Every once in a while we should step back from our country’s everyday problems and look at the bigger picture. In my last post I pointed out that, while there has been enormous human material progress around the world in the last two hundred years, some prominent thinkers say that the U.S. is now mired in complacency and is at great risk of deteriorating.
In particular, Charles Murray has well described how U.S. society has separated into a new Upper Class (20% of all Americans) and a new Lower Class (30% of all Americans) with totally distinct characteristics and interests. He presents two possible scenarios:
A Hollow Elite, characterized by:
- The collapse of a sturdy moral code. It has lost self-confidence in the rightness of its own customs and values (marriage, industriousness and civic engagement) and preaches only non-judgmentalism instead.
- Unseemliness. CEOs make increasingly enormous salaries and receive incredibly huge separation bonuses. Also, hundreds of billions of dollars in government funds are up for grabs as contracts or tax expenditures.
- Drifting towards the European model of more welfare paid for with higher taxes because paying taxes is a cheap price for a quiet conscience.
A Civic Great Awakening, characterized by:
- Watching the European model implode. As publicly financed benefits grow, so do the populations who think they need them, and the fewer people there are in the private sector to pay for them. There is no way out of the self-destructive dynamics of the welfare state and America is watching this happen first in Europe.
- The increasing obviousness of an Alternative. Mr. Murray proposes that our current welfare state be replaced by a guaranteed annual income of $10,000 (in 2002 dollars) for all, phased out at incomes above $25,000. The idea is that such a proposal will become increasingly desirable as our welfare state becomes increasingly unaffordable.
- The resilience of American ideals. Mr. Murray believes that a civic Great Awakening will take place among the new upper class. He believes that American exceptionalism has a historical basis and that the qualities of industriousness, neighborliness and self-confidence will reassert themselves and put the ‘American Project’ back on track.
Conclusion. Regardless of the specific details of what he foresees, Charles Murray is an optimist and so am I.