All Falling Down . . .
Victor Davis Hanson:
What destroys individuals, ruins families, and fells nations is debt—or rather the inability to service debt, and the cultural ramifications that follow. When farming, I used to see the futility in haggling over diesel prices, trying to buy fertilizer in bulk, or using used vineyard wire—when each day we were paying hundreds in dollars in interest on a “cut-rate” 14% crop loan.
The difference between the 5th century BC and late 4th century BC at Athens is debt–and not caused just by military expenditures or war; the claims on Athenian entitlements grew by the 350s, even as forced liturgies on the productive classes increased, even as the treasury emptied. At Rome by the mid-3rd century AD the state was essentially bribing its own citizens to behave by expanding the bread and circuses dole, while tax avoidance became an art form, while the Roman state tried everything from price controls to inflating the coinage to meet services and pay public debts.
Integral to public debt are two eternal truths: a public demands of the state ever more subsidies, and those who pay for them shrink in number as they seek to avoid the increased burden.
Once the conservative Bush people started talking about trillions in debt in terms of percentages of GDP rather than of real money, I feared we were done for: if a so-called conservative is doing this, I thought, what will the liberal Congress do when it gets back in power?
(One more historical truth: the melodramatic language of people dying, starving, being ignored, etc. increases as the level of government services expands as the fears of public insolvency spread: in the late 1930s our grandparents thought tiny sums from social security were lavish godsends, now we assume a temporary suspension in cost-of-living increases on top of generous pay-outs is nothing short of a national disaster and proof of our collective selfishness.)
The same storm clouds pile up on the horizon of foreign policy.
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