When Theodore Dalrymple, the former prison doctor who writes about the state of our culture, spoke here a few years ago, guest of IWF and the Center for Ethics and Public Policy, I had the privilege of having dinner with him. “Are things as bad in the United States as in England?” Dalrymple was asked. He answered in the negative, noting that the United States was still the world’s pre-eminent nation and that this makes a difference.
Daniel Henninger points out today that we’re beginning to get a glimmer of what it feels like to live in a sinking power. Well, that didn’t take long, did it?
After the humiliation of the United States losing its AAA credit rating; after watching the American stock market descend into chaos; after living for two years in a $15 trillion economy unable to grow beyond 2%, with unemployment rates rarely experienced in the U.S., Americans have their first whiff of inhabiting an empire in decline.
You could divide the country between those who think that it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the U.S. to enter the long, falling autumn of its life, as has Western Europe; and those who refuse to go down, who’d do whatever they must to hold the world’s No. 1 ranking.
If you’re reading Inkwell, you probably belong to the second group.
The United States is not finished, as Henninger observes, but our ability to regain our financial footing will depend on our ability to rein in spending. Much of the spending is on social programs that Democrats, who believe that more money can always be squeezed out of “the rich,” refuse to cut. Carrie talks about the impact of our debt on our future today, too.
I’d like to see most of the programs end because government dependency is essentially wrong and has a morally debilitating effect on the recipients of such largess. Democrats believe that we can manage spending on the current scale if we just cut back on defense. But it is becoming apparent that this is a pipe dream:
What we’re going to learn from this crisis is that American exceptionalism means something more than a vague claim to special status. More substantively, it means the necessity to find peculiarly American solutions to American problems.
A central attribute of our exceptionalism has been flexibility. U.S. economic success is a story of adaptive, efficient responses to history’s headwinds and speed-bumps-until now. A national infrastructure bank would be the opposite of that tradition. It’d be too big and too slow. The Obama health-care plan, run through the 46-year-old turbines of Medicare, is wholly at odds with the needs now of a huge, complex country.
The central government seems unable to respond to the current crisis:
Washington is not America, and so optimism is possible. Out in the country, some states are showing with their public-pension reforms that government flexibility in the face of economic crisis is possible. A Washington able to recognize the immediate needs of the downgraded superpower would lift every identifiable burden from the states and the private economy.
Somehow, I don’t think this is how Barack Obama intends to cope with the crisis.