7 March 2010

What 'unsustainable' really means

Mark Steyn is always readable, although seldom profound. This article from a week ago uses Greece as a hook on which to hang a familiar polemic:
Think of Greece as California: every year an irresponsible and corrupt bureaucracy awards itself higher pay and better benefits paid for by an ever-shrinking wealth-generating class. . . . The problem is there are never enough of 'the rich' to fund the entitlement state, because in the end it disincentivizes everything from wealth creation to self-reliance to the basic survival instinct, as represented by the fertility rate. In Greece, they’ve run out Greeks, so they’ll stick it to the Germans, like French farmers do. In Germany, the Germans have only been able to afford to subsidize French farming because they stick their defense tab to the Americans. And in America, Obama, Pelosi, and Reid are saying we need to paddle faster to catch up with the Greeks and Germans. What could go wrong?
The canard about French farmers does not get any more true by repetition. The imbecilities of the Common Agricultural Policy all stem from the original sin of pandering to the economically marginal small farmers of southern Germany; the French have simply taken full advantage of it, as, indeed, has agribusiness in Britain.

The Americans have maintained a meaningful military presence in Europe and in the Far East because they have judged it in their interest to do so. Any contribution from Germany, which was certain to be devastated if World War III broke out, was welcome but not essential. To say that the Germans 'stick their defence tab to the Americans' is demagoguery.

Finally, fertility declines as prosperity increases because the astronomical cost of raising children is no longer off-set by the return of child labour, which is prohibited by law, or to provide for their parents' old age. Societies are rightly judged by how well they treat their young and their old, and it is footling to lament that one of the consequences of doing so is declining fertility.

I deplore Steyn's use of a sawn-off against the welfare state, because the pellets simply bounce off the carapace of the desire of the vast majority for collective solutions to questions of public health, education, insurance against adversity, and provision for old age.

It also dilutes the key point in the passage quoted above, which is that the bureaucracy that necessarily exists to cater to this popular requirement has been permitted, by politicians totally incapable of even seeming to govern without it, to insulate itself from the consequences of its own actions. This is why I do not call it the 'civil service', a double misnomer, but the Apparat.

Until that immunity is lifted, there is no reason for the parasite to feel that its own interest is served by maintaining the health of the host. Nothing else will do. Whole departments must be abolished, all promotions and hirings halted, and separate pension schemes for all elected and unelected officials must be abolished.

And right after that, we can take the family to see the pigs formation-flying around Big Ben.

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