Heraclitus remind us, Panta Rei--everything flows--in secret ways the times they may be a'changing . . . (see as an example of excessive pessimism Kierkegaard's complete misreading of the Zeitgeist in his THE PRESENT AGE, published in 1846, which completely missed the prospects for the age of revolution that was about to burst out in 1848) . . .

  11. Chris, many thanks for your erudite comment. So far as our present leadership is concerned, the mediocrity thereof, I'm reminded of the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD, the time of Honorious and Arcadius. Not an encouraging parallel!

  12. Ana--what mordant wit your parents must have had to name you Anastasia, in any case, you seem to have inherited their wit along with your name so all's well--coming from you the assessment of my comment as "erudite" is a 24 carat compliment, one for which I shall reserve a special place in my memory bank of meaningful achievements.

    Only someone as learned as you will remember Honorius, but if Alaric hadn't sacked Rome in 410 CE we wouldn't have Augustine's CITY OF GOD, which I realise is easy for me to say . . . for that matter, if not for Theodoric and his grisly sentence on Boethius, we wouldn't have THE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY . . . although comparing Augustine and Boethius (their relative greatness aside) is like comparing the contribution to breakfast of the chicken versus the pig . . . and if today's politicians seem to resemble Honorius, at least there is no sign yet of an Alaric (will he rise from China in a couple of generations?) nor of an Augustine, although if the time comes when you heed the call of Tolle, lege than I would vote for you as most like to succeed as our 21st century Augustine . ..

    By the way, as the owner of a modest library myself, I was traumatised by AUTO-DA-FE (DIE BLENDUNG, as I recall, auf Deutsch), and CROWDS AND POWER seemed empty to me, which was puzzling since Jim Morrison of THE DOORS had supposedly derived insights from it and Morrison certainly did understand how to exercise power over crowds. I didn't know, but was delighted to learn from your Slaughterhouse interview, the other information about Canetti, as I had secretly thought for decades that I had let myself down by not appreciating him more (the way I still feel about Jane Austen).

    So thank you again for having struck the chains from my wrists and ankles, not only those that bound me to the infamy of P.G. Wodehouse, but now those that had left me feeling that I could not grant Canetti the regard to which he was entitled.

    Buddhism is uneasy about the idea of forgiveness, because the Dharma teaches that one shouldn't register the insult or wound in the first place, and similarly, I would compliment you on your learning and intellect if I didn't feel that the ontological ground beneath me had somehow vanished, leaving me no legitimate position from which to even pretend to be entitled to evaluate your mind.

    So, in place of the compliment I would like to offer, I'll part simply with a good wish: Que le vaya bien a Peru . . .

  13. Ah, Chris, we don't have Augustine; we don't even have Boethius. It worries me that even Honorious and Arcadius look good beside Sarkozy, Obama, Merkel and Cameron! I thank you for your kind and thoughtful words and your good wishes. :-)