The Corner

Praetorian America

Listening to all of these bailouts, new subsidies, debt forgiveness plans, and novel spending ideas reminds one of the various wannabe emperors in the age of Pertinax at Rome, each on the dais bidding against each other with ever larger subsidies for the Praetorian Guard.

We’ve suddenly decided that the $700 billion guarantee was petty cash, and we might as well add on anything we want — and let someone else worry how to pay for it. Can’t someone at least warn us against mounting debt that got us into this mess, both personal and public — and offer up a detailed plan how to stop importing expensive energy, cut down on consumer credit card debt, rein in federal spending, demand budget surpluses to pay off accumulated national debt, and talk tough to people not to go into debt for a house unless they can make the payments?

Isn’t the conservative approach to warn that raising taxes in a recession is as idiotic as cutting them at a time of soaring annual deficits and national debt without promises of commensurate budget cuts? No one even meekly suggests that when the panic ends we should leave the rates alone, slash spending, and start paying off what we borrowed. Somehow “stimulus” and “priming the pump” have done away with any notion that a billion dollars used to be a lot of money.

All the catalysts for this panic: Wall Street’s obscene bonuses, Freddie and Fannie’s mortgage defaults, ever more unfunded entitlements and federal programs, serial rebates, and sky-high gas — they all have in common a national creed of borrowing to get things we want but haven’t earned. At some point one wonders whether there is a conservative left in the country who can at least offer a moral take on where we have descended, and promise that the federal government won’t offer any more spending it can’t pay for in cash, and that the public in their own private lives should start doing likewise. But in the present surreal landscape, we seem to want to borrow ever more to raise deficits even higher, without understanding that even balanced budgets won’t pay off the huge and growing debts we owe.

The current medicine is starting to seem a lot like the disease.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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