To think that Greece's troubles are an ocean and a sea away from where we stand in North America is to have your head in the Mediterranean sand. In Greece we have
- a near bankrupt, over-indebted, overspending nanny state, drowning in future liabilities;
- where civil servants are pampered and overpaid;
- in which unions are demanding a continuation of their inflated wages and entitlements; and
- productive individuals and businesses are leaving for more favorable climes.
Where have we heard all this before? Ah yes: California.
California is our Greece, and New York is our Italy.
The PIIGS, as they are called, being the fiscally fragile EU sub-community of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain (with Britain not far behind), are all countries facing potential financial collapse. They bought into -- or by joining the EU, were brought into -- the great 20th-century political model of the social democracy. This is a model that holds that the state, or the government, is the umbrella under which all its people gather and are protected. The proponents of this view include most if not all of the modern Western democracies.
It seems that this form of governance is showing symptoms of a fatal disease. That is not to say that capitalism is ill, but that "social democracy" is finally succumbing to the flesh-eating disease called sustainability. Those with a strong manufacturing base, like Germany, could linger on, although present-day economic pacts (and birthrates) will make that difficult.
Resource-rich countries like Canada should be prosperous, but instead of having the economy of Alberta nationwide, it has the debt of every other social democracy because it practices the politics of Quebec.
England's grand fall from imperialism to the present is a more complicated tale, but its history from the Second World War through today is a lesson that the U.S. cannot afford to ignore. Here are two words to get you started: automobile industry. The social engineering practiced by the Brits has not only bankrupted the country financially, but it has also brought the mother island to the point where cultural bankruptcy is also a strong possibility.
The USA has future financial liabilities somewhere between 57 and 64 trillion dollars. How does each and every one of its individual citizens feel about owing half a million dollars?
The question that needs to be asked is what went wrong. Who screwed up?
Recently, and far too often, economists have been polishing their favorite theories with very partisan rags. They consequently have too few responses that would provably answer those questions.
(Am I the only one who has come to look at these guys as the most inept group of soothsayers that has ever attempted to peer through tomorrow? How many actually foresaw what they all now claim was the inevitable recent financial collapse? Perhaps two.)
Politicians will blame the failure on those across the aisle. Leftists are blaming it on capitalism. Those on the right point a finger at socialism and bloated government. Many voters will accuse a corrupt system where special interests and lobbyists have replaced "we the people." Most will probably confess that they just don't know, or repeat some nonsense they saw in the paper. You've probably read recently what some pundits have suggested. We are struggling, they say, because of the stupidity of people who don't know what is good for them.
A few years ago, George Carlin, in a sit-down with Dennis Miller, posited that he looked down at the world from a perch well above the fray, laughing, and thought that the people he saw were extremely stupid.
Looking at our world from a larger perspective is not something we the people have done enough of. That is, we are not often forced to examine where we are politically relative to where we've been and where it all might lead. Yes, of course people have lives to lead. We are very busy.
Carlin was a cynic -- or I should say that he was a funny cynic. But he taught some good lessons. We have for decades muddled about in the middle, compromising, being bipartisan, and working the hell out of the smaller worries, and we haven't taken a moment to see that we've incrementally gone from Tocqueville's empowered citizens in get-things-done communities to neutered whiners in a nanny state that has a banana-republic future.
Secondly, and you saw this coming, we are to blame -- we the people of the western democracies. We, most of us, have been very stupid. Great things have surely been done inside and outside the political arena. But we have let a lot slide.
Those in Europe dropped their continent so deep in the muddle that it is veering away from democracy together with its ruling elite. Canada is in neutral. Mr. Obama has turned on the flood lights in America and shocked a number of us awake.
The questions are:
- Is it possible for a country designed to resist radical political shifts to roll back decades of policy and uncover the flame at the core of a great nation, the embers of which still burn in some of our hearts?
- Are there enough of us able to stay awake long enough, and be tough enough, to carry this through?
Removing the "social" from the democracy may be a long journey.