'The Dead Albatross of Government Around Your Neck'

Just added to my interview with Mark Steyn yesterday about his new book After America: Get Ready for Armegeddon is a transcript of our conversation. This short quote ties together a number of themes from his book:

STEYN: Yeah, that was Thomas Friedman’s question:  Can Greeks become Germans?  I think the problem is, is that sufficient numbers of Germans have become Greeks, and sufficient numbers of Americans have also gone down that path.

I think — I think Thomas Friedman almost gets to something there.  And it’s fascinating to me, by the way, because he’s the big globalization guru who thinks — who, for twenty years now, has been peddling a view of man as homo-economicus, that essentially, you know, if some guy in a — if you put a factory in the jungles of New Guinea, and fill it full of guys with grass skirts, then they start to look at things in the way that a mill worker in nineteenth century Massachusetts would.

And what that headline, “Can Greeks become Germans” tells us, is what Angela Merkel and German taxpayers well understand, is that the problem in Greece is not the Greek economy.  The problem is the Greek people.  And culture trumps economics.  Culture trumps economics every time.

And that’s why the productive class in America, the people who go out to work every day, who want to build a business, they don’t have — they don’t want to do it through a get-rich scheme.  They want to do it through going to work.  They want to do it by making or selling a good product that people genuinely want.

And the government and the unproductive class, the government class and the dependent class, throw these huge obstacles in their path.  And so — and so essentially, you have a productive class reeling under a backbreaking burden imposed on them by the government class and the dependency class.  And eventually you get — reach the Greeks situation, where there’s simply — the other side is just too big and is too crushing.  And like the Ancient Mariner, you’re staggering around with this huge great dead albatross of government around your neck, and you can never straighten up from it.

DRISCOLL:  Well, speaking of Europe and the intersection of socialism and demography, what did you make of the headline that appeared yesterday at Bloomberg.com:  "Geithner says European nations must get ‘fiscal house’ in order”?

STEYN:  Well, you know, their house is — I think their house is in less worse order, as it were, than Timothy Geithner’s.  So he certainly shouldn’t be throwing stones.  But you get — you get to some basic arithmetic problems here, that the — why are the Germans — I mention this at one point in the book — why are the Germans holding a trillion dollars — German state banks, the Landesbank, and holding a trillion dollars’ worth of subprime crud from the United States?  Because of German demography.

German banks didn’t have enough young people to lend money to, which is what banks do.  I mean, banks are there, in which old people with capital stick their money in banks, and the bankers lend it to young people with ideas.

When you have not enough young people, then the banks need to start lending money further and further afield to places they don’t really fully understand.  So the poor old German Landesbanken have got a trillion dollars’ worth of this subprime mumbo-jumbo from the United States, because of — because of Germany’s demographic crisis.

So these factors — this is why all this idea of it being cyclical, that we were told in 2008, this isn’t a cyclical issue.  This isn’t a cyclical downturn.  This is a big structural problem for the whole of the Western world.

See also: the front page of your local newspaper, or the homepages of Instapundit and Drudge today.

I've also added a version of the interview in YouTube form, for those whose browsers had difficulty with our built-in audio player.