Larger governments tend to redistribute and regulate shrinking capital rather than encourage the expansion of new wealth through more industrial production, exploitation of gas, oil, and coal, increases in irrigated agricultural acreage, or development of mining, timber, and maritime resources.
More ominous still, there is increasing furor among the beneficiaries at those who lent the money they borrowed. Greeks do not blame so much their own socialist entitlements for their mess, but more often the supposedly “greedy” German bankers who were foolish enough to lend them the money to pay for those entitlements. The Irish are furious at continental Europeans for insisting that every penny loaned be paid back.
Here in the United States, the 5 percent of the population that pays nearly 60 percent of all the income taxes collected is excoriated as selfish and greedy for not being willing to pay even more. The 50 percent of the population that pays no income tax at all feels that it deserves even more from those who make more.
Westerners are furious that they cannot have even more — usually as defined by what a few others who are even better off have. President Obama harps on private jets at the expense of kids’ scholarships, but never mentions the fact that millions of the poor and middle class now have access to jet travel that is just as rapid and safe, and never questions whether some perpetual adolescents on government-subsidized scholarships really belong in college. It is instead assumed that some wrongly have private jets, and all kids rightly deserve college. The West has mostly conquered the existential poverty that plagued it for 2,500 years; obesity, not malnutrition, is a nationalepidemic in the United States. But the obsession today is ensuring absolute material equality, or the impossible notion that everyone must have more or less the same things regardless of how they are to paid for.
Behind the rioting in Greece and the demagogic speeches in Washington is the common premise that our individual well-being must be judged in relative, not absolute, terms, and only in terms of material rather than spiritual wealth. All sorts of specific constituents “deserve” largess, apparently from a vaguely envisioned “them,” whether German bankers, private-jet owners, or those who surely gamed the system to make over $200,000 a year.
In short, the more we have, the more we want, and the more we will feel deprived at seeing others with more than what we have. That is at the heart of the current Western malaise, from Washington to Athens.