Give Them Bread & Circuses
In American Greatness, Victor Davis Hanson, American commentator, classicist, and military historian, recognizes how upset many Americans are with what he refers to as our country’s self-inflicted wounds.
Placating the Masses
Bread and Circuses was the term used by a Roman poet to describe the imperial leadership’s way of placating the masses.
What Is Not to Blame
Mr. Hanson writes, “the current pathologies are not a result of a natural disaster, an exhaustion of natural resources, plagues, or an existential war.”
What Is to Blame
Instead, America faces pathologies that are easily cited as symptoms of a sickness:
- Crushing national debt and annual deficits
- Spiraling food and fuel costs amid “normal” 7+% annual inflation
- Bread-and-circuses entitlements
- A nonexistent border
- A resurgence of racial tribalism
- Pandemic violent criminality
- Humiliation abroad
Mr. Hanson is not offering a blanket criticism. Instead, he is looking for a path for America’s national recovery:
#1. Cut the Debt
America’s national debt is now $31 trillion, or 123% of current GDP. These unsustainable liabilities represent annual deficits of $1.6 trillion.
These financial obligations will eventually ensure that rising interest rates to service the debt crowd out essential spending for national defense and the general welfare.
A Worst Case Scenario
Otherwise, and “in extremis, … the government will be forced to default on what it owes the “rich” bondholders and foreign debt holders.”
Two things that could happen:
- The government will be forced to confiscate private wealth, as for example occasional crazy suggestions to nationalize and absorb 401(k)k retirement plans into the soon-to-be-insolvent Social Security system.
- The state will simply print millions of dollars to pay off obligations, Weimar-style.
The Simpson-Bowles Commission (a bipartisan commission on fiscal responsibility and reform) recommended a simplified tax structure along with some cuts, reductions in tax deductions and credits, an increase in the gas tax, restraints on entitlement spending, and various spending caps.
Barrack Obama, the then-president who appointed the commission (along with Congress), rejected the recommendations, and the commission’s blueprint died.
Had it succeeded, continues Mr. Hanson, the current debt would have long been frozen at the 2014 level of $17 trillion—with annual reductions ensuring that this coming year 2023 the debt would have plunged to $10 trillion and then disappeared in another decade.
#2: Tap Natural Resources
By 2020, America enjoyed inexpensive fuel. Don’t forget, we were all but independent in gas and oil. As the world’s largest oil and gas producer, here’s what we gained:
- It curtailed radically the need for optional military engagements in the Middle East.
- America had enormous clout against hostile oil exporters like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela.
- Such independence helped reduce vast trade deficits.
#3. Oppose Discrimination
Affirmative action was never meant to be permanent quotas and race-based reverse discrimination, explains VDH.
Yet after over a half-century it has ballooned under the idea of “diversity” to invent a victim class of nearly a third of the nation, absurdly and loosely defined—in an age of commonplace intermarriage—as “non-white.”
If we do not return to a Martin Luther King, Jr. “content of our character” policy—one that views race as incidental rather than essential to who we are—then our future is a sectarian one with echoes of the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Iraq.
VDH has a remedy:
Enforce civil rights statutes that prohibit racial discrimination and consider the Pavlovian shriek of “racism!” as the revealing projection of racists.
#4. Disrupt and Reform Higher Education
Why are our universities failing to produce competent graduates essential to a meritocratic nation engaged in fierce global competition? Instead, students are politicized, largely ignorant, indebted, bitter, and unable to ensure American preeminence in basic science, technology, engineering, and math, continues VDH.
What to Do?
- Get the government out of the student loan business.
- Eliminate faculty tenure and replace it with five-year contracts that require demonstrable achievement.
- Subject large endowments to taxation on their interest income to curb their wasted spending.
- Allow public schools to hire either those with school of education credentials or one-year master’s degrees that focused solely on academic study.
- Require standardized exit tests, in the fashion of erstwhile SAT and ACT entry tests, for the certification of the bachelor’s degree.
- Force universities to follow the Bill of Rights on campus, regarding due process and freedom of expression.
Tomorrow, look for more suggestions from Victor Davis Hanson, who believes “where there is a will, there is a way:”
- Upend the Welfare State
- Revive the Armed Services
- Fix Voting
- Drain the Swamp
- Restore Norms
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