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The Desperation-of-Deprivation Myth
The West has incentivized non-productivity on an industrial scale.


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Mark Steyn

The rioters, meanwhile, have a crude understanding of how the system works. The proprietor of a Bang & Olufsen franchise revealed that the looters had expressed mystification as to why he objected to them stealing his goods. After all, he was insured, wasn’t he? So the insurance would pay for his stolen TVs and DVD players, wouldn’t it? The notion that, ultimately, someone has to pay for the insurance seemed to elude them, in the same way it seems to elude our elites that ultimately someone has to pay for Britain’s system of “National Insurance” — or what Canada calls “Social Insurance” and America “Social Security.”

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The problem for the Western world is that it has incentivized non-productivity on an industrial scale. For large numbers at the lower end of the spectrum (still quaintly referred to by British reporters as “working class”), the ritual of work — of lifetime employment as a normal feature of life — has been all but bred out by multigenerational dependency. At the upper end of the spectrum, too many of us seem to regard an advanced Western society as the geopolitical version of a lavishly endowed charitable foundation that funds somnolent programming on NPR. I was talking to a trustiefundie Vermont student the other day who informed me her ambition is to “work for a non-profit.”

“What kind of ambition is that?” I said, a little bewildered. But she meant it, and so do most of her friends. Doesn’t care particularly what kind of “non-profit” it is: as long as no profits are involved, she’s eager to run up a six-figure college debt for a piece of the non-action. The entire state of Vermont is becoming a non-profit. And so in a certain sense is an America that’s 15 trillion dollars in the hole, and still cheerfully spending away.

In between the non-profit class and the non-working class, we have diverted too much human capital into a secure and undemanding bureaucracy-for-life: President Obama has further incentivized statism as a career through his education “reforms,” under which anyone who goes into “public service” will have their college loans forgiven after ten years.

Why?

As I point out in my book, in the last six decades the size of America’s state and local government workforce has increased over three times faster than the general population. Yet Obama says it’s still not enough: The bureaucracy needs even more of our manpower. Up north, Canada is currently undergoing a festival of mawkish sub–Princess Di grief-feasting over the death from cancer of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Jack Layton’s career is most instructive. He came from a family of successful piano manufacturers — in 1887 H. A. Layton was presented with a prize for tuning by Queen Victoria’s daughter. But by the time Jack came along, the family’s private-sector wealth-creation gene had been pretty much tuned out for good: He was a career politician, so is his wife, and his son. They’re giving him a state funeral because being chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative is apparently more admirable than being chairman of Layton Bros Pianos Ltd.

Again: Why?

The piano manufacturer pays for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, not the other way round. The private sector pays for the Vermont non-profits and the Manchester rioters and the entire malign alliance of the statism class and the dependency class currently crushing the Western world. America, Britain, Canada, and Europe are operating on a defective business model: Not enough of us do not enough productive work for not enough of our lives. The numbers are a symptom, but the real problem, in the excuses for Manchester, in the obsequies in Ottawa, in the ambitions of Vermont, is the waste of human capital.

— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2011 Mark Steyn.



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