A great piece by Theodore Dalrymple on the difficulties facing Britain--penned before the current bout of looting, burning, and mayhem in the streets--appeared in the City Journal:
The legacy of Britain’s previous government, which expanded the public sector incontinently, is thus an almost Marxian conflict of classes, not between the haves and have-nots (for many of the people in the public service are now well-heeled indeed) but between those who pay taxes and those who consume them.
In this conflict, one side is bound to be more militant and ruthless than the other, since taxes are increased incrementally—and everyone is already accustomed to them, anyway—but jobs are lost instantaneously and catastrophically, with the direst personal consequences. Thus those who oppose tax increases and favor government retrenchment will seldom behave as aggressively as those who will suffer personally from budget reductions. Moreover, when, as in Britain, entire areas have lived on government charity for many years—with millions dependent on it for virtually every mouthful of food, every scrap of clothing, every moment of distraction by television—common humanity dictates care in altering the system. The extreme difficulty of reducing subventions once they have been granted should serve as a warning against instituting them in the first place, but in Britain, it appears, it never will. We seem caught in an eternal cycle, in which a period of government overspending and intervention leads to economic crisis and hence to a period of austerity, which, once it is over, is replaced by a new period of government overspending and intervention, promoted by politicians, half-charlatan and half-self-deluded, who promise the electorate the sun, moon, and stars.
It’s easy to see how the United States could be heading into or may have already entered just such a cycle of decline. However, there is evidence of a new willingness and sustained vigor to avoid such a fate. Look no further than yesterday’s election results in Wisconsin where voters rejected efforts to turn back the reforms brought about by Governor Walker and the Republican controlled legislature. There is no doubt that the unions and their allies were more militant, ruthless, and aggressive in their campaigns to stop Walkers’ reforms and then to recall Republican state senators who supported them. Despite all this, and the fact that they spent twice as much money as did the Republicans and their allies, they suffered a significant defeat when voters said no to recalling four of the six senators at risk (next week three Democrats face recall elections). This means the Republicans will continue to control the Wisconsin state senate and that efforts to recall Governor Walker are likely dead in the water (unless Democrats want to piss away even more money).