The Age of the Welfare State Smashup
It took a day after the election for me to realize what had happened. It is simply this: the old order has ended. We have now moved into a new era. Responsible Republican Reform is dead. The new age of the welfare state smashup has begun.
In the old era, conservatives offered to the American people a gradualist way of reforming the welfare state away from its administrative absolutism. We now realize that our effort was a failure.
Apart from the obvious reason why the American people were never going to give up their entitlements until the money ran out, there is another reason. Karl Marx taught us why in The German Ideology.
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.
The ruling class can call for an end to racism and then flog its supporters with racist propaganda; it can call for an end to sexism and then make blatant appeals to a single sex. It can deplore private remarks about the 47 percent and then make naked appeals to self-interest. It gets to do this until the day comes when the ruling class loses its right to rule, and that day is not yet.
With the re-election of Barack Obama and the confirmation of the mother of all entitlements, ObamaCare, the ruling class has welded into place the fourth wall of the administrative state, and we all now live in its iron cage. We are now fully confined and controlled by the four-trillion-dollar iron fences of government pensions, government health care, government education, and government welfare, just as liberals want us to be.
For people in an iron cage, the path of gradual change is closed. It will remain closed until the ruling class runs out of other peoples' money.
Like all ruling classes, liberals have maintained power by offering loot to their supporters. Like most previous ruling classes, they have begun to run out of loot and plunder to distribute among their supporters. Thus Glenn Reynolds:
Sooner or later, you run out of other people's money. Something that can't go on forever, won't. Debt that can't be repaid, won't be. Promises that can't be kept, won't be.
That is the foundation of our hope. When the ruling class runs out of money, it will also run out of the ability to buy the support of the voters and also to set the rules of the debate. But there is another ground for hope.
We quoted Marx above, to cheek our liberal custodians. Let us refer to him again; he was, after all, a revolutionary, and we are in a pre-revolutionary situation. In Marxism: Philosophy and Economics, Thomas Sowell reminds us of the essential truth that Marx grasped back in the mid-19th century. When the economy changes, as it did with the textile and then the railroad revolution in the century before Marx flourished, society will inevitably change, too, and the old ruling class will find its privileges challenged and its apology for power scorned. In the end, the ruling class gives way to the new age.
In our age we see the big corporations of liberal nostalgia, the ones that offered "good jobs at good wages," going broke. We see big education about to be utterly transformed by the online education revolution and the intransigence of the unions. We see big media under attack on all fronts. We now see new, agile companies developing in every niche and cranny of the economy. Here's one example: it's a company that makes specialized cameras for inspecting nuclear reactors. How big a company? Just a man, his wife, and the UPS truck. Everything, from marketing to fabrication, is contracted out.
So really, it doesn't matter how well President Obama anathematizes his opponents or how he rearranges the deck chairs of spending and taxes on the beach under the fiscal cliff. If the "bigs" of the old industrial economy -- corporate factories, educational factories, and media factories -- are being transformed before our very eyes, then it won't be long before the same thing happens to the biggest big of them all: the big government social program factory.
It's not just that the money will run out and the promises won't be kept. The economy is changing, and so will our national politics.
That is why we are looking at the age of the welfare state smashup.
There is a downside, and it is a big one. It might take a while to recover from the smashup...like it did after the Roman Empire ran out of money.
Christopher Chantrill (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.