Connoisseurs of democratic decadence can savor a variety of contemporary dystopias. Because familiarity breeds banality, Greece has become a boring horror. Japan, however, in its second generation of stagnation is fascinating. Once, Japan bestrode the world, jauntily buying Rockefeller Center and Pebble Beach. Now the Japanese buy more adult diapers than those for infants.
America has an energy surplus, the government-produced overhang of housing inventory is shrinking and the average age of Americans' cars is an astonishing 10.8 years. Such promising economic indicators, however, mask America's democratic decadence, as explained by the Hudson Institute's Christopher DeMuth (The Weekly Standard, Dec. 24):
Deficit spending once was largely for investments — building infrastructure, winning wars — and benefited future generations, so government borrowing appropriately shared the burden with those generations. Now, however, borrowing burdens the future to finance current consumption. This, says DeMuth, erases "the distinction between investing for the future and borrowing from the future."
December's maneuverings will spare most Americans the cliff-related tax increases and spending cuts that would have been a small but instructive taste of the costs of the entitlement state. Still, they taught three lessons.
• There will be no significant spending restraint. Democrats — you know, the people respectful of evidence — even rejected a more accurate measurement of the cost of living that would slow increases in myriad government benefits.
• Barack Obama has just one wee idea. He wants to raise taxes on "millionaires and billionaires," including couples earning less than half a million. He has nothing pertinent to say about the steadily worsening fiscal imbalance that will make sluggish growth — under 3 percent — normal.
• One December winner was George W. Bush. December's rancor disguised bipartisan agreement: Both parties favored making a large majority of his tax cuts permanent. But neither ending those cuts nor cliff-related spending decreases would have tamed the current $1 trillion-plus budget deficit nor made a discernible dent in the 87-times-larger unfunded liabilities of the entitlement state.
Income taxes, no matter how high, cannot fund the government liberals want, and they dare not seek the consumption and energy taxes their entitlement architecture requires. Hence, with Republican help, Democrats ardently embrace decadent democracy. This is not just refusing to will the means for the ends one has willed, but willing an immoral means: conscripting the wealth of future generations.
Piling up unsustainable entitlement promises — particularly, enactment of Medicare in 1965 and the enrichment of Social Security benefits in 1972 — has been improvident for the nation but rational for the political class. The promised expenditures, far in excess of revenues, would come due, explain economists Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane in National Affairs quarterly, "beyond the horizon of political consequences."
But that bill now looms within the likely working lives of today's polititicians. Furthermore, a critical mass of Republicans reject the careerists' understanding of "politically rational" behavior. These Republicans have a different rationale for being in politics. The media, which often are the last to know things because their wishes father their thoughts, say the tea party impulse is exhausted. Scores of House Republicans and seven first-term Republican senators (Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson, Marco Rubio and Tim Scott) will soon — hello, debt ceiling — prove otherwise.