Are We Doomed? by Victor Davis Hanson

Our salvation lies in a group of politicians who will balance budgets, put entitlements on a fiscally sustainable basis, and remind Americans that in comparison with our predecessors — who gave us much of what we enjoy — we live amazingly prosperous lives. If history is any guide, such frankness will never happen. Financial implosion, not prudent correction, is the usual remedy for reckless expenditure.

Sometimes societies find themselves in pernicious cycles in which the perceived medicine seems worse than the known disease. The Roman satirist Juvenal lamented the ill effects of free food and free entertainment for the masses (“bread and circuses”) in part because he knew there was no remedy for the pathology in sight — and thus only a slow decline toward fiscal insolvency or riots were on the horizon. Any Roman emperor bold enough to rein in the Praetorian Guard, charge the mob for grain, and curb gladiatorial shows would earn a usurper marching on Rome from the provinces. So most did not.

When Ronald Reagan sought to end the so-called misery index, he knew that higher interest rates, tax cuts, and efforts to prune entitlements would in the short term lead to higher unemployment, more deficits, slower growth — and growing unpopularity. His recovery came just in time for the 1984 election; just a year earlier Reagan had been demonized as a heartless bastard who had strangled the economy for the benefit of the rich.

We are currently mired in the slowest recovery from any recession in our modern history — and we face the same circular dilemma. A good argument could be made that President Obama’s gargantuan new health-care initiative, federal takeovers of businesses and failed subsidization of green industries, vastly expanded food stamps, unemployment insurance, and disability insurance, and “You didn’t build that business” boilerplate have ossified the private sector. Many businesses have plenty of cash, but their owners are terrified to risk much of it in hiring, buying, or expanding. This results in fewer jobs and slower growth — and again, in this squirrel cage of an economy, yet more need for entitlements.


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