M A R K
S T E Y N
“Send My Checks Till I’m Dead”
As Jerry Ford likes to say, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”
And that’s true. But there’s an intermediate stage: A government big enough to give you everything you want isn’t big enough to get you to give any of it back. That’s the position European governments find themselves in. Their citizens have become hooked on unaffordable levels of social programs which in the end will put those countries out of business.
Just to get the Social Security debate in perspective, projected public pensions liabilities are expected to rise by 2040 to about 6.8 percent of GDP in the U.S. In Greece, the figure is 25 percent—i.e., total societal collapse. So what? shrug the voters. Not my problem. I paid my taxes, I want my benefits. This is the paradox of “social democracy.” When you demand lower taxes and less government, you’re damned by the Left as “selfish.” And, to be honest, in my case that’s true. I’m glad to find a town road at the bottom of my drive, and I’m happy to pay for the Army and a new fire truck for a volunteer fire department every now and then, but, other than that, I’d like to keep everything I earn and spend it on my priorities.
The Left, on the other hand, offers an appeal to moral virtue: It’s better to pay more in taxes and to share the burdens as a community. It’s kinder, gentler, more compassionate, more equitable. Unfortunately, as recent European election results demonstrate, nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: Once a fellow’s enjoying the fruits of government health care and all the rest, he couldn’t give a hoot about the broader societal interest; he’s got his, and if it’s going to bankrupt the state a generation hence, well, as long as they can keep the checks coming till he’s dead, it’s fine by him. “Social democracy” is, in that sense, explicitly anti-social.
Somewhere along the way these countries redefined the relationship between government and citizen into something closer to pusher and junkie. And once you’ve done that, it’s very hard to persuade the junkie to cut back his habit.
Thus, the general acceptance everywhere but America that the state should run your health care: A citizen of an advanced democracy expects to be able to choose from dozens of breakfast cereals at the supermarket, hundreds of movies at the DVD store, and millions of porno sites on the Internet, but when it comes to life-or death decisions about his own body he’s happy to have the choice taken out of his hands and given to the government.
My problem with this is not a fiscal one. I couldn’t care less about “the deficit,” if indeed it still exists—the Dems and the media seem to have gone very quiet over it. These government programs would still be wrong even if Bill Gates wrote a check to cover them every month. In fact, I’d go further and say that these days big government is now a national-security issue.
Commenting on a series of columns I wrote about the British Muslim community, the blogger Dean Esmay suggested that I wouldn’t be able to make the same case about American Muslims. And basically he’s right. To be sure, America like Britain has obnoxious dissembling Islamic lobby groups, but as the years go by you can’t help but notice important differences between U.S. and other Western Muslims. The number of British, Canadian, and European Islamists captured in
Afghanistan and elsewhere, for example, has not been matched by any equivalent numbers among American passport holders. Important figures in the 9/11 conspiracy plus Ahmed Ressam (the millennium bomber) plus Richard Reid (the shoe bomber) plus the July 7th London bombers were all graduates of the Euro-Canadian welfare system. Say what you like about John Walker Lindh, but at least the great Marin County jihadist took up arms against America on his parents’ dime, not the taxpayers’.
Beyond that, there seem to be no American equivalents of the uglier phenomena of European multiculturalism— the Muslim gang-rapists in France or the Muslim mobs in Yorkshire, who on the night of September 11 rampaged through the streets banging on the hoods of cars and demanding the drivers join them in cheering Osama bin Laden. The reason seems obvious: If you tried to do that to a pick-up truck in Texas, you’d get your head blown off.
The bullying, intimidating side of Muslim immigration in Europe seems to be wholly absent here—in part at least because the assertiveness of the individual American citizen makes it a riskier proposition. That’s also the lesson of 9/11. The first three planes were effectively an airborne
European Union, where the rights of the citizens had been appropriated by the FAA’s flying nanny state. On the fourth, Flight 93, Todd Beamer and others reclaimed those rights, and demonstrated that they could exercise them more efficiently than government.
The modern social-democratic state is so corrosive of its citizens’ will and so enervating in its elevation of secondary priorities (welfare, paid vacation) over primary ones (family, national defense) that most of them will not survive this great existential struggle. In America, a wartime president should understand that this is no time to increase his own citizenry’s addiction to entitlement. A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have, starting with your sense of self-reliance.
Copyright © 2005 The National Review (From the 11-7-05 issue)
► This reproduction is for discussion purposes only, not for commercial use.