Soon after 9/11, Investigate columnist Mark Steyn noted that the West is “sleepwalking to national suicide”. Eleven years on, the edge of the precipice has become clearly visible to those still left with the capacity to read the signs. For everyone else, however, it’s as if they are dancing on the deck of the Titanic, oblivious to the iceberg looming in the darkness. IAN WISHART analyses some of Steyn’s arguments in his latest book, After America: Get Ready For Armageddon
“Even the obscurest sheep farming hamlet in New Zealand is not going to be that secure in the world that’s coming.”
That’s a quote from Mark Steyn, not from his book but from a recent Canadian TV interview. Is there, asked the host, any way of escaping the rapidly approaching fall of Western civilisation, is it time for us all to book one way tickets to places like New Zealand?
Steyn observed that it’s a question he gets asked all the time now: is New Zealand going to be the scene of the last sunset over the West, the final refuge of the civilised world? Is Godzone far enough away to emerge relatively unscathed from the coming storm?
Evidently, Steyn thinks not. And if you examine his arguments in After America, it is easy to see why: the story he tells about the United States is also the story of the collapse of New Zealand society. If anything, NZ is the canary in the mineshaft already choking on the fumes.
Steyn’s argument in the book is a fundamentally simple one and to an extent it echoes what I wrote in my 2007 book Eve’s Bite: socialism has managed to become so ingrained in western political and education systems that citizens no longer recognise it, and it is killing our civilisation. Rapidly. It has used populist policies and ideals to conceal its agenda. If ordinary people are no longer educated to detect socialism or understand its dangers, freedom will inexorably be eroded without protest.
Even worse, much of the high school curriculum and certainly much of the tertiary education system has adopted socialist ideals as a worthwhile goal: world peace, a global economy, equality for all, free education, free healthcare, cradle to the grave social welfare. The list goes on and, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t aspire to such lofty ideals?
New Zealanders, who’ve enjoyed a taxpayer funded health system for decades, looked on with bemusement at the debate that ripped America apart over free healthcare recently. Commentators here simply could not believe that Americans could think government-funded healthcare was wrong. Steyn, however, shows that New Zealanders missed the point:
“Government health care is not about health care, it’s about government. That’s why the Democrats spent the first year of a brutal recession trying to ram Obamacare down the throats of a nation that didn’t want it. Because the governmentalisation of health care is the fastest way to a permanent left of centre political culture. It redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state in fundamental ways that make small government all but impossible ever again. In most of the rest of the western world, it’s led to a kind of two party one-party state: right of centre parties will once in a while be in office, but never in power, merely presiding over vast left wing bureaucracies that cruise on regardless. All such ‘technocratic’ societies slide left, into statism and stasis.”
Look at New Zealand politics for a moment. Isn’t Steyn’s criticism a bullseye observation on New Zealand? We have become so used to taxpayer funded healthcare that we don’t realise how it has been used to dominate our lives. Once you allow a government to regulate your health, you are allowing them to regulate your life. If taxpayers are picking up the bill, the taxpayers’ elected representatives assume they have the right to legislate to change your behaviour, to dictate what food you eat, which drink you are allowed and so on.
The argument, that healthcare is expensive and that’s why taxpayers should fund it, is rejected by Steyn:
“Health is potentially a big-ticket item, but so’s a house and a car, and most folks manage to handle those without a Government Accommodation Plan or a Government Motor Vehicles System – or, at any rate, they did in pre-bailout America.”
In New Zealand of course, our State has already grown to include free housing as well for those deemed to be “in need”, with the result that some spend four or five decades living in cheap taxpayer subsidised accommodation.
Mark Steyn observes that America is being split into two groups – the “Conformicrats” and the “Flownovers”. The former, he says, are those either employed by or consulting to the State, or the recipients of welfare benefits or government handouts of some description. The latter are the taxpayers – the genuine working families whose efforts pay the bills but who rarely see the benefits. They are the people who politicians fly over in their trips to and from their photo opportunities.
“In one America,” writes Steyn, “those who subscribe to the ruling ideology can access a world of tenured security lubricated by government and without creating a dime of wealth for the overall economy. In the other America, millions of people go to work every day to try to support their families and build up businesses and improve themselves, and the harder they work the more they’re penalised to support the government class in its privileges.”
“Increasingly, America’s divide is about the nature of the state itself – about the American idea,” continues Steyn.
“The Flownover Country’s champion ought, in theory, to be the Republican Party. But, even in less fractious times, this is a loveless marriage. Much of the GOP establishment is either seduced by the Conformicrats or terrified by them, to the point where they insist on allowing the liberals to set the parameters of the debate – on health care, immigration, education, Social Security – and then wonder why elections are always fought on the Democrats’ terms. If you let the left make the rules, the right winds up being represented by the likes of Bob Dole and John McCain, decent old sticks who know how to give dignified concession speeches.
“If you want to get rave reviews for losing gracefully, that’s the way to go. If you want to prevent Big Government driving America off a cliff, it’s insufficient.
“The Conformicrats need Flownover Country to fund them. It’s less clear why Flownover Country needs the Conformicrats – and a house divided against itself cannot stand without the guy who keeps up the mortgage payments.”
Across the West, the growth of government has been met with a similar growth in state handouts – what the Left often refers to as “redistribution of wealth”. In 2009, a staggering 47 percent of US households paid no income tax, and 40% of Britons received state handouts of some description.
“If you pay nothing for Government, why would you want less of it?” Steyn asks.
In New Zealand terms, it is even more dramatic. Of the 500,000 families with children in New Zealand, 378,000 of them are receiving government benefits in the form of the Working For Families package. On top of that are households where the main breadwinner is either unemployed or on the Domestic Purposes Benefit. There are 321,000 households (including single people) receiving unemployment, sickness or DPB benefits, so it is clear that a large chunk of New Zealand is now dependent on the State for money in some way.
Those figures represent a large chunk of voters who can be guaranteed to vote for the political party least likely to remove their “entitlements”, which in turn heavily favours either left wing parties, or right-wing parties prepared to tolerate the continuation of “entitlements”.
The problem for New Zealand and the wider West is that the funding for the entitlements can only come from taxes or offshore borrowing.