American Twilight
The lamps of liberty are going out.


Mark Steyn

Insofar as it works at all, Big Government works best in small, highly developed, northern Continental nation-states with a sufficiently homogeneous population to have sufficiently common interests. You can get by with it for a while in Mediterranean Europe, mainly because of a somewhat desultory attitude to the rule of law: In Italy and Greece, there are prohibitions against everything, but nobody obeys them and so, after a fashion, life goes on. Anglophone nations are generally disposed to abide by the law, and so, if there are a bazillion regulations, the average citizen will make a sincere effort to comply. But if you’re, say, Australia and you’re attempting to design a health-care system for 20 million people across an entire continent, it’s just about doable.

But no advanced society has ever attempted Big Government for a third of a billion people — for the simple reason that it cannot be done without creating a nation with the black-hole finances of Stockton, Calif., and the Black-Hole-of-Calcutta fetid, airless, sweatbox utility services of Rockville, Md. Thanks to Obamacare, in matters of health provision, whether you’re in favor of socialized medicine or truly private health care, Swedes and Italians are now freer than Americans: They have a state system and a private system, and both are relatively simple. What’s simple in micro-regulated America? In health care, we now have what’s nominally a private system encrusted with so many statist barnacles that it no longer functions as either a private or a state system. Thus, Obamacare embodies the strange no-man’s-land of statism American-style: The U.S. is no longer a land of republican virtue and self-reliant citizens but it’s not headed for the sunlit uplands of Scandinavia, either.

In their book The Size of Nations, Alberto Alesina and Enrico Spolaore argue that, if America were as centrally governed as France, it would have broken up long ago. But hey, that’s no reason not to try it! In a land where everything else is supersized, why not government? Obituaries for the late Andy Griffith generally glossed over his career finale as a pitchman for Obamacare. But he was a canny choice to sell the unsellable, for is not “health” “care” “reform” the communitarian virtues of beloved small-town Mayberry writ large? The problem is you can’t write Mayberry large. And, if you attempt it, it leads not to Mayberry but to Stockton, Calif., and to a corrupt, dysfunctional swamp. A large Sweden is a contradiction in terms. It cannot be done, and the more determinedly you try to do it, the more you will preside over a ruined wasteland. The road to hell isn’t paved at all, and the street lamps went out long ago.

— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2012 Mark Steyn