Hiding During the Decline: Of Gated Minds and Gated Communities

Mark Steyn on American decline:

The hyper-regulatory state is unrepublican. It strikes at one of the most basic pillars of free society: equality before the law. When you replace "law" with "regulation," equality before it is one of the first casualties. In such a world, there is no law, only a hierarchy of privilege more suited to a sultan's court than a self-governing republic.

If you don't want to be subject to "tooth-level surveillance," you'd better know whom to call in Washington. Teamsters Local 522 did, and the United Federation of Teachers, and the Chicago Plastering Institute. And as a result they've all been "granted" ObamaCare "waivers."

Rule, Obama! Obama, waive the rules! If only for his cronies. Americans are being transferred remorselessly from the rule of law to rule by an unaccountable bureaucracy of micro-regulatory preferences, subsidies, entitlements and incentives that determine which of the multiple categories of Unequal-Before-The-Law Second-Class (or Third-Class, or Fourth-Class) Citizenship you happen to fall into.

And yet Americans put up with it. According to the Small Business Administration, the cost to the economy of government regulation is about $1.75 trillion per annum. You and your fellow citizens pay for that — and it's about twice as much as you pay in income tax.

Or, put another way, the regulatory state sucks up about a quarter-trillion dollars more than India's entire GDP. As fast as India's growing its economy, we're growing our regulations faster.

Oh well, you shrug, it would be unreasonable to expect the bloated, somnolent hyperpower to match those wiry little fellows back at the call center in Bangalore. Okay. It's also about a quarter-trillion dollars more than the GDP of Canada. Every year we're dumping the equivalent of a G-7 economy into ever more ludicrous and wasteful regulation.

As my fellow columnists Charles Krauthammer and Victor Davis Hanson like to point out, decline is not inevitable; it is a choice. The voters of New York's 26th District chose it just the other day, presumably on the basis that it will be relatively pleasant, as it has been in certain parts of Continental Europe.

But genteel Franco-Italian decline is not on the menu. As those numbers suggest, the scale of American decay is entirely different: $1.75 trillion in regulatory costs, $1 trillion in college debt, $4.5 billion spent by Washington every single day that we don't have, 70% of which the U.S. government "borrows" from itself because nobody else wants to lend it to us — and a governing party whose Senate leader boasts about not passing a budget and whose Medicare plan is not to have a plan at all and whose crusading regulatory reformer's greatest triumph is getting Daisy the cow moved out of the same federal classification as the Exxon Valdez.

Needless to say, read the whole thing.

So what does American decline look like? Just look at Detroit or California for examples. Regarding the latter, Victor Davis Hanson wrote last week:

Our schools rate just below Mississippi in math and science. Tell me why, given our high taxes and highest paid teachers in the nation? Can the governor or legislature explain? Is the culprit the notoriously therapeutic California curriculum? The inability to fire incompetent teachers? The vast number of non-English speaking students? Derelict parents? How odd that not a single state official can offer any explanation other than: “We need more money.” What is the possible cure for the near worst math and science students in the nation? Yes, I see it now: the California Senate just passed a bill mandating the teaching of homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered history, just the sort of strategy to raise those English composition and vocabulary scores among the linguistic and arithmetic illiterate.

Try driving a California “freeway” lately, say the 101 between Gilroy and San Luis Obispo or the 99 between Modesto and Stockton, or an east-west lateral like the 152 between Casa de Fruita and Gilroy, or the 12 between Napa and Stockton. In other words, just try driving across the state. These stretches are all nightmarish death traps (the concrete divider on the two-lane 12 is a sick joke, a sort of kill-contraption), no improvements from 40 years ago when there were 15 million fewer people and far better drivers. But how did this happen when we pay the highest gasoline taxes in the nation; where did the revenue go? Is there some cruel joke I’m missing — a stash of billions in gas tax money buried somewhere and never used? And how can we even begin discussing “high-speed rail” (stage one planned from Fresno to the megalopolis of Corcoran no less!) when millions do not yet have “high-speed roads”? Madness, sheer madness.

How did we suddenly save the 250,000 irrigated acres on the west side, recently idled to ensure that rivers run into the delta and the sea to save the three-inch smelt? Brilliant legislative compromise? Judges who finally came to their senses? Massive dam and reservoir construction?

No, the land is being irrigated again only because we have a near record wet year. The Sierra snowpack in the age of global warming is about 180-190% of normal, one that will last well into late July. When things go bad in California, we pray for supernatural help.

Or we head for whatever cocoon we can find to hide out, hoping against hope things will improve. Or simply ignoring the crisis outside to focus on more mythical concerns, as VDH noted above. Responding to him, Kate of Canada's Small Dead Animals blog mentioned an item she linked to back in 2007 from another of my esteemed colleagues here at PJM, Richard Fernandez. As Richard wrote back then, "One way to recognize a failing state is to examine the extent to which its cities are subdividing into gated communities:"

In more recent times, a much larger number of gated communities has rapidly developed in various regions throughout the world ... In 2000, eight million U.S. residents lived in gated communities ... American gated communities generally exist more for purposes of prestige than for practical security needs. In most cases, the gate is unmanned and automated and is opened by a resident from their vehicle by entering a code on an electronic keypad. ...

In Brazil, the most widespread form of gated community is called "condomínio fechado" (closed housing estate) and is the object of desire of the upper classes. Such a place is a small town with its own infrastructure (backup power supply, sanitation and security guards). Some even have schools for the children so that they will only need to leave the community after the first five years of elementary school. The purpose of such a community is to protect its residents from outside violence. ...

In post-apartheid South Africa gated communities have mushroomed in response to high levels of violent crime. South African gated communities are broadly classified as "security villages" (large-scale privately developed areas) or "enclosed neighbourhoods". Some of the newest neighborhoods being developed are virtually entirely comprised of security villages, with a few isolated malls and other essential services (such as hospitals). A common mode of development of the security villages involves staking out a large land claim, developing a high wall surrounding the entire zone, then gradually adding roads and other infrastructure. In part, property developers have adopted this response to counter squatting, which local residents fear due to associated crime, and which often results in a protracted eviction process. Crime syndicates have been known to acquire property in some of these security villages to be used as a base for their operations within them. ...

In Saudi Arabia, gated communities have existed since the discovery of oil, mainly to accommodate Westerners and their families. After threat levels raised since late 1990s against Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, gates have become armed, sometimes heavily, and all vehicles being inspected. Marksmen and SANG armored vehicles appeared in certain times, markedly after recent terrorist attacks in areas nearby, targeting Westerners.

The Wikipedia article probably understates the actual prevalence of gated communities by focusing only on the readily recognizable forms. The Poor Man's gated community is secured by creating a neighborhood watch, often manned by former military men, as happens in Baghdad. The Rio militias that the Washington Post describes are just simply one way poor people pull up the drawbridge around their patch of turf. They chose a local warlord and in some respects transfer allegiance to him, while maintaining a separate relationship to a High King in the capitol.

As Kate noted:

In Canada, the "gated community community" of the chattering and legal classes prepare fertile ground within our own inner cities, as immigration policies blind to crime elements and cultural abrasion meet "root cause" criminal recycling programs and the intellectual numbing effect of identity politics - our chastizing betters returning to their beds each night in the smug belief that their luxurious vantage points behind high rent buffer zones represent the moral and intellectual high ground.

Of course, in 2011, California elites have good reason to start doubling up on their gated communities, as Walter Russell Mead recently noted, "SCOTUS Makes It Official: California A Failed State:"

The controversial US Supreme Court decision (pdf) that could ultimately force California to release tens of thousands of prison inmates is more than a shockingly broad exercise of judicial power.  It is also an official declaration by the highest constitutional authority in the land that California meets the strict test of state failure: it can no longer enforce the law within its frontiers.

Let there be no mistake: when you produce so many criminals that you can’t afford to lock them up, you are a failed state.  Virtually every important civil institution in society has to fail to get you to this point.  Your homes and houses of worship are failing to build law abiding citizens, much less responsible and informed voters.  Your schools aren’t educating enough of your kids to make an honest living.  Your taxes and policies are so bad that you are driving thousands of businesses away.  Your management systems must be fouled and confused to the max for you to create something so dysfunctional, so wildly beyond your means, that the Supreme Court of the United States (wisely or foolishly is another question) starts to micromanage your jails.

California used to be the glory of this country, the dream by the sea, the magic state.  Now it produces so many criminals it can’t pay to keep them locked up.

If the media "unexpectedly" downplays all of this decline, focusing instead on Big 'Bama's glorious military victories in Eurasia -- or is it East Asia? Who can keep track these days -- they have good reason to, Michael Barone writes today:

As Instapundit reader Gordon Stewart, quoted by Reynolds on May 17, put it, "How many times in a row can something happen unexpectedly before the experts start to, you know, expect it? At some point, shouldn't they be required to state the foundation for their expectations?"One answer is that many in the mainstream media have been cheerleading for Barack Obama. They and he both naturally hope for a strong economic recovery. After all, Obama can't keep blaming the economic doldrums on George W. Bush forever.

I'm confident that any comparison of economic coverage in the Bush years and the coverage now would show far fewer variants of the word "unexpectedly" in stories suggesting economic doldrums.

It's obviously going to be hard to achieve the unacknowledged goal of many mainstream journalists -- the president's re-election -- if the economic slump continues. So they characterize economic setbacks as unexpected, with the implication that there's still every reason to believe that, in Herbert Hoover's phrase, prosperity is just around the corner.

In a remarkable conclusion to his post from 2007, Richard Fernandez noted:

It is often forgotten that the Dark Ages were also the heyday of multiculturalism. Each valley held its petty lord and it was possible for places separated only by a few miles to speak totally different languages. But it can't happen again, can it?

The demands of our 21st century petty lords have caused those who practiced doubleplusungood crimethink from less enlightened times than our own to no longer be taught in classrooms; and all's the pity. Because I know somebody who spotted an empire at the peak of its power a century ago and wasn't afraid to mention its coming, well, let's call it a "Recessional," to coin a phrase.