‘Oh God, you realise if it gets really bad we might have to end up eating that,’ I said, meaning our fat cat Runty.
The Fawn started making upset noises. She’s very fond of Runty. My problem wouldn’t be so much the sentimental aspect as the practical one. Just how do you go about skinning and cooking a cat, when the power’s most likely to be gone and you’re long since out of barbecue charcoal? Which bits are safe to eat? Does it taste like chicken?
‘Don’t be ridiculous. It’s never going to get that bad,’ she said.
‘How do you know?’ I said.
‘Well London would need to be under siege for that to happen.’
‘Not necessarily. They ate cat in France during the War. Lapin sans tête.’
‘There’s not going to be a war.’
‘How do you know?’ I said.
I expect that all over Britain there are couples having similar conversations. All over the world, in fact, because it’s not as though they’re any better off in the US or Greece or even China. Armageddon is coming and it’s no longer a question of ‘What if?’ but ‘Just how bad will it be?’ and ‘Exactly what form of particular vileness will it take?’
Not, I would concede, that this is the majority view at the moment. Or at least the acknowledged majority view. I rang my uncle the other day. I said: ‘Do you realise how stuffed we are and have you made plans?’
He said: ‘Oh, I can’t be bothered with all that.
If it happens it happens.’ Our lawyer friends down the road take a similar line. But then they belong to that class which has grown so rich off the fat of the state that they’ve long been cushioned from economic reality.
Mark Steyn has the number of this parasite class in his brilliant and magnificently depressing new book, After America. He deconstructs a letter quoted by President Obama in his first State of the Union address, from a schoolgirl named Ty’Sheoma Bethea.
‘We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world, ‘ it said, in between begging for more federal aid for her run-down school.
Why, Steyn wonders, should such a missive should be cited as any kind of model?
For one thing, instead of trying to change the world, shouldn’t this girl trying to concentrate on more practical, realisable issues like trying to improve her crummy school and rundown town? (As P.
J. O’Rourke once put it: ‘Everybody wants to save the earth. Nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.’) And for another, what’s with this lawyer/ doctor/congressman stuff? ‘Is there no one in Miss Bethea’s school who’d like to be an entrepreneur, an inventor, a salesman, a generator of wealth? Someone’s got to make the dough the government’s already spent.’
This is a problem, perhaps the great problem of our times: the increasing gulf between those who actually create value and those who merely leech off their backs.
What makes it so intractable is that so few in our heavily socialised post-war entitlement culture are even aware that it’s a problem. We’re beginning dimly to become aware of at least some of the unwelcome passengers our economy is carrying: the union officials we pay £68 million to devise new ways to charge us more for public services; all those people off work with ‘back trouble’ splurging their welfare on green fees and gym club membership; local councillors and their expenses. But these are just the tip of the iceberg.
The figures quoted by Steyn from the US are terrifying enough: in 2009, the average civilian employee of the United States government earned $81,258 in salary, plus $41,791 in benefits. Total: $123,049. The average American employed in the private sector earned $50,462 in salary plus $10,589 in benefits. Total: $61,051. So you can imagine how things worse are in Europe, where the size of the economy taken up by the state is a good 10 per cent higher.
Is this sustainable? Well it might be in its more commonly used Marxist redistributionist sense of the word, as in ‘sustainable development’. But in its original sense, no it’s not. Obviously it’s not. You can’t have an ever larger unproductive sector of an economy crippling the productive sector. Not even if that unproductive sector are really nice people like my lovely lawyer friends down the road who work in ‘compliance’ and are only trying to ensure that the myriad wondrous new rules protecting ourselves from doing anything we might want to do are laboriously policed and expensively billed.
Steyn again: ‘By 2005, the costs of federal regulatory compliance alone (that is, not including state or local red tape) were up to $1.13 trillion — or approaching 10 per cent of GDP. In much of America, it takes far more paperwork to start a business than to go on welfare.’
There’s going to be a reckoning. It’ll be ugly. Perhaps in a future column, I might find time to fantasise on what possible happy outcomes might emerge. Not in this one, though. In this, I can offer nothing but despair.
Working out how to skin a cat, it seems to me, is going to be the least of our worries. In Britain, I foresee power shortages caused by our suicidal drive for ‘renewable energy’; I see further riots — made worse by pusillanimous policing — followed by a still nastier, compensatory backlash of fascistic martial law; I see punitive tax rates as the government — still in a state of denial — tries to shore up its discredited model; I see an economy heading towards Soviet levels of stagnation and waste. And until then, I foresee an awful lot of arguments with the Fawn.
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