The myth of a democratic socialist society funded by capitalism is finished

Quote of the Day for Thursday, September 6th, 2012:

Janet Daley, in The Telegraph, explaining to her fellow Britons why “We should tune in to the Romney and Ryan show”:

What is being challenged is nothing less than the most basic premise of the politics of the centre ground: that you can have free market economics and a democratic socialist welfare system at the same time. The magic formula in which the wealth produced by the market economy is redistributed by the state – from those who produce it to those whom the government believes deserve it – has gone bust. The crash of 2008 exposed a devastating truth that went much deeper than the discovery of a generation of delinquent bankers, or a transitory property bubble. It has become apparent to anyone with a grip on economic reality that free markets simply cannot produce enough wealth to support the sort of universal entitlement programmes which the populations of democratic countries have been led to expect. The fantasy may be sustained for a while by the relentless production of phoney money to fund benefits and job-creation projects, until the economy is turned into a meaningless internal recycling mechanism in the style of the old Soviet Union.

Contrary to what many know-nothing British observers seem to think, the message coming out of Tampa was not Tea Party extremism. It was just a reassertion of the basic values of American political culture: self-determination, individual aspiration and genuine community, as opposed to belief in the state as the fount of all social virtue. Romney caught this rather nicely in his acceptance speech, with the comment that the US was built on the idea of “a system that is dedicated to creating tomorrow’s prosperity rather than trying to redistribute today’s.” Or as Marco Rubio put it in his speech, Obama is “trying ideas that people came to America to get away from”.

I’m not sure why it took a Brit [correction: she’s American born and bred, but has been “over there” since 1965] to distill the real essence of the political quandary facing the States this year, but Ms. Daley certainly sees through to the core of the issue at hand. I took the title for this post from the subtitle of the Telegraph article, and it smartly gets to the point that wealth has to be created – and that requires work. When everyone gets a free lunch, pretty soon, not only is the lunchroom trashed by ingrates contemptuous of the worthlessness they’re given, but there’s no longer any lunch to give out either, because the lunch-makers have stopped working at lunch, and are also awaiting their own free lunches. The truth of the matter is that entitlements can only be permanently effected using slavery.

As Daley notes, the West as a whole, including the U.S., is truly at a crisis point, where the direction chosen will not simply mean yet another recalibration of the extent to which the social politics of the late 19th century will dominate the culture, but will signify the readiness of self-governed man to admit fundamental mistakes, and forge a path of reform. I suppose she’s right that the U.S. is uniquely positioned to lead here, and if we fail, I think it’s hard to overestimate the wreckage that will  likely follow.

It’s not just that so much of the prosperity in the world is dependent upon U.S. prosperity. If, down the road, the U.S., incapable of functioning under its mountain of debt, significantly devalues the dollar, or outright reneges on its sovereign debt, China, swarming with women-less men who have no prospects of marriage due to their insane abortion practices, would be highly likely to perceive the move as an act of aggression equivalent to war – and understandably so – not unlikely responding so as to set off a proverbial World War III. The crisis, then, is not primarily about cozy retirement, or commoditized medical technology, or tax rates, or even about the immorality of intergenerational theft; it’s about whether the legacy of 20th century consumerism will amount to a 21st century of precarious but effective prosperity, or one that devolves into cruel warfare and the widespread grinding poverty that characterized so many pre-capitalist societies, but without a feudal system of patronage to fall back on.