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Interview: Mark Steyn on After America, One Year Later

DRISCOLL:  QE3 involves lending money on a gigantic basis, but there’s also the money banks lend to individuals and families.  Glenn Reynolds, my colleague at PJ Media.com, has linked to articles on “the coming middle class anarchy.” Our entire nation’s economy rests on the idea of owning a home and paying your mortgage each month. If enough people who are underwater say the system is rigged, and nuts to all this, America’s already fragile economy could be in deep trouble.

STEYN:  Yes.  I think that's certainly the case.  I mean, I think if you look at what has been wrecked by government, they include all the things that prudent people -- we're not talking about people with, you know, great ambitions.  We're not even talking about, you know, dreams.  We're not talking about fancies.  We're talking about just what prudent, responsible people do.  People say oh, you know, buy property.  What is it?  The Mark Twain line, they're not making any more of it, you know, whatever.

Buy a home.  Buy a house.  Own your own home.  The government through Fannie and Freddie and subprime mortgages wrecked the property market, so the idea of the whole sort of safe as houses concept is gone.  Then they said oh, you know, get an education.  Get an education.  Get a qualification; you'll always have something to fall back on.  Most American qualifications are worthless and people stack up six figures of debt to acquire them, so they've wrecked that element too.

So these are things that, as I said, not dreamers but prudent, sensible people that get an education, buy property -- look after your health, that's another thing that's wrecked now.  So in other words, all the props of prudent, sensible middle-class life have been hacked away at by government -- big government interference with them.  And there's not a lot left to wreck once you do that.

DRISCOLL:  And as you write in After America, starting a business is also increasingly anathema.  Whether it's a kid with a lemonade stand or a hardware store who wants to put out its own coffee and donuts without being over-regulated to death.

STEYN:  Yeah.  I think this is not small stuff.  And I think there's a problem here.  Again, there's a sort of element of delusion on the right about how important this stuff is.  Because people do get annoyed about it, but again, it -- they don't -- I think a lot of people don't quite fully understand the implications of it.  A society in which you need 500 dollars worth of permits to put a lemonade stand on your lawn is not a free society.

You could have the Second Amendment.  I mean, a lot of people when I mentioned -- I think it was on Rush I mentioned the lemonade -- like, half a dozen lemonade stand stories from around the country.  And a couple guys e-mailed me and said oh, this isn't important stuff, Steyn, you shouldn't be talking about this.  We've got the Second Amendment, so nobody's going to do all the -- you know, nobody's going to come and take away our freedoms.

That's all very well, but you could -- you can easily wind up in a situation where you still have the Second Amendment and every other freedom has been lost.  A society in which you cannot legally sell lemonade in your front yard is not a free society.  A society -- you mentioned the hardware store.  A society in which a hardware store in Ventura County, California cannot put out complimentary coffee and donuts for its customers is not a free society.

And at some point people have to get real about this.  I think this is the way -- this is one of the reasons, by the way, where the sort of codification of the U.S. Constitution actually gets in the way of looking at things clearly.  Because clearly what's happened over the course of the last eighty years is that successive governments at the national level, but also at the state and county level, have ridden a coach and horses through the principles of the U.S. Constitution.  But because it's still there on a piece of paper that some guy put down on parchment with ink and quill feather and it's actually written down, people still think that it's there and it’s effective even though eighty years of big government expansion has basically driven a coach and horses through it.