I grew up in pretty boring times. If you’re reading this and you’re under the age of 86, so did you, really.
And let’s be clear; when it comes to the march of human history, boring is good. “May you live in interesting times” is often attributed as an ancient Chinese curse; it appears to be as “Chinese” as Leann Chin, but the sentiment is dead-on. For most of human history (and the entire time before it), life was fascinating, brutish and short.
In contrast to most of human history, with its wars and plagues and cataclysms, human history as known to people alive today has been blessedly, wonderfully boring.
Some react to the boredom by turning the idea of the collapse of civilization into entertainment, from campy “zombie” fiction (The Walking Dead) to breathlessly pompous asteroid fantasies (Armageddon) to moralistic sermons about being our own undoing (The Day After Tomorrow) to conjuring genocidal invaders from the world of fiction (from the sublime Battlestar Galactica (the 2004 version, not the loathsome seventies one) to the ridiculous Independence Day). I find “end of the world” p0rn unseemly; I didn’t spend this much time and energy raising kids to laugh about the whole world collapsing. (And may I add “stop being an idiot”).
Others react by hedging their bets against what, throughout human history, seems to be an inevitable. sooner or later; stocking up on food, land, ammo and other supplies to ride out a bad spell the best they can.
What goes up must come down. Things tend to move from a state of order to disorder.
And it’s happening all around us.
And not only is it inevitable – sometimes it can be a very good thing.
A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Williamson of National Review Online. We talked in re his new book, The End Is Near (And It’s Going To Be Awesome). Like all of Williamson’s writing, it’s as breezy and readable as it is intellectually beefy. He’s like a modern-day Paul Johson – and that’s a huge spiff.
I recommend you read it. Like, go get a copy. You’ll thank me later.
I’ll oversimplify; the book has a few major premises:
- Politics is the worst possible way to allocate scarce resources. Not because people are evil or democracy is wrong – but because while every other aspect of life has evolved, politics remains essentially unchanged over the centuries. Politics is a perfectly valid way of dealing with many of the human condition’s issues – contracts, justice, dropping bombs on people who try to kill you, issuing restraining orders and the like. But for purposes of driving the allocation of our society’s resources, it just doesn’t work.
- No, really. It’s a disaster. Our national debt is hanging around a years’ worth of our national GDP. But the unfunded mandates that nobody wants to talk about currently equal, roughly, the GDP of the entire planet. As in every single bit of economic output from every man, woman and child on the planet for a full year. Every Big Mac sold, every Android Phone built, every bag of rice hauled in from a paddy in Bangladesh, every Justin Bieber download sold, everything – just to pay our nation’s mandates. And most of the world’s other “advanced” economies are the same, and maybe worse – they have no senses of dynamism, little familiarity with the notion of “Creative Destruction”, and even nastier senses of societal entitlement than Americans have developed. Go ahead – tell a Greek that she can’t have nine weeks’ vacation.
- It literally can not go on. It’s like trying to run a family when your significant other is running off to Ho Chunk with the credit and debit cards six days a week. It is not sustainable. No matter how vigorously the world’s political bodies affirm their interest in building roadmaps and finding solutions, bla di blah di blah, it is virtually inevitable that the system is going to misallocate its way straight out of business. Only instead of a divorce or a painful stretch of credit counseling, it’s going to involve some degree or another of the government running out of money, presuming it stops short of taxing every Big Mac sold, every Android Phone built, every bag of rice hauled in from a paddy in Bangladesh, every Justin Bieber download sold, everything.
So eventually, and pretty much inevitably, government is going to grind to a halt.
And to Williamson, that’s the good news. Again, read the book. You’ll thank me. Because once you get government out of the way, things actually look pretty good. We’ll come back to that later.
And you can thank the good folks in New Orleans, Detroit and – soon, I suspect – Camden New Jersey for giving us a previous of how it’s going to work. Or not work.
And if you think about it, there is some good news in there.