Thursday, December 23, 2004

CHRISTMAS CHESTY NUTS. Not all the insanity of our restive season is centered on the use of the magic word "Christmas" as a talisman against liberals. James Glassman offers gloomy prospects for the future, as who wouldn't. But he blames them on -- wait for it -- "social and cultural" problems, "the result of a decline in striving, a lack of striving, a softness that has afflicted every other great nation in history. Call it American decadence — our own version of what happened to the Roman Empire."

Thankfully, he does not mention Desperate Houswives, but instead appears to be concerned with a decline in science skills and "animal spirits," which is causing capitalism to lose its mojo. The science drop happens because "our government skimps on basic research in the hard sciences" and native-born kids show little interest in pursuing the related disciplines, he says, while the spirits drop is caused by business regulation (!) and "a general attitude of entitlement and irresponsibility spread by politicians who promise constituents wealth without risk or pain." Hence our impending Roman ruin.

The article is so soft it is hard to find a place to take hold, but I would suggest that, on the science issue, the general contempt for education in this society impacts both nefariously and overtly our ability to breed young Einsteins and to put them to work on something less remunerative than a new boner pill. As to business, all our Administrations since Reagan (at least) have been so strenuously pro-business that it is hard to see how regulation is taming those particular "animal spirits." It might be better to consider how the increasing concentration of wealth into the hands of entities which do not circulate so much as transfer it affects our prospects of a better tomorrow.

As to the "entitlement and irresponsibility," I will only note that Glassman considers our current deficit "far from excessive." (If he wants to know where the science money went, he might start looking there.)

Of course, it all starts to go wrong at the very beginning of the essay, in which Glassman asserts that those of us in middle age are by and large living four times better than our parents -- "That means a house four times as large, a bank account four times as big (in real dollars, not eroded by inflation), and clothes, food, cars and vacations four times as lush." He must be drinking in that hypothetical bar patronized by Bill Gates.

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