The United States emerged from the Second World War as the only industrial power with its factories intact and its cities not reduced to rubble, and assumed that that unprecedented pre-eminence would last forever: We would always be so far ahead and so flush with cash that we could do anything and spend anything, and we would still be No. 1. That was the thinking of Detroit's automakers when they figured they could afford to buy off the unions. The industrial powerhouse of 1950 is now a crime-ridden wasteland with a functioning literacy rate equivalent to West African basket-cases. And yes, Detroit is an outlier, but look at the assumptions its rulers made, and then wonder whether it will seem quite such an outlier in the future.
Take, for example, the complaints of the young Americans currently "occupying" Wall Street. Many protesters have told sympathetic reporters that "it's our Arab Spring." Put aside the differences between brutal totalitarian dictatorships and a republic of biennial elections, and simply consider it in economic terms: At the "Occupy" demonstrations, not-so-young college students are demanding that their tuition debt be forgiven. In Egypt, half the population lives in poverty; the country imports more wheat than any other nation on the planet, and the funds to do that will dry up in a couple months' time. They're worrying about starvation, not how to fund half a decade of Whatever Studies at Complacency U.
One sympathizes. When college tuition is $50,000 a year, you can't "work your way through college" – because, after all, an 18-year-old who can earn 50-grand a year wouldn't need to go to college, would he? Nevertheless, his situation is not the same as some guy halfway up the Nile living on $2 a day: One is a crisis of the economy, the other is a crisis of decadence.
In this, the Occupy Wall Street crowd is coterminal with the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Witness Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s recent rant calling for President Obama to add jobs by "extra-constitutional" action:
These people are simply not serious adults. Jackson here blithely imagines a program of paying the unemployed (sadly, a population that can be viewed as the least productive Americans) a total of some $3 trillion dollars we don't have. Who pays for it? Where does the money come from? And, of course, how does this giveaway of newly printed dollars help our country either economically or morally? I can tell you one thing you can take to the bank: if you start paying unemployed people $40,000 a year to do nothing, you'll get a lot more nothing in exchange. We demand responsbility-free sloth, and the government apparently is supposed to supply it.
Echoing Steyn, American decadence takes the peculiar form of masses of people (both the organized and disorganized lefts) believing the impossible: that money grows on trees.