Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, on hearing that a football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings had been canceled due to snow:
There is a magic to football. And part of that magic is you play no matter what that weather is—no matter what the conditions are….Yeah, I think it’s part of the wussification of America. We’ve lost a lot of our pioneer spirit.
A few days before this I had been conversing about immigration with a fellow hack at a Christmas party. I was laying down a hard line: moratorium on legal immigration ’til unemployment falls below five percent, illegals rounded up and deported.
She shook her head. “Talk to the employers—the farmers, meat-packers, hotel chains, cleaning agencies, construction firms. They’ll tell you they can’t get Americans. We just won’t do those jobs. They hire in a citizen, he works a week then drops out with a drug problem, a family problem, an attitude problem. There really are jobs Americans won’t do.”
I riposted with my usual bargain-basement economics: Americans won’t do those jobs at the wages offered. Gotta raise the wages. No such thing as a shortage, only a clearing price. There’s a wage level at which I would gut hogs. There’s a wage level at which Warren Buffett would gut hogs, etc.
She shook her head again. “That’s not it. We have a good life and we’re used to it. Even the underclass. A good, easy life. Free schooling, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, SSI, lawyers trawling for complaints, cheap electronics, put a hundred down and buy a car….There is no way any America-raised American will work as hard as some desperate peasant from Guatemala, where his kids go barefoot and the law’s just a racket. They’re hungry. We’re not hungry. Non-hungry people just don’t work hard at any pay scale.”
I pointed out—and she conceded—that externalities must be considered. Mainly there are the second and subsequent generations. American-raised, they are well-fed like us. They are also poorly socialized, assimilation being deemed unfashionably inconsistent with “celebrating diversity” and unnecessary among huge colonies of their co-ethnics and with the mother country a bus ride away. They also belong disproportionately to racial minorities with low average intelligence. We bought ourselves one generation of hungry workaholics at the expense of a hundred generations of underclass good-for-nothings.
Of course nobody—least of all politicians—thinks anything out generations ahead. The Mexican gardener, the Salvadoran roofer, and the Guatemalan nanny tell us their stories of being packed into airless trucks for the trip north, abused by the coyotes, ending up four to a squalid room and getting fleeced by local work-gang jefes. We sympathize, think of pogroms and famine ships, and gaze admiringly at their deferential diligence.
The hungry immigrant is present, visible, and, yes, admirable. But the externalities, by their nature, are neither present nor visible. We have to summon them up by an effort of thought, and nothing vexes human beings more than efforts of thought.
When I was first settled in this country with a proper job, I worked in a business office with a score of other people. Four or five of us were immigrants: myself from England, a black West Indian, a Filipino, a white South African, and an Indian. When none of the natives was in earshot we would grumble that we were doing all the real work while the Americans were slacking off. This was the mid-1970s.
The arc of US development this past hundred years once again teaches us history’s hardest lesson: A nation can survive anything except success. Mid-20th-century America’s stupendous success engendered the softness, idleness, and lack of seriousness that was perceptible to me in 1975—though the nation I came from was only a decade or so behind.
We are now 35 years further along Wussification Highway. In 1975 schools still had shooting clubs, murderers were executed, skyscrapers were built in a couple of years, and wars were still, or had recently been, executed with massed flights of bomber planes pulverizing the enemy’s cities. Professional football teams played in the snow.
Now we are a soft, cringing, fearful, lawyerly, girly nation. Shooting clubs are becoming extinct—the nearest one to me is twenty miles away. School shooting clubs are unthinkable. I built a treehouse for my kids, but neighborhood parents wouldn’t let their little darlings go up there: too dangerous! A legal system of infinite punctiliousness makes capital punishment impossible even where it is theoretically available. If you want to build a skyscraper, set aside a decade for the regulatory and environmental red tape to be hacked through. War has been reduced to a sort of missionary endeavor, bringing light—democracy! rule of law! free markets!—to the heathen.
Life’s great law is that poverty and hardship build character; prosperity and security destroy it. This isn’t anybody’s fault; it’s merely a natural law, like gravity. Nor is it anything particular to America. Any other nation afflicted with such colossal success will fall into decadence as we are doing. History offers many examples.
Face it: Our fathers and grandfathers were ants. We are grasshoppers. Middle-class Americans even wave aside their sacred laws, letting hungry Third Worlders come in illegally to mow their lawns and mind their kids so they can live like aristocrats. Laws? Hang the laws. Externalities? Hang the externalities. Peel me a grape, Juanita.
We lose ourselves in opium dreams, in absurd fantasies of universal attainment and equality. Everyone will go to college! Everyone will own a house! None will go hungry! Meanwhile, rich and poor drift further apart. The slums and jails fill up. Cities go bankrupt. Futile wars sputter on, to what purpose nobody can say.
But never mind, there is still opium in the pipe. We turn our faces away from reality. We hate reality. Surely the dream will last a little longer!
It’s nobody’s fault, only the law of life. It’s what human beings are. It’s always been this way. “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” That didn’t end well. Neither will this.
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