On Saturday, I spoke to the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua, New Hampshire. I was one of the last of a bazillion speakers over two days, many of whom - Bobby Jindal, for example - had pointed out how serious things are by offering some variant of the warning that, if we're not careful, we'll wind up like Europe.
So I tried to explain that, by most measures, America is already way beyond Europe, and significantly worse than other English-speaking nations in the New World (Canada, Australia, New Zealand). From the OECD's 2011 edition of Government At A Glance, government expenditures per person:
New Zealand $12,252
United Kingdom $18,155
United States $19,266
America is not who it thinks it is. John Hawkins has an excellent post today on the five structural problems that are destroying the nation, and he marshals some evidence of his own:
America doesn't have the highest taxes in the Western world, but it does have the most progressive tax system in the Western world. As a practical matter, what this means is that we have large numbers of Americans voting on whether others should pay more taxes in order to give them things.
Every time the Democrats call for "the richest one per cent" to pay their "fair share", Republicans ought to point out that we have a more progressive - ie, redistributive - tax system than Canada, Scandinavia, Belgium, the Netherlands... In other words, America's rich already pay more than Sweden's rich or Norway's rich. If it's fair enough for the Continentals, why isn't it fair for Americans?
What about corporate tax? Federal corporate tax in the US: 35 per cent; in Canada: 11-15 per cent. Total (national, local, the lot) corporate tax burden: Ireland 12.5 per cent, Sweden 22 per cent, Denmark 24 per cent, Netherlands 25 per cent, Germany 29 per cent, Italy 31 per cent, Belgium 33 per cent, United States 40 per cent.
So America is more Euro-socialist than most Euro-socialists. How about debt? John Hawkins again:
It is quite literally impossible to pay off the debt our nation owes along with the commitment we've made to our own citizens via Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security unless inflation dramatically reduces the value of our currency which would erode savings, drive cost-of-living expenses into the stratosphere and generally decimate the economy. Meanwhile, taking even the mildest steps to safeguard the future of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid has proven to be almost impossible in the current political environment. As a practical matter, this means our country is headed towards bankruptcy or runaway inflation so bad that we might as well be bankrupt.
Other countries are not in this situation: Canada's federal government ran a $6 billion deficit last year (or about what Washington borrows every 30 hours or so); this year it will have a surplus of $18 billion. After running trillion-dollar deficits for every year of Obama's first term, last year Washington restrained itself to three-quarters of a trillion. New Zealand is paying down Crown debt from a peak of 26 per cent of GDP to 16 per cent by 2019. In America, federal debt is over 100 per cent of GDP. Australia's federal debt works out to $12,000 per citizen. In America, it's $54,000.
The United States is the Brokest Nation in History, broker than anyone else has ever been ever. And yet:
Most people's eyes glaze over when you talk about the subject. Sadly, our nation will probably have to start going over the falls before everyone agrees that we have to start paddling in the other direction and by then, it will be too late.
Where is the Washington legislator who has plans to do as the Kiwis are doing and pay off some debt? Not in 2050 or 2075 but now. Well, as John notes, the permanent political class - the Emirs of Incumbistan - are another structural defect. But I would add that America's national mythology is also part of the problem. We still have all the best slogans: "Don't tread on me", "Don't mess with Texas". I love New Hampshire's - "Live free or die". I just wish we lived it instead of putting it on a license plate. No Swede plasters "Live Swede or die" on the back of his Volvo. No Belgian goes around singing, "I'm proud to be a Belgian where at least I know I'm â€¦Belgian." "I'm proud to be a Frenchman where at least I can eat Brieâ€¦" You can't clean up in the Scandinavian T-shirt business by ordering up ten thousand of 'em emblazoned with "Don't mess with Finland!" So they have an advantage over the United States: the gulf between who we think we are and who we actually are widens every day.
The biggest structural defects identified by John Hawkins are education and immigration, both of which are discussed at length in my book After America (personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available at the SteynOnline bookstore and whose revenue is much needed for my legal battle, he whines pitifully). But John puts it very well:
An ideal immigration policy would be based on merit, would focus on adding highly skilled immigrants, would be easily adjustable, wouldn't change the demographics of our country and would be simple and inexpensive for law-abiding immigrants. Our current system meets none of these requirements.
Again, the national mythology - "nation of immigrants", huddled masses yearning to breathe free, shining city on a hill - is an obstacle to the rational self-interest displayed by, say, Australia or (by comparison with America) Canada. Americans sincerely think that anyone can come here and become American, but, when the huddled masses are tens of millions of low-skilled, uneducated Latin-American scofflaws and the shining city is broker and more redistributive than Europe, the chasm between national ideology and reality is all but unbridgeable.
John Hawkins is right. In a two-party system, it's entirely possible that November will be a big wave election for the GOP. But, unless they've got serious plans to address some of these structural defects - not in 2050 or 2075 but in the term of office for which they've been elected - it will, as 2010 did, make no difference.