Thursday, January 05, 2006

Best commentary in a year

Mark Steyn has written a stupendous piece on the decline of Western civilization for I am normally a determined optimist. For example, I choose to believe that Iraq has a good chance of becoming a pluralistic democratic state. Oh, I know the smart money says there'll be a civil war as soon as we leave; but I feel that the risk is worth it.

Steyn's essay, however, certainly doesn't leave much room for doubt that Western society, especially Western Europe, is headed for extinction. Why? The birth rate, for one:
...the United States, hover[s] just at replacement rate with 2.07 births per woman. Ireland is 1.87, New Zealand 1.79, Australia 1.76. But Canada's fertility rate is down to 1.5, well below replacement rate; Germany and Austria are at 1.3, the brink of the death spiral; Russia and Italy are at 1.2; Spain 1.1, about half replacement rate. That's to say, Spain's population is halving every generation. By 2050, Italy's population will have fallen by 22%, Bulgaria's by 36%, Estonia's by 52%.

Steyn points out that
As fertility shrivels, societies get older--and Japan and much of Europe are set to get older than any functioning societies have ever been. And we know what comes after old age. These countries are going out of business--unless they can find the will to change their ways. Is that likely? I don't think so. If you look at European election results--most recently in Germany--it's hard not to conclude that, while voters are unhappy with their political establishments, they're unhappy mainly because they resent being asked to reconsider their government benefits and, no matter how unaffordable they may be a generation down the road, they have no intention of seriously reconsidering them. The Scottish executive recently backed down from a proposal to raise the retirement age of Scottish public workers. It's presently 60, which is nice but unaffordable. But the reaction of the average Scots worker is that that's somebody else's problem. The average German worker now puts in 22% fewer hours per year than his American counterpart, and no politician who wishes to remain electorally viable will propose closing the gap in any meaningful way.

Very, very interesting article, well worth your time.


cyclone said...

There is already a Civil War in Iraq, in fact there was one before we ever arrived to destroy their land. Optimism is great, but so is realism. We no more want a Democracy there than we do here.


SteveR said...

Hey Steven!

I noticed the name of your blog with your post to today - a great blog name!! - and thought I'd take a look.

Yes, I read that Mark Steyn piece as well - it was indeed an excellent article. Makes you want to go out and grab a European and shake him silly 'til he gets it!

I'm a lifelong Democrat who recently discovered (also - do you read that one?) and it is a little disconcerting to find that I agree with so darn much of what I find there.

I'm embarrassed and depressed by my Party's performance and the final vote on the Judiciary Committee yesterday - "Where have you gone, Henry Jackson?"...

Best regards,

Steve Erbach said...


I have to give credit where credit is due regarding the blog name. P. J. O'Rourke, in "Parliament of Whores," named a participant in a New Hampshire town meeting the Town Crank. The Town Crank made everybody uncomfortable but he was usually right. I won't claim anything remotely like infallibility, but I love the moniker!

Thank you for the link to neo-neocon. I will add that to my list of Regular Reading. A woman of my generation who writes well on politics. I appreciate it!

I have a friend who's a lifelong democrat who has flirted with libertarianism (I wear those stripes). We worked on the Harry Browne Presidential campaign locally and stumped for Ed Thompson for Wisconsin governor, too. He has drifted back towards being a solid Democrat since he became a Menasha, WI, alderman. We get into it quite often.

What's your take on Senators Joe Lieberman and Zell Miller? I sure enjoyed Miller's speech at the Republican convention in '04.


Steve Erbach
The Town Crank

Steve Erbach said...

» There is already a Civil War in Iraq, in fact there was one before we ever arrived to destroy their land. Optimism is great, but so is realism. We no more want a Democracy there than we do here. «


I see where you're coming from. I get a fair amount of my optimism from my brother and sister-in-law. My brother is in Iraq working for a civilian construction company. He's a former Marine who keeps a boot-top knife with him at all times. If he ever gets kidnapped, he says, he'll take an honor guard to Sheol before he'll allow himself to be led away to be slaughtered.

My sister-in-law, his wife, joined my brother in Iraq as his administrative assistant for a few months last fall. She corresponded with me regularly via e-mail and told me of her disorientation when she arrived back in the States after her position was terminated in Baghdad. She wants to go back. Earnestly, wants to go back.

The both of them are very affected by the courage of their Iraqi employees. The measures they take to preserve their own lives in order to work with the Americans is simply astounding.

Yes, I know they're Shi'ites. I'm also aware that the Kurds are making moves to take over the northern oil fields and the hell with a unified Iraq. Yes, I'm aware of the prospects for changing an intractable people's government into something more Westernized without crushing them in an all-out war. We crushed Germany and Japan but we have not done so in Iraq, notwithstanding your comments about how "we...arrived to destroy their land." It hasn't been. We're now re-building it accompanied by continuing efforts to undo our reconstruction.

Pessimism certainly seems to be where the smart money is. It's certainly easier. This particular Pandora's box may, indeed, be too hot to handle. But I prefer that we keep working at it until we're definitively proven wrong.


Steve Erbach
The Town Crank