Our decadent democracy
Connoisseurs of democratic decadence can savor a variety of contemporary dystopias. Because familiarity breeds banality, Greece has become a boring horror. Japan, however, in its second generation of stagnation, is fascinating. Once, Japan bestrode the world, jauntily buying Rockefeller Center and Pebble Beach. Now Japanese buy more adult diapers than those for infants.
America has its lowest birth rate since at least 1920 — family formation and workforce participation (which last year hit a 30-year low) have declined in tandem. But it has an energy surplus, the government-produced overhang of housing inventory is shrinking and the average age of Americans' cars is an astonishing 10.8 years. Such promising economic indicators, however, mask America's democratic decadence, as explained by the Hudson Institute's Christopher DeMuth (The Weekly Standard, Dec. 24):
Deficit spending once was largely for investments — building infrastructure, winning wars — which benefited future generations, so government borrowing appropriately shared the burden with those generations. Now, however, continuous borrowing burdens future generations in order to finance current consumption. Today's policy, says DeMuth, erases “the distinction between investing for the future and borrowing from the future.”
December's maneuverings taught three lessons.
First, there will be no significant spending restraint. Democrats — you know, the people respectful of evidence and science — even rejected a more accurate measurement of the cost of living that would slightly slow increases in myriad government benefits.
Second, Barack Obama has (as Winston Churchill said of an adversary) “the gift of compressing the largest amount of words into the smallest amount of thought.” His incessant talking swaddles one wee idea — raising taxes on “millionaires and billionaires,” including couples earning less than half a million.
Third, a large majority of Democrats favor making a large majority of the Bush tax cuts permanent. Both parties flinch from cliff-related tax increases and spending decreases. But neither the increases nor decreases would have tamed the current $1 trillion-plus budget deficit nor made a discernible dent in the 87-times-larger unfunded liabilities of the entitlement state.
This state cannot be funded by taxing “the rich.” Or even by higher income taxes on the middle class. Income taxes cannot fund the government liberals want, and they dare not seek the consumption and energy taxes their entitlement architecture requires.
As economists Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane explain in National Affairs quarterly, America's political system “cannot govern the entitlement state” that “exists largely to provide material benefits to individuals.” Piling up unsustainable entitlement promises has been improvident for the nation but rational for the political class. The promised expenditures, far in excess of revenues, would come due “beyond the horizon of political consequences.”
Furthermore, a critical mass of Republicans rejects the careerists' understanding of “politically rational” behavior. These Republicans have a different rationale for being in politics.
The media say the tea party impulse is exhausted. Scores of House Republicans and seven first-term Republican senators will soon — hello, debt ceiling — prove otherwise.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers wrap lackluster preseason with loss to Panthers
- Young adults drive home rental trend in Western Pennsylvania
- Penguins confident Pouliot will be healthy, ready for camp
- August Wilson Center’s financial woes leave little guys in a lurch
- Steelers notebook: Safety Mitchell faces former team, hurts leg
- Preseason valuable for Steelers’ offensive line
- Government approves compromise on Corbett’s alternative Medicaid plan
- LaBar: Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts reportedly hospitalized
- Pitt senior Weatherspoon’s work ethic second to none
- Man stabbed to death outside North Side grocery
- Firefighters on scene at West Mifflin house fire