History repeats itself

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The Knife is a big fan of Victor Davis Hanson: author, historian, classicist and farmer. Here are a few chunks of his superb, but concise, exploration of the decline of civilisations and the  counterintuitive – at first sight – fact that failure of a society is historically related to material success. Over to VDH:

For Gibbon and later French scholars, “Byzantine” became a pejorative description of a top-heavy Greek bureaucracy that could not tax enough vanishing producers to sustain a growing number of bureaucrats. In antiquity, inflating the currency by turning out cheap bronze coins was often the favored way to pay off public debts, while the law became fluid to address popular demands rather than to protect time-honored justice….

…The gradual decline of a society is often a self-induced process of trying to meet ever-expanding appetites, rather than a physical inability to produce past levels of food and fuel, or to maintain adequate defense. Americans have never had safer workplaces or more sophisticated medical care — and never have so many been on disability….

…Given our unsustainable national debt — nearly $17 trillion and climbing — America is said to be in decline, although we face no devastating plague, nuclear holocaust, or shortage of oil or food.

Americans have never led such affluent material lives — at least as measured by access to cell phones, big-screen TVs, cheap jet travel and fast food. Obesity rather than malnutrition is the greater threat to national health. Flash mobs go after electronics stores, not food markets. Americans spend more money on Botox, face lifts and tummy tucks than on the age-old scourges of polio, small pox and malaria….

…By any historical marker, the future of Americans has never been brighter. The United States has it all: undreamed new finds of natural gas and oil, the world’s pre-eminent food production, continual technological wizardly, strong demographic growth, a superb military and constitutional stability.

Yet we don’t talk confidently about capitalizing and expanding on our natural and inherited wealth. Instead, Americans bicker over entitlement spoils as the nation continues to pile up trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Enforced equality rather than liberty is the new national creed. The medicine of cutting back on government goodies seems far worse than the disease of borrowing trillions from the unborn to pay for them.

In August 1945, Hiroshima was in shambles, while Detroit was among the most innovative and wealthiest cities in the world. Contemporary Hiroshima now resembles a prosperous Detroit of 1945; parts of Detroit look like they were bombed decades ago.

History has shown that a government’s redistribution of shrinking wealth, in preference to a private sector’s creation of new sources of it, can prove more destructive than even the most deadly enemy.

So speaks VDH of the US. The bizarre thing is that much of it applies to the NHS.

Thomas Cole "The Fall of Rome"
Thomas Cole “The Fall of Rome”
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