Friday, January 21, 2011

Dependence Matters

Mark Steyn's latest article in the New Criterion, Dependence Day, is a classic example of his work. He chooses to address one of the most dire and depressing topics imaginable (the imminent decline of our civilization as we know it), but he does it so well and with such a devastatingly light touch, you really enjoy reading it. He should extend this skill to other similar contexts. Like writing bed-side consultation scripts for doctors diagnosing Ebola patients. Or writing year in review summaries for the Minnesota Vikings to their season ticket holders.

In his comments on the progression of England's decline, a couple of excerpts stand out:

Thus, Hayek’s greatest insight in The Road to Serfdom, which he wrote with an immigrant’s eye on the Britain of 1944:

There is one aspect of the change in moral values brought about by the advance of collectivism which at the present time provides special food for thought. It is that the virtues which are held less and less in esteem and which consequently become rarer are precisely those on which the British people justly prided themselves and in which they were generally agreed to excel.

The virtues possessed by Anglo-Saxons in a higher degree than most other people, excepting only a few of the smaller nations, like the Swiss and the Dutch, were independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, noninterference with one’s neighbor and tolerance of the different and queer, respect for custom and tradition, and a healthy suspicion of
power and authority.
Within little more than half a century, almost every item on the list had been abandoned, from “independence and self-reliance” (some 40 percent of Britons receive state handouts) to “a healthy suspicion of power and authority”-- the reflex response now to almost any passing inconvenience is to demand the government “do something.” American exceptionalism would have to be awfully exceptional to suffer a similar expansion of government without a similar descent, in enough of the citizenry, into chronic dependency.


When William Beveridge laid out his blueprint for the modern British welfare state in 1942, his goal was the “abolition of want,” to be accomplished by “cooperation between the State and the individual.” In attempting to insulate the citizenry from the vicissitudes of fate, Sir William succeeded beyond his wildest dreams: Want has been all but abolished. Today, fewer and fewer Britons want to work, want to marry, want to raise children, want to lead a life of any purpose or dignity. Churchill called his book The History of the English-Speaking Peoples—not the English-Speaking Nations. The extraordinary role played by those nations in the creation and maintenance of the modern world derived from their human capital.

What happens when, as a matter of state policy, you debauch your human capital? The United Kingdom has the highest drug use in Europe, the highest incidence of sexually transmitted disease, the highest number of single mothers; marriage is all but defunct, except for toffs, upscale gays, and Muslims. For Americans, the quickest way to understand modern Britain is to look at what lbj’s Great Society did to the black family and imagine it applied to the general population. One-fifth of British children are raised in homes in which no adult works. Just under 900,000 people have been off sick for over a decade, claiming “sick benefits,” week in, week out, for ten years and counting. “Indolence,” as Machiavelli understood, is the greatest enemy of a free society, but rarely has any state embraced this oldest temptation as literally as Britain. There is almost nothing you can’t get the government to pay for.

The damage caused by the state's erosion of citizen self-reliance and the use of chirpy promotional slogans to sell it like "cooperation between the State the individual" was on my mind as I read about the latest initiative by the Mark Dayton administration. They're trumpeting the fast-tracking of an extension of Medicare benefits to citizens previously not eligible. Billions of dollars of new entitlement spending added to the Federal debt, primarily for a population composed of single, able-bodied adults. And here's the public relations spin by the politicians, dutifully conveyed throughout the Minnesota mainstream and liberal new media outlets:

"This is what happens when you put government on the side of the people, said Governor Mark Dayton.

Representative Erin Murphy: "It’s a new day -- Governor Dayton is working swiftly and honestly for Minnesotans. It’s a clear signal that government can work effectively for the people.

Representative Tom Huntley: “Finally Minnesota is moving again. The Governor has taken control of the bureaucracy and is getting things done for the people of Minnesota.”

In other words, we're from the government, and we're here to help. The most terrifying words in the English language, at least according to one observer.

The new bureaucrat in charge of this government largess added this triumphalist quote:

“Elections do matter.” said Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.

The relative consequences of which all freedom loving Americans need to internalize, quickly, if we're to stop the slide Steyn so eruditely describes.