Is America in decline?

I’ve been hearing the United States compared to the Roman Empire since around the 1970s, and I’m sure those apocalyptic sentiments were being expressed long before I was born.

However, it’s difficult to read and watch all the depressing stuff posted here on PJ Media and elsewhere and not conclude that, this time, it’s on.

America’s going Gibbon.

Some books propose possible ways to avert this catastrophe.

Aaron Clarey’s Enjoy the Decline isn’t one of them.

As his subtitle suggests, this book is about “accepting and living with the death of the United States.”

It’s full of counterintuitive, amusing, and sometimes infuriating advice:

What country should I move to?

What should I pack in a bug-out bag?

Why don’t black people go to national parks?

This book features something to offend everyone.

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#1 — Don’t save for retirement

Clarey — who blogs as “Captain Capitalism” — writes:

In 2008 Argentina stole the private pensions of its workers, nationalizing those funds to deal with their own debt problems. Bolivia did the same in 2010, as did Hungary. And Bulgaria did their own scaled-down version of confiscating people’s private pensions in 2011. (…)

Unfortunately, the Democrats took note of what Argentina did in 2008 and have since bantered around ideas of rescinding the tax benefits of those programs, even outright nationalizing them.

Until very recently, the whole notion of retirement didn’t even exist.

Then governments decided to curtail restless citizens’ revolutionary sentiments – in Germany, America, and elsewhere – by doling out goodies such as old-age pensions.

Of course, 65 was chosen as the retirement age because few people lived to be older than 65 anyhow.

In other words:

No one was ever even supposed to collect this money!

Private- and public-sector pensions are unsustainable Ponzi schemes.

Retirement is a fad. Having a retirement plan is like having a “hula hoop plan” or a “Charleston plan.”

Clarey and I agree: the government is going to seize your savings, assuming you have any left come seizure time.

If you must, Clarey advises, invest in gold, silver, copper, and land – although I don’t see why the government can’t just as easily seize that too. They’ve done it before, from Roosevelt to Kelo.

Clarey “jokingly” recommends the “Smith and Wesson Retirement Plan,” i.e., suicide.

Like him, I don’t see the point in saving money your whole life just so you can bankrupt your family trying desperately to stay alive for the last six (crippled, diaper-wearing, mush-eating) months of your life.

While I’m not prepared to go as far as Clarey (yet), it’s true:

My retirement plan is death.

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#2 — Don’t go to college

Clarey (and I) have written about this before.

Take all the money you were saving up for college and start your own business, as long as, Clarey writes, it isn’t “something stupid like ‘horse farms’ or ‘coffee shops’ or other such profitless hobbies that only morons pursue.”

Alternately, he advises, join the military or learn a trade:

Another benefit of the trades is that trade certification is a lot cheaper than earning a four year degree. Most trade programs are only two year, granting you an associate degree in that field, and nearly all of them offer better employment prospects than your average liberal arts degrees because they are a “skill.” Additionally, because they are a “skill,” you are immediately put to work. A friend of mine graduated with a degree in auto mechanics. His first job wasn’t not filing or faxing or fetching coffee. He didn’t have to “work his way up” to being a mechanic. And there was no ass-kissing or brown-nosing required to ingratiate himself to his bosses so they’d be kind enough to let him finally start wrenching on cars. His skill was too valuable and his employer needed him to do what he was trained to do — work on cars.

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#3 — Don’t earn more than $15,000 a year

I grew up poor and now I have money. Having money is better.

I also dated a guy like Clarey once: a brilliant, handsome, thoughtful thirty-something man who still had roommates, shopped at thrift stores, drove a motorcycle instead of a car, and so on.

His goal was to live on very little because he valued his freedom from convention, bosses, and the taxman.

(Eventually I married a guy who made way more money and owned a car.)

When we think of “going Galt,” we think of it as something only rich men can afford to do.

Clarey cleverly turns that notion upside down, and posits the idea that you can actually go Galt faster the less money you have.

When you remove yourself from the tax rolls, you stop hosting society’s parasites – the tens of millions of citizens who suck on the government teat:

In making only $15,000 a year you are essentially shrinking yourself (the host) so much that the parasites cannot live off of you. (…) You will no longer get mad when you see another ringless mother buying diapers with an EBT card. (…) It’s no longer your money they are using to pay for it. It’s somebody else’s. You may still be unhappy about the general direction of the country, but at least you’re no longer a sucker who has to pay for it.

Clarey’s on to something.

It’s sad but true: I find myself trying to make less than a certain amount of money lest certain taxes kick in.

But Clarey’s number — $15,000 – is way too low for me.

(I live in Canada, which is a comparative tax haven. Sorry, Land of the Free…)

Like much of Clarey’s advice, this minimalist plan can only work within a narrow framework of circumstances.

Good luck getting your mom back and forth from chemo on the back of your Harley. In December.

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#2 — Don’t have children (sort of)

Again, I’ve gone over this.

Here’s Clarey:

While I’m not saying “don’t have children,” children are very expensive “stuffs.” The average kid costs $250,000 to raise and that doesn’t even include college tuition. Also, unlike your X-Box or your computer, they bring in communicable diseases. I have also found out that they do not have “off buttons” and the authorities frown on it if you try to sell them. If you already have children or you really want children, by all means certainly have them. But if you can do without, it certainly makes Going Galt a lot easier.

Many writers insist that the best way to reverse the decline of the West is to increase the birth rate.

The trouble is, having children is one of the biggest excuses people use for not fighting for free speech and other Western values; they’re afraid their kids’ teachers will punish them for having outspoken parents; they might lose their job (and therefore their precious dental plan, and those kids need braces, you know…)

And besides: have you seen (and heard) some of the kids people are having?

I’m not convinced that creating a new crop of conformist, politically correct, helmet-wearing, nut-allergic, obese citizens is really in America’s best interest.


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#1 – Plunder

In the tradition of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book, Clarey’s Enjoy the Decline includes a chapter about how to get stuff for free.

Hoffman’s hippie handbook offered advice about now-anachronistic scams like phone phreaking, and gave addresses to free clinics that apparently most of his readers didn’t visit until it was too late.

Clarey, on the other hand, gives out the websites that spell out what kinds of federal, state, and local handouts you can get.

His rationale is spelled out in the Ayn Rand quotation that opens the chapter:

Whenever the welfare-state laws offer [the victims of looters] some small restitution, the victims should take it.

I’m guessing that even with Rand’s imprimatur, most of the proudly capitalist libertarians in Clarey’s readership will be most put off by this chapter.

Clarey insists that “the debate about being an independent, self-reliant individual is moot”:

It’s not about morality, it’s about reality. Most Americans really have no choice. Since the government has become so large, it’s almost impossible to live an entire life without collecting some form of government assistance. The reality has been forced upon you by a short-sighted and ignorant electorate. (…) You can decide to take advantage of it or be taken advantage of.

If you’re always complaining that books about “the end of America” never offer possible solutions to the problem, that’s one thing you can’t say about Enjoy the Decline.

Whether any of Clarey’s suggestions are practical or even morally sound is a decision only the reader can make.

Why not read it and see what you think?


Image courtesy shutterstock / Marijus Auruskevicius