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Ed Driscoll

MR. DRISCOLL:  This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com, and we’re talking with Kevin D. Williamson of National Review.com, who, according to the title of his new book, assures us that The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome.  It’s published by Harper Collins, and available from Amazon.com and your local bookseller.

And Kevin, after chatting a few times on various National Review cruises over the years, thanks for stopping by today.

MR. WILLIAMSON:  Hey, thank you.  How are you doing?

MR. DRISCOLL:  Oh, not too bad.  Kevin, there’s two statements implicit in your book’s title.  So let’s unpack them one by one, beginning with the first half of the title. How soon is the end, and how cataclysmic will the earth-shattering fiscal kaboom be?

MR. WILLIAMSON:  Well, it’s hard to say exactly.  You know, if you look at — if you measure what the federal government does by spending, if you look where it actually spends its money, a little bit more than eighty percent of all spending right now is on three things, essentially.  It’s on entitlements.  It’s on national defense.  And it’s on interest on the debt.  And the biggest piece of that is entitlements, by a long shot.

If you look at the fiscal overhang on the entitlements, which is to say, the money we’d need to have in the bank right now to make those work in the long term, you’re talking about a number like 100 trillion dollars, maybe a little bit more.  It depends on the assumptions you use to calculate it.

That happens to be more than GDP of the whole planet, and it’s roughly equivalent to all of the non-real estate assets in existence.  So the idea that we’re going to somehow hijack a sum equivalent to the wealth of the planet in order to make Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid balance outright, is just crazy.  It’s not going to happen.

Interest on the debt, of course, is a function of the other spending.  And then defense accounts for about nineteen percent of the budget.

So if you assume that the entitlement state is — is just simply, mathematically speaking, unsustainable, and that federal spending which, you know, right now we’re running a forty-one percent deficit for the last several years, is also unsustainable, then about, you know, seventy or eighty percent of what the government does is going to have to undergo some sort of radical change in the near future.

Now, that could be a — you know, a short, sharp Argentina-style event.  Let’s hope not.  It could also be a series of incremental but serious and deep reforms, starting very soon.  And I think the main challenge for us going forward, for our generation, for the next ten years, is how to get from where we are to where we’re going to be in the least disruptive manner.  And that’s part of what my book’s about.

MR. DRISCOLL:  And that sort of dovetails into the second half of your book’s title, which is picked up by its subtitle. The End is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure. That sort of sounds like addition by subtraction.

MR. WILLIAMSON:  In a sense.  You know, one thing I hate about our political discourse is this, you know, sort of rhetoric of scarcity we have going on.  I mean, scarcity is a real thing.  That’s why it makes economics work.  I’m not talking about scarcity in that abstract sense.  I’m talking about scarcity in the colloquial sense of privation.  We aren’t poor.  You know, we’re a really, really rich society.  And the rest of the world keeps getting richer, which is very good for us, because we make high-end stuff.  It’s hard to sell stuff — the sort of stuff that we make to poor people.

You know, there are countries like China that make sort of low-priced, low-margin products — although China’s moving away from that — India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, places like that.  You know, we make Apple products.  We make Boeing airlines.  You know, we make that sort of thing.  You don’t sell that to poor people; you sell that to rich people.

So I’m, you know, in the long term, very optimistic about our — about our economic outlook, although I’m pessimistic about the short term.  I think there’ll be some disruption and some genuine unhappiness.  So a lot of the things that we look to the federal government to do, particularly to provide for things like education, to provide for healthcare for people who, for one reason or another, can’t provide for it for themselves, and to organize retirement savings for people, we do a terrible job of that through the federal government.

And the sooner the systems go bankrupt and broke and get pushed to the side and replaced with productive volunteering alternatives, based on real accumulation of capital and real productivity and real assets, the better off we’ll be.

You know, we’ve got more than enough resources right now to provide a real first-rate education to every kid in this country who wants one.  You know, college — or kindergarten through grad school.  We’ve got the resources to do that.  It’s not that expensive.  It’s not that difficult.  We’ve got a great big political apparatus standing in the way.

We’ve got the resources to allow people to save and invest for their own retirements, to an extent that most people could retire with incomes very similar to what they had when they were working.  But we take twelve and a half percent of their incomes out and throw it into the entitlement black hole, and it just goes away.  You know, it’s a terrible deal for a lot of people.  And it’s a super unproductive system.  Plus, it takes all that capital out of circulation as well, and keeps it from going to productive uses.

You know, the same thing with healthcare.  Healthcare is a little bit more of a challenge, because you’ve got a slightly more complex universe of providers and services there than you do in, say, kindergarten through twelfth grade education.  But for those things that we really, for the last thirty years, forty years, sixty year, have looked to the government increasingly to provide, we can do much better without the government.

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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Rome II.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Rome III. Constantinople kept going for 1,000 years after Rome itself was conquered and abandoned.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
History never repeats, but it rhymes.

We've got rhythm.
1 year ago
1 year 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?
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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."
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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?).
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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