I was listening to John Derbyshire's long-running Radio Derb the other day, and was rather touched to find myself with a bit part in the opening segment:
I can't improve on Steyn—nobody can—so I'll just quote him from that piece.
That "nobody can" bit is very kind of John, because I always feel he thinks I'm a bit of a pantywaist on the hardcore issues.
I'll come back to the bit Derb referenced later in the week, but first, to return the compliment, I was very struck by an aside he had about halfway through the show re India becoming the fourth nation to make a "soft landing" on the moon (by "soft", they mean the spacecraft doesn't get totaled on impact). The cost of the Chandrayaan-3 mission was about US$75 million, which, as John pointed out, is less than the cost of the Barbie movie.
If you want to be nitpicky, you might quibble that that doesn't include the cost of the first two, less successful Chandrayaan space missions. So total expenditures on the Indian space programme since its launch in 2003 are approx $140 million - which is still less than the Barbie movie.
Okay, I don't want to beat up on Barbie, because, as you know, our friend Andrew Lawton is a huge fan. So let's use instead the cinematic example the Indian PM chose - an agreeable if largely forgotten Sandra Bullock/George Clooney pic from a decade back. Here is how Mr Modi put it in 2014:
'Gravity' Cost More Than Indian Space Mission, Says Prime Minister
"I have heard about the film 'Gravity.' I am told the cost of sending an Indian rocket to space is less than the money invested in making the Hollywood movie," Modi said.
Nine years later that's still true: India can land a spaceship on the moon for less than the cost of an American movie about a space mission.
But let's set aside the showbiz comparisons. As I said, the total cost of the Indian space programme, since 2003, is about $140 million - or seven million per annum. What can you get from American government for seven million bucks a year?
Nothing. That's a rounding error in the federal budget. In fact, it's more like a tenth of a rounding error. If you take seven million bucks and add another $270 million to it, you get the 2024 budget for the "Manufacturing Extension Partnership" - which "offers advisory services to small and medium enterprises".
So, for twice the entire two-decade cost of the Indian space programme, you can get a year of "advisory service" from American bureaucrats. There's a lot of that about:
To meet this need, the Budget provides $464 million, $78 million over the 2023 enacted level, for OPM's Salaries and expenses account to enhance the Agency's ability to lead Federal human capital management and, in alignment with the Agency's Strategic Plan, to serve as a centralized leader in Federal human resources.
I've no idea what that means in terms of what you actually do when you get to the office to start your day's work, but at $464 mil per annum it seems kind of pricey.
In my book After America, I quoted a correspondent of mine who, in response to examples such as the above, used to respond, "We're rich enough that we can afford to be stupid." A decade on, the twenty trillion dollars of debt is thirty trillion - actually thirty-three trillion, but, as it never makes the news, what's another three trillion here and there?
The interest on the debt is about half-a-trillion - or two per cent of GDP. In the second quarter of 2023, GDP grew by about 2.1 per cent. Which is great - because that covers the federal debt interest! And leaves a little over to tip the delivery boy. Which you're gonna need because half of those interest payments leave the country, which cheers them up no end at the BRICS summit.
But who cares? "We're rich enough that we can afford to be stupid", right?
Twelve years later, we're a lot less rich - and a lot more stupid. I've grown a little weary of the famous Hemingway line since I first started quoting it a zillion years ago - "How did you go bankrupt?" "Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly" - because it should be obvious now that we're way past gradually. And you're not going to like it when you wake up one morning to suddenly.
Aside from the insane decadent waste of the vast bloated Republic of Paperwork, there's a tragic element to all this. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that America has utterly squandered its historical moment. I mentioned the other day the Venetian Republic:
...which I don't suppose many readers give much thought to, but it lasted 1,100 pretty good years from AD 697 to May 12th 1797. Which is over four times as long as the American republic has lasted - or, absent profound course correction, is likely to.
America's global dominance began seventy or so years ago. Halfway through, its principal geostrategic rival went belly up, and Washington became what France calls "le hyper-puissance". How has it used that "hyper-power"? Not to improve the lives of its citizens, which, by almost all measures, are worse than they were since the Soviet Union imploded. I see life expectancy has fallen to 76.4 years - the lowest in twenty years.
Everything is a brazen racket. The Uniparty enriches itself, as does the Permanent State of alphabet-soup agencies regulating American innovation to death. And the GOP "debate" offers us a choice between smiley-faced banalities from Tim Scott or more endless unwon wars with Nikki Haley.
Meanwhile, India lands on the moon for 75 million. You can't open a federal Hawaii wildfire-relief processing center for 75 mil. I mean, c'mon, it's not
rocket science trillion-dollar bureaucratic paperwork-shuffling, is it?
I wish genial wankers like Tim Scott and decidedly non-genial ones like Chris Christie could rouse themselves to talk about something, anything that matters. Seven decades as the "hyper-power" is a blip that, in the scales of history, won't even be remembered - except insofar as the entirety of western civilization was dragged off the cliff with it. But hey, that Barbie movie's pretty great, isn't it?
~Notwithstanding Mark's one-step-forward-three-steps-back health, we had a busy Labor Day/Labour Day weekend at SteynOnline, starting with Andrew Lawton back in the anchor seat for our Clubland Q&A. For his Saturday movie date Rick McGinnis opted for one of Steyn's favorite stars, Ginger Rogers, in Vivacious Lady, which she certainly was. Our Sunday Song of the Week previewed Labor Day with a plaint of backbreaking work - and our observances of the day itself contemplated the day after labour. And, if you haven't yet heard our brand new and not unrelated Tale for Our Time - Mark's summer diversion on a theme of H G Wells - you can start with Episode One right here.
If you were too busy spending the weekend at the traditional Labor Day barbecue in Washington in which another trillion in dollar bills goes up in smoke, , we hope you'll want to check out one or three of the foregoing as a new if shortened week begins.