Friday, September 2, 2011

The end of western civilization

800px-Colosseum3_11-7-2003The pages of history are littered with the ruins of empires and civilizations. School children learn about ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Churchgoers are privy to the history of ancient Israel. These civilizations disappeared and their remnants became subject to other, more powerful, empires.
Even in modern times, empires have disappeared, sometimes before our very eyes. Britain won and lost three empires in America, Africa, and India over the last 300 years. Russia saw the disappearance of both the Tsarist and the communist empires in the 20th century. The rise and fall of the Third Reich of Germany occurred in less than 20 years.
Given that empires and civilizations around the world have proved fleeting throughout human history, it isn’t absurd to think that American and western civilization will someday be replaced by some new world power. Given the current state of affairs in the western democracies, it isn’t even absurd to think that day might be rapidly approaching.
Since WWII, the trend in Europe and North America has been toward more economic socialization. The result of this trend has been increased social spending and declining military budgets. Large parts of national economies were given over to entitlements and salaries and benefits for government workers. Retirement ages did not keep pace with increases in life expectancy, so younger workers were taxed to support retired workers for ever-increasing periods of their lives. This naturally led to slower economic growth, which increased the need for social spending as well as increasing national debt.
As the economy slowed in 2008, the pressure to continue social “safety net” spending led to rapidly increasing national debts. The situation finally became untenable for some countries. Notably, Greece became the canary in the coal mine as it neared default and was forced to implement austere budgets. The debt crisis was by no means limited to Greece, however, and has been spreading throughout Europe. It is also threatening to cross the Atlantic as the U.S. federal debt reaches levels not seen since the closing days of WWII.
The fundamental problem faced by the social democracies, including the U.S., is that mushrooming obligations for entitlement programs are crowding out other government responsibilities. As Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, along with the increasing interest payments required to finance the increasing debt, take up an ever greater share of the federal budget, it leaves less money to pay for everything else, from national defense to roads and bridges.
The response of many European nations over the past few decades has been to whittle away at defense budgets to pay for more social spending. In effect, much of Europe is relying on the goodwill of their neighbors and the U.S. military for protection. In recent months, we have seen how a small, sustained bombing campaign in Libya has stretched European military budgets to the breaking point, even without committing ground forces. Most western nations would probably not have the resources to wage a sustained major war, even if their national survival was at stake.
If, as President Obama and the Democrats seem to want, the United States follows suit with more domestic social spending and a smaller defense budget, it would leave the western world vulnerable to the aggressors of the world. The most obvious threat is from radical Islamic nations and groups. Most notably, Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and the capability to deliver them via ballistic missiles. If the Muslim world aligns behind a nuclear Iran, the prospect of millions of jihadists backed up by nuclear weapons is a grim one.
Other nations that would seek to expand their role in a post-western world include Russia and China. The physical and economic sizes of these nations make them forces to be reckoned with. Russia, under the practical rule of Vladimir Putin, has rid itself of much of its communist bureaucracy even as it cracked down on dissent at home and launched a series of aggressive moves against its neighbors. China is expanding its military presence in the Pacific with a new aircraft carrier and an advanced technology stealth fighter that could threaten U.S. air supremacy.
The end of western civilization or the American “empire” would not necessarily mean the end of the United States. It might take the form of a decline in American power and prestige to the point where the U.S. can defend its own borders, but not project peace and stability to the far corners of the world. For example, American support has kept Taiwan free from communist rule since 1949 in spite of the fact that communist China claims the island as part of its territory. Similarly, U.S. pressure on Russia in 2008 helped to end the Russian invasion of Georgia after five days. A decline in American power would likely mean an expansion of totalitarianism around the world.
The effect of socialistic policies on economic growth is evident not only by looking at different countries, but also from examining different states. States such as Michigan and California that follow the social democracy model of high taxes and extensive social services are experiencing stagnant growth while states with low taxes and a business-friendly regulatory climate, like Texas and North Dakota, are leading the nation in economic growth. Georgia ranks 15 out of the 50 states in the economic freedom index compiled by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
There are no certainties in life, but the best way to preserve American civilization seems to be to return to the policies that made the country strong in the first place. Ultimately national security depends on a strong economy along with a strong military. The current series of elections and showdowns over deficit spending represent a crossroads in which Americans are deciding whether to travel the path of the social democracies into debt and irrelevance or return to its roots.
Photo credit:  Public Domain/Bjarki Sigursveinsson
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