nov 09, 2012
very day, as I drive to work at the university, I see college students darting across the road, or standing in the middle of the street, with traffic whizzing past them at 45 miles per hour, oblivious to the fact that a single careless lane change by any driver would leave that student crippled for life, or worse. The students don't think of themselves as kids, of course, and they get angry if you call them that, but someday they will look back in horror as I do and shiver to think how easy it would have been back when they were kids for one slip in judgment to create an irreversible catastrophe.
Last week, for example, a twenty-something co-ed audaciously walked out right in front of me, glaring at me as if daring me to run over her. If I hadn't slammed on my brakes I would have done so. This is the audacity of youth. They believe, as kids have always done, that they will live forever, that their country and the economy are indestructible, and they are unable to imagine that one slip will get them killed or get their country conquered or make everyone poor. The girl's friends, more sensible, and more conservative, stayed on the curb, and, I like to think, quite probably defriended her the next day on her Facebook page.
A few years ago, when I was living in Texas, large groups of black teenagers would audaciously ride their bikes on the street at night, wearing dark clothes, with no lights or reflectors on their bicycles. In this city, like many cities in Texas, there are few streetlights. The kids were literally impossible to see—the only way to know of their presence was to drive with your window open in the 96 degree heat and hope that you could hear them before it was too late.
Yet these same kids would have been filled with rage and indignation if they had been struck and killed, as if they had a right to be idiots and not suffer the consequences. They were poor and uneducated, but they had the exact same audacity of stupidity that the middle-class college kids had. They would have bitterly resented being yanked out of their cocoon of privileged innocence and dragged into the real, cold world. They would rather blame somebody else and make somebody else pay than admit being wrong.
The white and Hispanic teenagers in Houston were the same, driving around in their pickup trucks, having fun by drinking beer and urinating out the side window, unaware of the concrete overpass approaching them at 100 miles per hour. The abutment did not care that the kids were just being cool. True, their audacious act of hope and bravado led to a brief moment of fame on the Ten O'clock News, and gave them an immortality, of sorts, that lasted until the City finished scraping the last remnants of their brains off the concrete.
Science tells us that biology makes young people this way: the frontal cortex, which controls judgment, is not fully developed until the mid-twenties, and of course biology makes sure they are mainly concerned with having fun and having sex with each other. Biology has its wisdom, to be sure, but physics is an intolerant bastard. When biology runs up against physics, biology loses.
So it is with money. To anyone with common sense, the idea that we can all sponge off the rich and live off free stuff that the government taxed away from the bad white people would have been revealed as obvious racist nonsense by the example of Greece, which has already had one EU-mandated coup, and will almost certainly suffer a few more before before sliding into Middle Eastern-style chaos and most probably civil war. Most kids never heard of the economic collapse in Argentina and its terrible human cost, and our politicians, with cynical statists like Paul Krugman egging them on, just tell them everything's the white man's fault, and we can just print money, eat candy all day, tax and spend, like spoiled rich kids with their parents' credit card.
But to coin a phrase, macroeconomics is the new physics. When the bill comes due, we Old Ones, the ones who put your ancestors on the Moon and invented the computer and the Internet and fought to rid the world of gulags, will be gone. Our generation, and eleven generations before us, fought, each in our own way, and many of us died so you could know what it felt like to be free in a free country. We never dreamed you'd just throw it away.
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Not all of you are responsible, of course, but there were just enough who thought they could get free stuff by getting the government to steal it from the moustache-twirling rich bankers and the cigar-smoking bosses wearing top hats and tuxedos to push America over the edge. You will discover you have to pay the bill for it yourselves. The price will be heavy: the ignominy of being too militarily weak to prevent your foreign friends from being massacred. The shame of watching some other country put the first person on Mars. The humiliation of having other countries tell you what to do.
Chances are, many of you will not even realize that something irreplaceable—your freedom—has been lost. It won't happen overnight, but gradually and inevitably, you will become poorer and more enslaved. That is the legacy you leave to the generation that comes after you. They will discover that any government that gives you free cell phones and free health care inevitably turns into a government that can tell you what to do every minute of your life, and punishes you if you do not comply.
If you don't believe it can happen to America, here is your homework assignment: look up Argentina Economic Collapse on the Internet. The Argentinians didn't believe it either. Argentina is your future, kids, not the world of Star Trek: the Next Generation.
When a person grows up, he or she realizes that you have to question most closely those things people say that make you feel good. If someone says you're a good person to think a certain way, or you're good if you believe that some category of person is evil, you have to question why they're saying that. You will discover that the reason is they think of you as their cannon fodder. They will never admit that, of course, but if someone says, "This is not okay," you need to dig deeper than to call someone "racist" or "sexist" or "gay" or whatever the current buzzword happens to be. You might find that, in fact, it is not only "okay," but necessary. When you grow up, you will discover, as I did, that everything your teachers told you was a lie, and you will have to spend a lot of time trying to figure things out.
One more clue: why did a lot of those evil cigar-smoking bosses vote for your guy? Well, ask yourself who benefits the most from high unemployment and low wages. Correct! The bosses.
I know what you're probably saying: Now he tells me. But it's never too late. The hope is not gone. The cost of change is just a lot higher. As things start to go from bad to worse over the next 20 years, remember: 2008 was when it started. You even got a second chance in 2012. So here's one last clue: when your Facebook account is cancelled because you can't pay your bills because you've been unemployed for six years straight, remember, it wasn't the rich that voted that guy in, and it was not G.W. Bush. It was you.
Update Judge Andrew P. Napolitano of Fox News has written an excellent summary of how our government was supposed to work, and why the actions of our current leadership are unconstitutional.