Mid-20th-century assumptions of generational progress no longer obtain.
By Mark Steyn
A few years ago, after the publication of my bookAmerica Alone, 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. Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, we have been less rich, and our stupidity ought in theory to be less affordable. Instead, it’s been supersized. To take only the most obvious example, President Obama has added six-and-a-half trillion bucks to the national debt, and has nothing to show for it. As Churchill would say, had his bust not been bounced from the Oval Office, never in the field of human spending has so much been owed by so many for so little.
The West’s rivals do not think like this. China is now the second-biggest economy on the planet, but it has immense structural problems: As I’ve been saying for years, it will get old before it gets rich. Thanks to its grotesque “one-child” policy, it has the most male-heavy demographic cohort in history — no chicks and millions of guys who can’t get any action, which is not normally a recipe for social stability. Despite being extremely large, the country is resource-poor. But you can’t say it’s not thinking outside the box. The Daily Telegraph in London reported this week that the Chinese have just signed a deal to lease five percent of Ukraine (or an area about the size of Belgium) to grow crops and raise pigs on. And I’d doubt it will stop with post-Soviet republics on the Euro-fringe: It’s not impossible to imagine China buying, say, the Greek islands. Beijing thinks the half-millennium blip of Euro-American dominance is coming to an end and the world is returning to its natural state of Chinese preeminence. The West assumes it can endure as a kind of upscale boutique unaffected by the changes beyond. Like, say, the frozen-yogurt shop at the Westgate mall in Nairobi — until last weekend.
China’s Ukraine deal may sound kinda wacky, but the People’s Republic consumes about 20 percent of the world’s food yet has (thanks to rapid industrialization) only 9 percent of its farmland. As Big Government solutions go, renting 5 percent of a sovereign nation to use as your vegetable garden and pig farm is a comparatively straightforward answer to the problem at hand. By contrast, try explaining American “health” “care” “reform” to the Chinese: You could rent the entire Ukraine for about 3 percent of the cost of Obamacare, and what does it solve? My colleague Michelle Malkin revealed this week that her family has now joined the massed ranks of Obamacare victims: Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield sent her a “Dear John” letter explaining why they’d be seeing less of each other. “To meet the requirements of the new laws, your current plan can no longer be continued beyond your 2014 renewal date.”
Beyond the president’s characteristically breezy lie that “if you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan” is the sheer nuttiness of what’s happening. For years, Europeans and “progressive” Americans have raged at the immorality of the U.S. medical system: All those millions with no health coverage! But Michelle Malkin had coverage and suddenly, under what Obama calls “universal health care,” she doesn’t. The CBO’s most recent calculations estimate that in 2023, a decade after the implementation of Obamacare, there will still be over 30 million people uninsured — or about the population of Canada. That doesn’t sound terribly “universal,” and I would bet it’s something of a low-ball figure: As many employers are discovering, one of the simplest ways “to meet the requirements of the new laws” and still stay just about solvent is to shift your workers from family plans to individual plans, and tell their spouses and children to go look elsewhere. Does it achieve its other goal of “containing costs,” already higher than anywhere else? No. Avik Roy reports in Forbes that Obamacare will increase individual-market premiums by 62 percent for women, 99 percent for men. In America, “insuring” against disaster now costs more than you’d pay in most countries for disaster.
No one has ever before attempted to devise a uniform health system for 300 million people — for the very good reason that it probably can’t be done. Britain’s National Health Service serves a population less than a fifth the size of America’s and is the third-largest employer on the planet after the Indian National Railways and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the last of which is now largely funded by American taxpayers through interest payment on federal debt. A single-payer U.S. system would be bigger than Britain’s NHS, India’s railways, and China’s army combined, at least in its bureaucracy. So, as in banking and housing and college tuition and so many other areas of endeavor, Washington is engaging in a kind of under-the-counter nationalization, in which the husk of a nominally private industry is conscripted to enforce government rules — and ruthlessly so, as Michelle Malkin and many others have discovered.
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.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2013 Mark Steyn