|Recent developments have sealed America’s fate; it is only a matter of time until some event (perhaps minor) triggers a crisis – forever changing the United States.|
Gotterdammerung for America
By: George Noga – February 25, 2018
Gotterdammerung is the final opera in Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. It means twilight of the gods and is marked by a catastrophic and violent societal collapse. It was the final performance of the Berlin Philharmonic on April 12, 1945. It is an apt choice for the above headline because, for the first time ever, I believe America has crossed the point of no return on its way to gotterdammerung. The climax of the crisis is years away but we have crossed the Rubicon and jacta alea est – the die is cast.
I was not this apocalyptic when I wrote the February 11 and 18 posts. The February 11 post identified the three root causes of the fiscal crisis as health care, Social Security (pensions) and interest on the debt. Because of recent developments, these root causes plus defense now will suck up the entire federal budget (and then some) by 2020 – much earlier than I believed scant weeks ago.
The February 18 post showed the public debt/GDP ratio surpassing 90% within 5 years. No nation has escaped from a ratio that high without societal upheaval and a lost generation. Subsequent to that post, things have gotten worse. Congress’ budget deal increased spending $150 billion/year and permanently raised the baseline for all future spending. Add another $200 billion for infrastructure plus billions more for higher interest on the debt and there are trillion dollar (and bigger) deficits forever. The US now will reach the critical 90% ratio much earlier than I believed on February 11th.
We were lucky until recently. The 2013 budget sequester restrained spending; we are in the ninth year of an economic expansion; and interest rates have been at historic lows. These factors delayed our fiscal death march to Gomorrah. Meanwhile, the demographic time bomb keeps ticking as health care and pensions spiral out of control. Now, the sequester is busted, interest rates are exploding and a recession is due soon.
There is no way out of this fiscal rathole. Slashing spending requires cuts of 25% and must include health care and pensions – sowing the clouds of civil unrest. Raising taxes also requires a 25% increase and kills economic growth leading to stagnation and lives of quiet desperation. Other possibilities such as runaway inflation and repudiation of the debt also would rent the country’s fabric. All possible solutions are nihilistic.
Most politicians, however venal, are not stupid. They fully understand everything in this post. They do not attempt to halt America’s entropy because they know voters will not support drastic action unless there is an existential crisis. Speaker Ryan wanted to tackle entitlements but he would be demagogued to death merely for trying. Nothing will happen until it is far too late and then it will be only quarter-measures.
Charles Murray, one of the titans of our time, recently said: “the American experiment in self-government is essentially over“. Hamilton said it well: “The only path to a subversion of our country is by flattering the prejudices of the people and exciting their passions, jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion and bring about civil discord.” That describes America today, dithering over identity politics and playing to peoples’ fears and prejudices, while ignoring existential threats.
With profound regret, I now must concur with Charles Murray. I fear our beloved republic of 230 years has passed the point of no return; I hope and pray I’m wrong.
Next in 3 days: Special Posting on the Parkland school shooting