Money for Nothing

During 2020 the U.S. federal budget deficit was $3.1 trillion, equal to over 15 percent of GDP. The deficit hasn’t been this big since the end of World War II. This difference between now and 1945, however, is deeply unsettling: Back then, Americans were a unified, patriotic people who had just emerged relatively unscathed from a horrific conflict that left most of the world in ruins, whereas today it is difficult to say in what sense we are united.

In the aftermath of World War II, the American economy exploded. Industries previously on a war footing turned to manufacturing automobiles and appliances that were sold all over the world. Government-funded projects—from interstate highways to reservoirs and commercial airports—were built in record time. The economy boomed, unemployment was low and wages were high. The American middle class expanded to become a majority of the total population.

Today America’s economy is fitfully emerging from being nearly shut down in 2020. Entire economic sectors—travel, entertainment, hotels, food services, retail, small businesses—have been devastated, with no end in sight. The windfall the lockdown imparted to high tech companies only served to increase their ongoing assault on legacy retail and media industries. The deficit spending that back in 1945 had been used to build a war machine and spawn countless spin-off technologies that would later prove profitable, was used in 2020 to help ordinary Americans buy food and pay rent—activities that, while necessary, do not generate future economic activity. And for that, too, there is no end in sight.

National Suicide

There’s plenty of room for debate about these questions, of course. Economic growth is easy when you have minimal environmental regulations and not even one viable competitive foreign economy. And last year, when America’s unemployment rate soared to nearly 15 percent, “stimulus” checks probably prevented even greater hardship. But the path Democratic policymakers have chosen for the United States today—with barely more than a peep of objection coming from GOP politicians—is not driven by COVID concerns and is completely discretionary. And it is a disaster.

If America were bent on national suicide, it couldn’t do much more than it is doing right now to facilitate it. Stimulus spending, with an astonishing $6 trillion now committed, for starters, has been used to bail out state and local government budgets that have been in the red for years. The reckoning that should have confronted bloated public education bureaucracies and underfunded public sector pension systems has been papered over, literally, with money conjured out of thin air.

Other nations of the world have long tolerated America’s ability to sustain budget deficits because America invests in global security. Why should trading nations invest in their own navies to keep the sea lanes free from piracy and rogue nations? Why should Europeans worry about Russia going back into Eastern Europe? Why should Asians prepare to fight Chinese domination in the Far East? The Americans will do it.

America also imposes on its population punitive rates for life-saving medicines that it then exports to the world at bargain prices; another reason to let the Americans print money. And with or without those perks, America’s appetite for foreign products creates millions of overseas jobs, and America’s willingness to sell its real estate and technology to the highest bidder gives American dollars additional enduring value.

The Rebellion of Infants

For better or for worse, these are the reasons America could run up federal budget deficits without consequences. But America’s vitality as a nation was never as threatened as it is today. The financial algebra that is getting harder and harder to balance is only part of the problem. The culture that made America great is dying. America is now in the throes of what Claremont Institute Fellow Joel Kotkin recently called an “infantada.

Examples across America of what may as well be termed a rebellion of infants are plentiful. Leaders of the “woke” movement are not poverty stricken victims, despite their whining. They are tenured faculty at America’s most elite universities. They are lavishly compensated executives running the human resources departments of multinational corporations. Even on the streets, the violence and the vandalism is coming, as often as not, from people who take off their black bloc garb after their midnight “actions” and go to work the next morning.

These people, most of whom have more than average “privilege,” hate traditional American culture, they hate authority, and apparently they expect a perfect society. Their outlook is absolute; their capacity for nuanced reflection is nonexistent. They are infantile. They are expensive. They add no value to our civilization.

Homelessness Sinkholes

What of those American dissidents, more numerous than ever, who don’t still enjoy the dwindling fruits of America’s national vitality? What of America’s homeless population? These people could be helped, and help could come fast. Instead, tens of billions are wasted and the problem gets worse. The reason, justified by the new, woke arbiters of modern social justice, is because they must be provided housing that is far too expensive to be built in sufficient quantity, at the same time as they are encouraged to indulge whatever destructive lifestyle choices they wish to indulge. Heroin addiction? Free needles. Stealing and looting? It’s a “poverty crime.” Consider the alternatives.

One national guard regiment could move onto some sparsely populated tract of land in North Los Angeles County and construct a city within a few weeks. Complete with barracks, bathroom facilities, kitchens and clinics, the homeless population of Los Angeles, 50,000 strong, could be moved into this city within days. Meanwhile, the feckless crook that runs Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti, proposes to spend yet another billion to help the homeless do little more than continue living as they are. With that kind of money, properly spent, these homeless could be moved into a supervised environment practically overnight. And magically, half of them would suddenly find relatives and friends with a roof, in order to avoid having to sober up.

“Freedom” and “Equity” for the homeless is costing the American taxpayer countless billions. The people who need help get next to nothing, while corrupt developers rake in most of the spending. The people who truly deserve help get even less. In the name of tolerance, infantile human urges are indulged and nurtured. Millions of lives are ruined. Thank the Democrats.

Climate Change Shenanigans

The monstrous scams that define America under Democratic rule, with the complicity of GOP politicians, are numerous. “Climate change” is yet another way America is destroying itself from within. Not billions, but trillions are going to be spent on projects that either accomplish nothing—injecting CO2 into underground caverns is a grotesque example—or displace cost-effective technologies like natural gas and nuclear power plants with unreliable and absurdly costly solar, wind, battery, and grid upgrades. These “renewables,” destined to be obsolete, embarrassing fads the moment breakthrough technologies like nuclear fusion are commercialized, are breaking American power. Pipelines are being cancelled so fossil fuel can only be transported by train, in an eerie parallel to a chapter in Atlas Shrugged. Productive wells are being capped. Vital infrastructure is being neglected, and the word itself, “infrastructure,” has become synonymous with fraud.

At staggering cost, America’s economy is being strangled by “climate emergency” zealots and opportunists. Thank the Democrats, and while you’re at it, thank Mitt Romney, Conservative Inc.’s favorite oligarch, and every other Republican coward who knows better but doesn’t say a word in opposition, much less actually do something to change the trajectory.

Race and Gender Hysterics

Race and gender obsessions are obviously additional sources of American infantilization—any ideology that trains people to take no responsibility for their success of failure in life is the epitome of infantilism—but it also imposes a devastating cost on the American economy. Wherever you turn—schools, jobs, contracts—the most competent applicants are turned away because proportional representation in every institution at every level must be maintained. This is impossible. It is devastating. It destroys the character of those favored and embitters those who are denied what they’ve earned. It undermines American competitiveness. It introduces hideous waste. If nothing else does it first, “equity” at all costs will kill the nation.

Immigration Idiocy

Another mismanaged issue is immigration, where—sorry nativists—the problem isn’t that too many people arrive. It’s that too many of the wrong people arrive. America invites, either legally or defacto, immigrants who are not bringing the skills America needs today. Justin Webb, writing for Unherd, explains:

The whole ‘bring me your huddled masses’ schtick is a bit of a con. Nearly 30 years ago, a taskforce led by then congresswoman Barbara Jordan, a hugely respected African American Democrat, blew it apart with a detailed study of the people who actually came to Ellis Island. Jordan pointed out that they were in fact more skilled than the average American at the time. They were seamstresses and stonemasons, tailors and bricklayers. They had, in other words, the skills the nation needed. They were the cancer researchers of their time. This was not charity; it was nation building.

When you wonder why America’s immigration policy no longer emphasizes “nation building,” just remember that if you criticize the disaster it’s become, you’ll be called a racist. For that, blame the Democrats. While you’re at it, blame virtue-signaling George W. Bush, who wrote a new book that gives all those “racists” a good thrashing, but has little to say about why we must move to merit based immigration.

Across almost every sector of American society and across every policy that drives America’s destiny—infrastructure, public finance, education, housing, homeless, law and order, energy, environmental protection, race relations and immigration—Americans are spending far too much for what they’re getting. In many cases, the money they’re spending is making the problems—both economic and cultural—not marginally better at ridiculous expense, but worse. With Americans now able to collect more money by collecting government benefits than they’ll make working in a job, with “universal basic income,” and with every new scheme that undermines work and independence, America’s once estimable character is being destroyed.

There’s a reason why America has been able to run up federal debt and print money to cover the annual deficits, while still retaining a hard currency. It’s because Americans have always been a generous, creative, productive, and fearless people who have given the world much more than they’ve taken from it. Now that America has decided to spend its discretionary trillions on fostering dependence and division, its usefulness to the world deteriorates accordingly.

When you spend money for nothing, you become nothing.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

Photo: Getty Images

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