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Crisis of Decadence
A society can live on the accumulated capital of a glorious inheritance for only so long.


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Mark Steyn

One sympathizes. When college tuition is $50,000 a year, you can’t “work your way through college” — because, after all, an 18-year-old who can earn 50-grand a year wouldn’t need to go to college, would he? Nevertheless, his situation is not the same as some guy halfway up the Nile living on $2 a day: One is a crisis of the economy, the other is a crisis of decadence. And, generally, the former are far easier to solve.

My colleague Rich Lowry correctly notes that many of the beleaguered families testifying on the “We are the 99%” websites have real problems. However, the “Occupy” movement has no real solutions, except more government, more spending, more regulation, more bureaucracy, more unsustainable lethargic pseudo-university with no return on investment, more more more of what got us into this hole. Indeed, for all their youthful mien, the protestors are as mired in America’s post-war moment as their grandparents: One of their demands is for a trillion dollars in “environmental restoration.” Hey, why not? It’s only a trillion.

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Beneath the allegedly young idealism are very cobwebbed assumptions about societal permanence. The agitators for “American Autumn” think that such demands are reasonable for no other reason than that they happen to have been born in America, and expectations that no other society in human history has ever expected are just part of their birthright. But a society can live on the accumulated capital of a glorious inheritance only for so long. And in that sense this bloodless, insipid revolution is just a somewhat smellier front for the sclerotic status quo.

Middle-class America is dying before our eyes: The job market is flatlined, the college fees soar ever upward, the property market is underwater, and Obamacare is already making medical provision both more expensive and more restrictive. That doesn’t leave much else — although no doubt, as soon as they find something else, the statists will fix that, too. As more and more middle Americans are beginning to notice, they lead more precarious and vulnerable lives than did their blue-collar parents and grandparents without the benefit of college “education” and health “benefits.” For poorer Americans, the prospects are even glummer, augmented by ever grimmer statistics on obesity, childhood diabetes, and much else. Potentially, this is not decline, but a swift devastating downward slide, far beyond what post-war Britain and Europe saw and closer to Peronist Argentina on a Roman scale.

It would be heartening if more presidential candidates understood the urgency. But there is a strange lack of boldness in most of their proposals. They, too, seem victims of that 1950 moment, and assumptions of its permanence.

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



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