Janet Daley surveys the collapse of the welfare state idea on both sides of the Atlantic. Europe is finding it can’t afford it at precisely the time that the American is trying to imitate it, while its voters reject it. The question is: where is this political discourse leading?
So a generation after the collapse of totalitarian socialism, its democratic form is finally crumbling as well. And, oddly enough, the latter may take longer than the former to unravel. The one virtue of totalitarian governments is that they can be swept away in a single blow, either through violent overthrow or – as in the case of Soviet communism – by their populations simply walking out from under them. But social democracy has the supposed legitimacy of the consent of an electorate which has exercised a free political choice.
… The US, bizarrely, is running at least 10 years behind in this process, having elected a government which chose to embark on the social democratic experiment at precisely the moment when its Western European inventors were despairing of it, and desperately trying to find politically palatable ways of winding it down.
The American people – being made of rather different stuff and having historical roots which incline them to be distrustful of government in any form – immediately rejected the whole idea.
The collapse of Western socialism may not take as long as she thinks. Two two factors are rapidly changing voter preference: economics and demography. Because the welfare state has simply eaten out the productive seed corn and destroyed the margins the consequences of voting for “progressive” policies will be immediate and painful. But more importantly both demography and economic dysfunction compound. Things don’t get worse in a linear fashion, it gallops away. Simply servicing the skyrocketing debt of the last ten years will take a rapidly increasing share of national income equal in just a few years to the entire budget of the DOD. A few years after that, not even the entire Federal Budget can pay off the interests. Anyone who has gotten into credit card debt knows how quickly the quicksand rise.
On the contrary the real danger is the collapse of the Western socialisms will happen just as fast as that of the socialist totalitarianisms in the East, the more catastrophic because there will be no equivalent of a West Germany to bail out East Germany. America could buy out the loose nuclear material of the Former Soviet Union Who bails out the “former” EU or the “former” United States? It is probably a mistake to think that the electoral processes of the West will by themselves ameliorate the Ponzi-like implosion of socialist economies.
If the travails of Greece are any indicator, the Left will in fact experience a brief resurgence, like a lightbulb flaring up for the last time, before it shorts out. People will desperately demand “an end to the financial crisis”. They will insist on this or that. The Left will exploit that, offering as always, something for nothing. But if there’s no money, jobs or demography to provide it, then they might as well bay at the moon. Once people realize there’s no stash, really, really no stash, then despair and rage will soon follow Hope.
The critical time will be the period before a collapse sets in to prepare the voters for what they are about to experience. The great value of the Tea Party is that its adherents understand that road ahead will be rough. They are under no illusions of where socialism goes nor of the costs of weaning society off it. It takes only a few years to ruin lives. It takes a long time to rebuild them.