I can’t remember exactly when I first encountered a pop-culture jetpack. Was it James Bond’s, courtesy of Q, in Thunderball? Or was it some comic book? At any rate, I no longer have to wait for mine. Martin Aircraft of Christchurch, New Zealand, have put one into production, for the cost of a top-of-the-line automobile—or about $100,000. It’s not clear to me where you’d be able to fly it, since government air-traffic agencies don’t seem eager to contemplate a world of individual human flight patterns. But still: the Bond jetpack is belatedly here.
Other than that, the future seems unlikely to be quite as futuristic as expected. The problem facing the developed world isn’t so very difficult to figure out. We’re living beyond not just our means but everybody’s means. You can strap on your jetpack, but where would you go? In the United States, Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute calculates that if the federal government were to increase every single tax by 30 per cent it would be enough to balance the books—in 25 years. Except that it wouldn’t. Because if you raised taxes by 30 per cent, government would spend even more than it already does, on the grounds that the citizenry needed more social programs and entitlements to compensate for their sudden reduction in disposable income.
In Canada, the average household’s debt-to-income ratio reached an all-time high in 2009. Credit-card holders at least three months behind with their payments increased by 40 per cent.
In Greece, public sector workers are rioting over the right to continue retiring at age 58.
In Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, government spending accounts for between 73 and 78 per cent of the economy, which is about as high as you can get without embracing full-scale Sovietization. In the English city of Newcastle, three-quarters of the working population are employed by the government.
The state spends too much. The individual spends too much. The state hires too many people on whom it lavishes too many benefits. Those foolish enough to remain in the private sector have to pay for the benefits of the public sector, and thus fund both their basics (housing) and their baubles (plasma TVs) through debt.
Nobody is going to raise U.S. taxes by 30 per cent—or at least not in one fell swoop, not when American businesses already labour under the highest corporate tax rates in the OECD. Washington’s approach to the runaway train is to shovel more coal in, on the grounds that the precipice is most likely further away than it looks. In economic terms, I’m not sure you can even call this “Keynesian,” since John Maynard of that ilk would surely be surprised at the claims on the public purse in the name of “stimulus”: $71,623 of said stimulus went to pump monkeys in North Carolina full of cocaine. Don’t ask me why. Vital work, no doubt, and maybe even socially beneficial, in that every line of coke hoovered up some chimp’s schnozz is one less going up yours. Nonetheless, it’s not to be sneezed at. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. But, for coke-fiend monkeys, you need the best part of 72 grand.
Even if you’re not on federal cocaine, this is a grand time to be a government worker. You know that “economic downturn” you hear so much about? It goes away if you work for the government! Indeed, you get an economic upturn. USA Today reports that at the start of the “downturn” the U.S. Department of Transportation had just one employee earning more than $170,000 per year. Eighteen months later, it has 1,690. Another 1,690 federal orangutans with expensive drug habits would be a better deal for the taxpayer. A U.S. government employee gets an average $41,000—that’s not salary, that’s in additional benefits.
The new class war in the Western world is between “public servants” and the rest of us. In Greece, the bloated public service has leeched so much out of the economy that they’ve run out of Greeks to stick it to, and require an intervention by the European Union. Likewise, the debauched public sector of California is pinning its hopes on federal largesse. At a certain level, American public opinion understands this. It’s why Obama has fallen so far so fast. Fourteen months ago, it seemed like a smart move to make “trillion” a routine part of the Washington lexicon. Now all its many citations do is remind even the most innumerate that the Democrat project is a crock, and the word itself is merely shorthand for “money we don’t have and will never have.”
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