Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. Here’s this week’s advocating smaller government and taking responsibility as a citizen for future generations.
For the last century we have been engaged in a vast social experiment: instead of requiring people to work hard to succeed, we have tried to create a caring, fairer society where all can prosper and be taken care of. We’ve tried to defeat poverty, to end injustice, and to care for all.
There’s only one problem. We never figured out how to pay for it.
Reading the news lately feels like we’re all standing inches from a precipice. Everyone can see that the cliff is there, but we don’t have the courage to turn around and go in the other direction yet. We’re hoping that rather than tumbling off into the abyss, the cliff will move.
We are living in an age when it’s normal for governments to borrow billions upon billions—and even trillions—with no real plan to pay it all back.
Europe is imploding. China is slowing down. The United States is about to slip into another recession. And we here in Canada, probably the safest country in the world economically, are watching it all happen, helpless.
Yet it’s not only government that is to blame. It’s this whole entitlement society. People figure, “I paid into the system, so I deserve to get a lot out.” We milk it for all it’s worth. A public school teacher retires, but then turns around and gets hired to work as a substitute teacher, “double dipping” and taking a job away from a new graduate. A government worker pads his final year of work with overtime so that his pension is based on an inflated salary. A farmer gets paid to NOT farm his fields, or to chop down an orchard. A doctor’s fee for certain services is reduced, so she turns around and simply bills for different ones.
None of these things is illegal; they are all within the rules. But that’s the point: our whole system is set up so that people can take advantage of the government—or their employers. And what happens when all of this occurs on a grand scale? People start to believe that they’re “owed” the good life, and that they shouldn’t have to work for it.
If you have children before you’re married, the government will pay for your apartment and your food. If you don’t save for your retirement, the government will rescue you. Or, in another sphere, if you’re at an office Christmas party, and you get drunk and go drive and slam into a tree, you can sue your employer for letting you drink. The idea that we are responsible for what we do has been thrown out the window.
And so we see the population of France electing a socialist government whose first action in power was to lower the retirement age from 62 to 60—right at a time when governments are teetering on bankruptcy. Quebec students riot because tuition is too high, instead of asking themselves why they have the cheapest tuition in North America. And Britain starts a vast program to educate parents on how to be a good parent, because it turns out that generations of welfare payments have created a society where people have forgotten how to discipline their children.
Something that can’t go on forever will eventually stop, and I wonder if we’re nearing that point. Everybody has borrowed too much money, from governments on down to citizens. And at the same time we’ve all been clamouring to get a bigger slice of the pie for ourselves. Until recently we’ve believed that the course of human history is always upwards, towards more and more prosperity and freedom and success. But Rome fell, and it took a millennium for civilization to recover. We can crash, too, and that crash is getting ever closer.
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