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Ed Driscoll

There’s been a lot of talk in the Blogosphere on how to “Enjoy the Decline,” spurred on by the popular book with that title by econo-blogger Aaron Clarey on America’s future — or the lack thereof. But what happens next? What happens after the decline?

As Kevin D. Williamson, who writes the “Exchequer” blog at National Review Online and frequently contributes to the dead tree edition of NRO, wrote in the Sunday New York Post, “It’s the end of the world as we know it (and that’s great!)”:

The total fiscal overhang of our federal, state, and local governments — their combined debt and unfunded liabilities — is around $140 trillion, and growing. That is about twice the annual economic output of human civilization, and nearly the value of all the financial assets in the world. It is something close to a mathematical certainty that those debts and obligations will not be made good on at their present value.

The real debate for the next 30 years is not how we go about paying our bills, but how we go about not paying them. What is most likely is a much smaller and more modest government, something closer to what Robert Nozick called the “nightwatchman state.” The reason for that is the fact that we have good substitutes for Social Security and the Department of Education but not for the army or the courts.

This all sounds painful and disruptive, and it surely will be, though exactly how painful and how disruptive will be in part a question of luck and in part a matter of how prudently and intelligently our policymakers proceed while we get from where we are to an economically sane position.

Difficult, yes. But it is also going to be great. There is cause for short-term pessimism, but there also is cause for long-term optimism.

Despite the best efforts of Washington (and Albany, Sacramento, Austin, etc.) the United States is a very, very rich country. Fantastically rich. Absurdly rich. We have a great deal of wealth, extraordinarily productive and creative people and stable institutions.

Our key economic failings are in education, health care and retirements — three sectors dominated by political rather than economic action: the K-12 monopoly model of education, Social Security and other retirement entitlements and a hodge-podge of medical programs which meant that even before the enactment of ObamaCare about half of all health-care spending was government spending, a fact that Republicans foolishly ignored when they protested that we had “the best health-care system in the world.” (Note to Republicans: We have great medicine and medical technology; we have a terrible system of paying for health care, and it was terrible before ObamaCare, too.)

Kevin’s new book, The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome, explores this topic in detail. Kevin and I recently discussed the end of the world in a wide-ranging 20-minute podcast, including such topics as:

● How cataclysmic will the earth-shattering fiscal kaboom be?

● How government red tape fuels both the higher education bubble and retirement shortfalls.

● Kevin updates Leonard Read and Milton Friedman’s classic “I, Pencil” lecture for the Internet era, with an assist from Gordon Gekko’s cell phone.

● Why do those who design, and many of those who purchase the Apple iPhone want highly customizable 21st century technology in their day-to-day lives, and yet want socialized healthcare and retirement schemes that are straight out of the 1930s smokestack era?

● Speaking of Mr. Gekko, how did the GOP lose him to the left in 2008? And what to make of Occupy Wall Street being simultaneously for and against their fellow Democrat, Barack Obama, aka, President Goldman Sachs?

● Why was Mitt Romney so ineffective in communicating Economics 101 to the American voters?

And much more. Click here to listen:

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Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Not only is this NOT "lightweight stuff", it is positively brilliant.

Thank you, Ed.

For those of us who actually care about the implications on our future, this piece was a true gift. Great work.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (15)
All Comments   (15)
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For the left, as with morons and children, there is no tomorrow. People without minds only have appetites.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
None of this will make sense to democrats until they stop getting other people's money directly deposited to their bank accounts. Where's my check? Where's my check? THEN and only then will it make sense. I mean let's face it, the world looked the other way and kept on walking and whistling while blaming the Muslim Jihadi attack at Benghazi on a YouTube video poster (who is still in jail). There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth folks.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Rome II.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Rome III. Constantinople kept going for 1,000 years after Rome itself was conquered and abandoned.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
History never repeats, but it rhymes.

We've got rhythm.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Why was Mitt Romney so ineffective in communicating Economics 101 to the American voters?

Perhaps one major reason is because Mitt Romneycare did not believe all of his talk about economic freedom and limited government. How else to explain why he tried (and failed) to run on his efforts to save the Olympics instead of his lousy, nanny-government record as governor?
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nobody longs for the restoration of the limits of civil authority to it's legitimate functions of sane systems of criminal justice and national defense more than I do. (Of course, this begs the question of what makes those limits legitimate.) I have to say, though, that the absolute materialism of the libertarian worldview really disgusts me. This economic analysis ignores the fact that we all live in a room full of an entire herd of elephants. We have theft, fraud,and covetousness institutionalized on massive economies of scale, we have rampant, unbridled sexual immorality and the purposeful destruction of the God-ordained institutions of the church and marriage, we have political systems that have become little more than kingdoms of lies and the deep rooted idolatries of state power and wealth, we have the daily slaughter of countless, nameless infants, we have a radical religion asserting it's self-professed love of death, and on and on. I realize the concept of judgment is utterly passe' and un-hip in our radically secularized world, but somebody ought to think about it. Do we think God just sits by in total, passive disinterest as the whole world rots spiritually? There are no larger consequences to any of this? Is the adjudication of all these pathological crises only beyond this world or do they simply fade from memory? I must say that I believe in a redeemed future, but I also believe the journey to it is going to be awesomely painful in ways Mr. Williamson apparently hasn't considered.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think you might be mis-characterizing the libertarian (as opposed to the Libertarian, as in the party) worldview.

It is not about absolute materialism ... it is about maintaining the freedom to be as materialistic AND/OR as moral and compassionate as our OWN character will allow us to be.

It is about keeping the freedom to dodge the elephant herd and keep moving down a righteous path to a brighter future ... for us, and our neighbors ... as opposed to being sat upon by those elephants and reduced to simply rendering unto Caesar so that Caesar can cut checks on our compassionate behalf, as Caesar pours the scraps from the tables of the elites upon the elephant dung.

I for one do oppose some of the Libertarian positions - legalizing perception-altering drugs in a free society that depends upon citizen self-control for its continued existence is a non-starter for me, and I think that wars to pre-empt tyrants and establish rights-respecting governance in their place are a justified, wise - and frugal, in the long run - investment for free people to make.

But the basic philosophy of the small-l libertarian regarding government is the same as that codified around 04 July 1776 ... "That to SECURE THESE RIGHTS, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their JUST powers from the consent of the governed".

Mr. Williamson here makes what I think is the greatest case for limited government: that, REGARDLESS OF THE NOBILITY OF THEIR INTENT, there is NO plausible way "that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves," as Ronald Reagan described the basic Progressive paradigm back in the 1960's.

Our elites would have to be OMNISCIENT to pull that off ... and they are anything but omniscient.

This needs to be repeated, again and again - for despite being tarred as "haters" for challenging the Progressive orthodoxy, it is not about wishing evil or harm upon others that compels us to stand against the Progressives' simplistic attempts to "help". Far from it.

It is about acknowledging the reality of our world - that a welfare state and command economy directed by beings of limited perception that are prone to error, mendacity, and greed simply cannot be relied upon as a sustainable support structure ... and that you need to responsibly exercise the personal initiative to take care of yourself, and your neighbor, instead of continuing to swallow the Biggest Lie of All:

"All you need to do is show up for work or go to school; we have experts who have the answers to your housing needs, your health care needs, your financial needs … no need to plan for your future or actively manage your career, since we can do a better job than you can; just trust us to solve those problems FOR you."
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Boy, you sure are a wet-blanket poopy-head, aren't you? And the worst part? You're essentially correct. ALL societies and systems of governance fail faster when the governed lose even basic virtues.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Part of the really painful part of the end is that people will discover that all those "icky" things that we old "fuddy duddies" harp on are actually needful to a healthy society. Women will discover that you actually can't raise children on your own, especially when the raging hordes of rabid man-beasts their sisters in the struggle raised before them get to raping and pillaging in roving packs. And the rest of us will discover that if you can't trust your immoral neighbors, the center will not hold with those raging hordes come after the few societies that do form around families that have managed to survive (because, after all, those raging hordes can't be bothered to actually work and be productive, can they?).
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
He finally got to the nub of things at the end when he spoke of whether we would have a slow evolution or a fast crisis - THAT IS THE ISSUE.

A fast crisis will bring the declaration of an economic emergency and government as configured under the Defense Production Act of 1950 and its associated laws and executive orders.

I'd give the slow evolution two chances, Slim and None. Slim left town on the 8:00 am bus.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not only is this NOT "lightweight stuff", it is positively brilliant.

Thank you, Ed.

For those of us who actually care about the implications on our future, this piece was a true gift. Great work.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is all light weight stuff!
The global economy will not change course for the better without a massive reset.This may include class conflict,famine or even outright warfare.The economic problems we have are fueled by social & political inequities which may not be easily resolved.The political classes own the world & the financial classes owns the politicians! I have read that in previous societies the financial classes (banking,insurance,real estate,financial markets, etc.)accounted for 2%-3% of an economy.In the U.S.,& perhaps the rest of the industrial nations, that number is around 20%. These financial subgroups own the world & do what they like,above,& unimpeded by, the law.The SEC & other regulatory bodies,controlled by the politicians who are controlled by the financiers are largely ineffectual.If new resources were to be added to the nation's wealth,by way of streamlining government spending,these new resources would not be used to alleviate the public debt.The financial & political classes ,who are untouchable,would find new ways to redirect the new found wealth into their own pockets.In short,we have ruling elites that are running wild, & they will keep running wild, until the financial house of cards collapses.When the financial house of cards falls apart it will take the financial oligarchs,& their politicians,with it !Unfortunately the rest of us will be buried as well.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
They can only do it because too many of us have sat back and let them do it ... being led to believe that only from THEIR ranks can the Great Leaders come to solve our problems FOR us.

Millions of us have been fooling ourselves, for decades, that we CAN'T get ahead by our own initiative, so we outsource that effort to these elites ... and make ourselves highly vulnerable, with little or no ability to work around the consequences of their efforts ... as we go swill our $tarbuck$ and chase that new iThingy and expect our elites in business, academia, and especially government to secure our future - FOR us.

You may be right ... it may take total collapse to finally resolve this problem ... but the problem is as much in our own minds, as it is in the minds of the oligarchs and the politicians.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
A bit breathless, ret22, but not far wrong. The financial elites may not own the world, but they could by it and finance the purchase.

Remind me again, how many Wall Street bankers went jail after the greatest financial crash since the '30s? How many bureaucrats lost their jobs? How many Congressmen were not reelected?

I'll be convinced there is one law for the elites in this country and another for you and I until we see Jon Corzine in wide horizontal pinstripes.

True, business failure in and of itself is not criminal. But Big Jon and the boys (and girls) at M F Global managed to "accidentally" commingle trust assets with company assets and couldn't explain how such a grievous error occurred. That kind of "accident"would put you or me in jail.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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