Friday, August 02, 2002
Oh come on, Derb, lighten up. Things aren't nearly as bad as all that. Let's go point by point:
* Most of us will die in poverty. No, most of us will die working. What is anomalous is the current situation where people retire and live active, nonworking lives for 2 or 3 decades. That will end. People can work healthily and happily out to age 75 or 80 in a great many cases, and they will do so. And they will have plenty to eat and plenty of medicines. And they'll probably be less bored.
* Quality health care for all is not possible. Manifestly untrue: quality health-care for all is ludicrously cheap. Top quality health care for all is not possible. Let's face it: bottom-drawer insurance today pays for better health care than top-drawer insurance 50 years ago. Drugs and procedures get better, safer and cheaper every year. If we were not committed to egalitarianism in health care, providing excellent but not the best health care for everyone would be a snap. As for the quality of staff: this is hardly a structural problem of health-care; it's a structural problem of our education system, our legal system, and our public-sector unionism. These are things we can fix.
* Pop culture is filth. Okay, you got me there. I don't own a television myself, so I obviously agree.
* The environment is collapsing. This is really a question about whether the Third World can ever become comparably rich to the First World. That's an open question. We have several positive data points from East Asia: Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore. But perhaps their success can't be replicated; we'll see. The point is, London's air was once positively unbreatheable, and now it is pretty much clean. The same transition will undoubtedly happen to every country that pulls itself up to a high level of wealth and a low rate of population growth. The open question is how many countries can do this. But note again: the environment recovers. In 1850, about 25% of NY State was forested. Now it's more like 65%. Our air, water and land is getting cleaner every year. It can be done; we'll see if it can be done everywhere.
* Science has stopped. Really? I don't seem to recall any of the current information technology we take for granted being predicted in 1950 - or 1970, for that matter. Science is hard to predict, but it is hardly stopping.
* Not all groups are equally good at all things. Okay. So? And as for the corollary: this depends on whether all groups, while good at different things, cannot share power equally as citizens. We've confused two propositions: one, that there are statistical differences in people's abilities; two, that some groups are sufficiently better at all the important things that bring wealth, power and security that affirmative action is the only way to prevent a racial caste system with consequent social instability. It's the latter that I reject.
* Socialism is popular. True. So is capitalism. I'll grant you that from 1910 to 1965 or so, Socialism was winning most of the arguments. But can you really argue that they've been winning, on balance, since 1965? I don't see the evidence.
* Conservatism is dead. Well, it depends what you mean by conservatism. For true Tory conservatism to exist, you need to have something to protect and defend. Once that order is gone, perhaps you should call the folks on the right something other than conservative. That's the world we're in today. There's precious little of the medieval order left for a conservative to defend. There's the British monarchy. There's the concept of national sovereignty. I'm running out of other ideas. But the right, in contemporary terms, encompasses both the Tory and the Whiggish persuasions, because the leftist "new class" ideology is the enemy of both. And it is far from clear that Whiggish ideas are out of favor, whether we're talking about Evangelical Protestantism (on the wane? I think not) or entrepreneurial capitalism. This, it seems to me, is the main thing that is bothering Derb about American "conservatism" - it's overwhelmingly Whiggish rather than Tory, and therefore optimistic and future-oriented.
* Nothing will be done about immigration. Probably true, certainly a potential problem. But I remain bullish on our ability to assimilate the huge Mexican immigration, and the rest of the immigration wave is a drop in an ocean compared to the mid-19th and early-20th century deluges. We've got a pretty good history on this one.
* Only Anglo-Saxon countries can do democracy. How do we know this? France has been, mostly, self-governing since 1789. That's only 1 century after the Glorious Revolution. I prefer the American model of self-government to either the British or the French versions, but that doesn't mean I deny that the French govern themselves. I think that Whiggish history is still quite persuasive: self-government is a good idea that has spread, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, sometimes with dramatic reverses, for 300 to 500 years (depending on where you start from) from it's roots in Britain. Again, that's a short time in historical terms. But the trend line is pretty clear.
* China will get stronger and richer, without moving one inch closer to constitutional government. Also, Taiwan will be re-united with the Motherland . . . by some combination of economic carrot and military stick. Sadly, I think he's right on this one, too. The trend line is pretty bad since 1989. We should all be studying British policy towards Germany from 1900 to 1914, and try to understand if and how it contributed to war. The greatest blame fell on the Kaiser, of course, but that was precious little comfort to the millions of widows, orphans and mothers who lost their husbands, fathers and sons in the Great War.
* Something inconceivably horrible will happen in the Middle East. I don't think you're going to get much argument from anyone on this one, Derb.
* The Four Horsemen of War, Famine, Pestilence and Microsoft. Yes, well, no argument on the last item. War is with us now. The trend lines since World War I on this one are: an vastly increasing percentage of war's casualties are civilians in poor countries. September 11th may mean a reversal of that trend-line; we'll see. As for famine: really? With the world awash in food and population growth rates dropping like a stone? I don't think so. Pestilence is your best bet, apart from Microsoft, but even there, the experience of the AIDS epidemic is: if you live in a rich country and don't expose yourself to ludicrous risk factors, you're in pretty good shape. I think the greatest risk of pestilence is tied to war, and that scenario is very hard to handicap.
* The U.S. constitution is incompatible with a war on terrorism. Really? I seem to recall one John Derbyshire pointing out a column by a certain blonde conservative starlet that detailed all the simple, legal things that we could do to reduce the risks of terrorism dramatically without traducing the Constitution, things we have not done to date. Is the Constitution really a problem? Or our political/diplomatic paralysis? The Constitution survived the Civil War, and was strengthened by the post-war amendments. It'll survive this.
* Justice is dead. Again, look at a trend line. How many of the most liberal judges are geezers versus youngsters. Now how many of the most conservative. I don't think this is a tough call. And as for crime: are you talking about America, or France? Speaking for New Yorkers, we have absolutely no intention of letting real crime go up dramatically, and a politician who presides over a period when it does will be destroyed at the polls. Giuliani changed us; he showed us what could be done. We ain't goin' back.
* We are living in a golden age. I suspect people in Anglo-Saxon countries have been saying this since the coronation of James I. And, in some sense, it has been true every time they said it.