I’ve probably come across Walter Russell Mead before, but I’ve never made his posts at American Interest a regular stop. I will now.
One of his latest post lays out in eloquent detail, the process by which Unlimited Government has destroyed itself. You may already have read When Government Jumps the Shark, but I would recommend that you re-read it, absorb it, and start formulating your best arguments. Then unleash its concepts on your liberal friends. Really, it’s for their own good.
After briefly covering what “jump the shark” means…
Jumping the shark, as many readers know, is an expression from the wonderful world of TV. When the original premise of a show has gone stale, producers try to recapture audience interest by putting familiar characters in outlandish settings where strange things happen to them — notoriously, when Fonzie literally jumped over a shark as Happy Days moved into its sunset years. When something jumps the shark, the death spiral has become irretrievable; the show has nowhere to go but down.
The progressive ideal of the last 100 years is reaching that point. In its day the progressive ideal was a revolutionary and even a noble one. A bureaucratic and professional elite would mediate social conflict between rich and poor, improving the lives of the poor while engineering the best possible administrative solutions to pressing social problems.
…Mead proceeds to deconstruct the process by which government went from Great White Hope to Great White Father to Great White Elephant to Great White Shark to Moby Dick.
Unfortunately, the process doesn’t stop here. When enough progressive programs have become both unsustainable and untouchable, we move to the final stage. It is bad enough when a government program becomes a shark; it is much, much worse when a social paradigm as a whole jumps past the shark stage. A cluster of unsustainable but untouchable policies and institutions sooner or later reaches the point when it no longer threatens the country with ruin at some indefinite point in the future: imminent ruin stares us direct in the face.
That is part of what happened in Ireland, Greece and Portugal, and what may yet happen in Italy and Spain. Disastrous government policies became more politically entrenched even as they became more unsustainable until quite suddenly, they could not be sustained and the whole system came crashing down.
When that happens, what crashes is not just one program. A whole system, a whole social contract falls apart. And if the crashes in these peripheral European economies shook the EU and the world economy, a full scale meltdown in the United States would likely be a shock as profound as the 1929 meltdown. It wouldn’t just be an economic disaster for the United States; it would likely be a historical disaster leading to crisis, upheaval and war around the world.
What a cheery piece. Regardless, that is where things stand. We are at the crossroads, and we must choose between limited, and unlimited government. I would argue that we are closer to the latter than we would like to admit. That’s why we should start becoming even more evangelical in our promotion of limited government. The people out there sense there is a need for it, but no one has articulated it for them very clearly. I think they are willing to listen, and I think this piece will help.