I am not a disciple of Ayn Rand. I do not approve of capitalism unrefined by the ethical values taught by religion. Still, I recognize that Rand’s image of Atlas shrugging is a valuable warning of what may happen if the worker bees tire of supporting the drones. But what if even Rand was an optimist? What if Atlas does more than shrug off his responsibilities? What if this powerful fellow, on whom we all depend, gets really irritated?
In high-school physics − assuming our high school offered physics − we learned that when radioactive material reaches a critical mass, a chain reaction begins. The reaction becomes self-sustaining. And if the right radioactive material is chosen, and the critical mass is achieved suddenly, a nuclear blast occurs.
But this concept may apply elsewhere. If the number of angry, embittered people reaches a certain point, the reaction becomes self-sustaining. The anger feeds on itself and grows hotter.
But what if there are two groups of angry, embittered people? What if they are angry because of the same problem, but for opposite reasons? And what if, at some point that can’t be predicted, those two groups come together? What if their combination produces a critical mass? Then we have the political analog of a nuclear bomb − with similar, destructive results.
And what are these two angry, embittered groups?
● Group 1 is composed of people who receive − or want to receive − government benefits. Some have worked for decades and deserve these benefits. But many others have worked less, or not at all, or have recently arrived in America, and deserve little or nothing.
They want to receive benefits. They expect to receive benefits. They feel entitled to benefits. So they will be very angry if they don’t receive benefits, or if the benefits are reduced.
● Group 2 is the mirror image of Group1. It is composed of people who have worked all their lives, often for long hours, and at difficult or dangerous jobs. They may have worked two jobs, or put in many hours of overtime. They may have gone to work despite being sick, or been injured at work − and continued to work rather than claiming to be disabled. They were born in this country, or if they immigrated, they did so legally, waiting their turn, often for years.
They don’t like to pay taxes, but they do. They know their taxes pay for vital government functions like defense. But they also know their taxes pay for the benefits received by the takers in Group 1. They hope to receive Social Security and Medicare when they grow older, but they no longer expect to. And this is making them increasingly angry.
It’s as if they were waiting in line for a movie, and a group of interlopers jumped the line. Even worse, when they finally get to the box office, they are told there are no more seats − but that they must pay for the tickets of those who jumped the line.
Revealingly, 47% of households pay no federal income tax. Yet most of these people vote − and many vote for politicians who want to raise income taxes on the other half of the population. Moreover, 38% of households receive welfare benefits. Unlike those who receive Social Security, Medicare, or veterans’ pensions, these people receive Medicaid, food stamps, SSI, and other benefits to which they have not contributed. As columnist David Warren wrote:
The nation is divided, roughly half-and-half, between people who instinctively resent the Nanny State, and those who instinctively yearn for its ministrations.
In normal, quiet times, roughly equal groups pulling in opposite directions produce gridlock. But the normal, quiet times may be ending. Unless we take prompt action, our massive budget deficits will overwhelm us. To finance these deficits, the government will have three choices:
(a) Borrow more money, until individuals and foreign governments refuse to buy more of our debt, because they no longer trust our ability to repay it.
(b) Print more money, until the value of the dollar drops so far that it is no longer accepted, because it is no longer seen as a store of value.
(c) Both of the above.
Of course, politicians will attempt to cover up this drunken spending spree with phony terminology. If a planned spending increase is reduced slightly, this will be called a “spending cut.” This is similar to me telling my wife that I planned to buy a Rolls Royce, but instead will buy a Mercedes − and then boasting about my frugality in “saving” all that money.
As Mark Steyn notes, it is no longer true that he who pays the piper calls the tune. How long do you suppose those who pay the piper with their hard work and taxes will tolerate being told that the “elite” will continue to call the tune? How long will the worker bees tolerate cutting back their lifestyle to the essentials, while the drones in Washington live in luxury? Recall that worker bees have stingers, but drones don’t.
In Europe, the takers outnumber the producers, so Group 1 is larger than Group 2. The takers can riot and cause a great deal of trouble, as they have been doing in Greece, Britain, and Spain. But there is no group of producers that is anywhere near the same size, so a critical mass can’t be achieved.
European nations can sink into recession or even anarchy, but they are unlikely to be wracked by explosions. America, on the contrary, has approximately equal numbers in the two groups. If they lose patience and come together, we may see the results of a critical mass.
If we are not careful, we will wind up with half the population angry and embittered because their government handouts have to be reduced. And the other half will be angry and embittered because they have to work two jobs to pay the taxes that fund those handouts. This is a recipe for a bomb, not a stable republic.
There is no one as angry as a person who for years has been led to believe that he is entitled to something he hasn’t worked for, but then the flow of government goodies dries up. Well, actually there is someone else that angry. That is the person who worked long hours to support his family, and also had to pay for the goodies that the unproductive receive from the government. But then, when he grows old or becomes disabled or loses his job, there is no more money left to help him and his family. In fact, he may be even angrier, and justifiably so.
A geographical area peopled by two discordant factions, each competing with the other to see which is angrier, is not a nation but a ticking time bomb. The only remaining questions are exactly when the explosion will occur, and what the resulting debris will look like. But one thing is certain − it won’t look anything like the America we knew.
Before this happens, we owe it to future generations to get our economic house in order – and vote accordingly. If bequeathing sixteen trillion dollars of debt to our children and grandchildren doesn’t frighten and anger you, you don’t deserve to live in a free country. And before long, you won’t.
Rehab in the form of slow decrease in benefits may help assuage the anger of the takers. But what will calm the righteous indignation of the producers? As the news from Europe shows, when the takers riot, they break store windows and set cars on fire. But when the producers riot, they do so in a quieter but more effective way. What if entrepreneurs go overseas to found new companies? What if business people stop hiring? What if farmers slaughter their animals? What if doctors refuse to take Medicare patients? All this is already beginning.
If you see Atlas making a fist, watch out.
Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.