Key Question: A Western Decline for Whom?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Writing from the old country, Christopher Booker spotlights the changing of the global guard, so to speak, closing with this ominous thought:

The reason why we do not see just how far our spoiled, emasculated, de‑spiritualised societies in the West have lost the plot is that they are the bubble we live in. But these days there is a great big world out there, much less sentimental and much tougher than what we have become used to. Over the coming years, our world is going to change more than we can imagine.

As it happens, I came across that paragraph just having read Joel Kotkin’s thoughts on “How Liberals Are The New Autocrats,” about the way in which democracy is less and less in fashion among the West’s leaders, who now prefer centralization and government by a class of people claiming to be experts.  Along the way, he touches on exactly that which I’ve been decrying as Rhode Island’s unhealthy approach to economic development (emphasis his):

This economic consolidation, and how it plays into centralization, is rarely recognized by Republicans, living in mortal fear of offending their cherished K Street collaborators. A powerful central state often rains money on well-connected capitalists who have flourished under state-dominated systems in places as varied as Venezuela and Iran. Similarly, a draconian climate regime certainly enhances the fortunes of  capitalists such as Elon Musk as well as other Silicon Valley and Wall Street supporters who seek to force consumers and businesses into purchasing expensive, often unreliable renewable power from favored wind and solar projects.

The increasing power of the central state, in contrast, is the bane of small companies, who are far less well-positioned to deal with ever-increasingly regulation. Washington’s efforts to control financial activities proved a disaster for the country’s entrepreneurial economy, long dependent on small community banks for loans. Overall for the first time in recent memory, more businesses are being destroyed than created. Concurrently, if unsurprisingly, the middle class is shrinking, and seeing its share of the economy steadily diminish.

These global trends, and the ways in which different societies respond to them, represent a gigantic topic, and it’s not one that I’ve time to work through all at once, just now.  Therefore, I’d only ask — plea with — my fellow Rhode Islanders and Americans to give some practical thought to the forces and incentives involved and bring them down to the individual level.  The exercise would be especially important for those who lean (or fall) to the political left.  If you can’t answer this argument on serious grounds, you aren’t considering the plight of our country’s most vulnerable in a humane way.

Suppose, for a moment, that we’d never hit upon the idea that government should attempt to orchestrate entire economies, much less entire societies.  What would be the effect of distant, densely populated countries’ finding that they could grow by utilizing their cheap labor?  The Westerners who found themselves displaced would, first, have to seek ways to live on less — pressuring prices and discarding luxuries — but they would, then, strive to undertake the sort of work that continues to maintain their lifestyles — putting pressure on salaries up the scale.

On the first count, such things as entertainment would have to drop in price, but so would the bills for local, state, and federal governments, which provide services that many taxpayers correctly believe that they, personally, could live without.  On the second count, people a few steps up the economic stairs from lower-end labor will find they’ve much more competition, and their employers will be able to fill their jobs less expensively, which would domino up each additional step, until higher-end employees determined to go out and compete with their former employers, taking that slack out of the economy.

In short, our society would strive to squeeze out that which might be termed luxuries in our social and economic system, including things like government graft, labor union excess, stratospheric executive salaries, the costs of cronyism and nepotism, and so on.  Tolerance for fluff in the academic institutions that could provide working and lower-middle class people a route to higher-end employment would wane, as well.  We’d be in competition with other regions, again, and we’d have to become that much more serious of a people.

Instead, it’s a better deal for the elite to accustom Americans to taking the hit of going from low-end work to dependency on government than for them to let Americans find ways to improve their own lot. It works out well for the powerful people in Rhode Island to import companies and use our money to bribe them to give some of us OK jobs, rather than letting us figure out ways to take the undeserved excess wealth of powerful people.

But it’s a game that becomes progressively more difficult to play and takes a growing toll on a broadening swath of our society.  In a flood, the ones at the top have the most incentive to hold off changes in the hopes that some alternative to giving up their advantages will emerge.  That’s why it’s critical for them to divide, distract, and disrupt the hoi polloi until our political power falls below the threshold at which it could combine with our sheer numbers so as to allow us to insist on a society that works to our benefit instead of theirs.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    We might begin with better education for our children about the formation of our nation. The arguments among the founding fathers about the power of the central government and the need for states rights. These are the ideas we were founded on and they have worked better than anyone dared to hope. I firmly believe in American exceptionalism. I am not sure that we have “crested” but I do fear I see the flag going down. We have to remember that government planning often succeeds accidentally. For instance the “space program” which created a demand for miniaturized electronics and gave birth to an entire industry. That was fortunate happenstance, the “space program” was not invented in order to develop the industry. It is footless when government attempts to create a demand for “clean energy” by denying access to “fossil fuels”.

    I think Justin understates the effect of centralized banking on loan applications from smaller business units. Distant committees pass judgment on local opportunities. As someone said, “A moose is a deer designed by a committee”.

  • Mike678

    Read “the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” to see some depressing similarities to the USA today. Not all is lost, but the trends are not good.

Quantcast