The coming rebellion in the voting booth is not only about the economic impact of spending, debt and deficits on America's future. It's also to some degree about the feared impact of all those things on the character of the American people. There is a real fear that government, with all its layers, its growth, its size, its imperviousness, is changing, or has changed, who we are. And that if we lose who we are, as Americans, we lose everything. This is part of what's driving the sense of political urgency this year, especially within precincts of the tea party.
The most vivid illustration of the fear comes, actually, from another country, Greece, the amount of debt that has so far been unearthed and revealed, coming to "more than a quarter-million dollars for every working Greek." Over decades the Greeks turned their government "into a piñata stuffed with fantastic sums" and gave "as many citizens as possible a whack at it." The average government job pays almost three times as much as the average private-sector job. The retirement age for "arduous" jobs, including hairdressers, radio announcers and musicians, is 55 for men and 50 for women. After that, a generous pension. The tax system has disintegrated. It is a welfare state with a cash economy.
"It is simply assumed . . . that anyone who is working for the government is meant to be bribed. . . . Government officials are assumed to steal." Tax fraud is rampant. Everyone cheats. "It's become a cultural trait,"
"The Greek state was not just corrupt but also corrupting. Once you saw how it worked you could understand a phenomenon which otherwise made no sense at all: the difficulty Greek people have saying a kind word about one another. . . . Everyone is pretty sure everyone is cheating on his taxes, or bribing politicians, or taking bribes, or lying about the value of his real estate. And this total absence of faith in one another is self-reinforcing. The epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing makes any sort of civic life impossible." Thus can great nations, great cultures, disintegrate, break into little pieces that no longer cohere into a whole.
State lotteries. Give government the right to reap revenues from the public desire to gamble, and you'll soon have government doing something your humble local bookie never had the temerity to try: convince the people that gambling is a moral good. They promote it insistently on local television, undermining any remaining reserve among our citizens not to play the numbers, not to develop what can become an addiction. Our state government daily promotes what for 2,000 years was understood to be a vice. No bookie ever committed a crime that big.