• Kevin D. Williamson, The End is Near And It’s Going to be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure, Broadside Books, 2013, 229 pages, $27.99.
RALEIGH — The title doubtless emerged from the marketing department, but this book is not apocalyptic alarmism about Planet Earth. Author Kevin Williamson of National Review believes the end is near for politics, essentially a system of violence run by predatory gangsters masquerading as principled politicians.
As the author shows, the American founders were familiar with this theme. Readers new to the subject will find here a thorough and timely primer on the pillage people.
“The roots of governments more closely resemble organized crime syndicates,” Williamson writes, and “governments are in most cases the result of the very thing they promise to protect us against: the arbitrary use of violent means in the pursuit of narrow, self-interested ends.” The “final stage of politics is a man with a gun at your front door,” and none of this is mere rhetoric.
The U.S. Department of Education, which has existed since 1980, deploys paramilitary squads armed with Remington 12-gauge shotguns. As Williamson observes, these squads like to bash in doors in pre-dawn raids that victimize innocents and their children. On Sept. 11, 2001, some 2,334 federal employees were working on IRS cases for every federal employee investigating Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The government was “pointing more guns at own citizens than those who would shortly murder some 3,000 people.”
Williamson also marshals evidence that the Department of Homeland Security “has been partly transformed into an organized crime syndicate.” The IRS has three times as many employees as the FBI, and penalties for tax evasion surpass those for homicide.
Williamson notes the “business” institutions closely enmeshed with government, such as the ethanol industry and GM, aka Government Motors. And the author is not talking partisan politics. “Elitist ideologies are by their nature bipartisan,” he argues, “Democrats and Republicans being two branches of the same political enterprise.” Neither is the author making a case for better politics. Rather, “the fundamental problem is politics itself, the practice of delivering critical goods and services through the medium of federal, state, and local governments and their obsolete decision-making practices.”
Williamson contrasts the world that does work, exemplified by the iPhone, with the world that doesn’t work, exemplified by political institutions. Unlike the iPhone, which keeps getting better and cheaper, “resistance to innovation is part of the deep structure of politics. It never goes out of business — despite flooding the market with defective and dangerous products, mistreating its customers, degrading the environment, cooking the books, and engaging in financial shenanigans that would have make Gordon Gekko pale to contemplate.”
Williamson sees politics “choking to death on its own contradictions because it can’t evolve.” As he notes, other than Social Security, few 1935-vintage products remain in use. Worse, government attempts to manage systems too complex to understand. For example, Washington politicians can’t design an intelligent national health care system because “the information burden is just too vast.” Obamacare, a certified train wreck even before it left the station, would seem to prove his point.
Likewise, spending $1 trillion on a War on Poverty has resulted in “more poverty.” This happened because “the politician is the man who has the power to make his preferences mandatory” and he can saddle future generations with the cost. By Williamson’s estimate, the national debt and unfunded liabilities of some $150 trillion “far outstrip all the wealth on this planet.” This is bound to crash and something will have to be put in the crater.
As the author sees it, “consumers in the aggregate perform precisely the role that Marx envisioned for his socialist central-planning agencies, but they do so without politics and without armed coercion.” Williamson believes that “the majority of what the federal government does can be taken over by cooperative enterprise — right now.” All the nation’s law enforcement may be insufficient to police Craigslist, and private currencies may be working their way into the mainstream.
The author advances some investment alternatives to Social Security and decries the enduring “company store” of employer-provided health care. On the other hand, he also finds an overlap between “government funding” and an absence of benefits, as in Medicaid. His self-help mutual aid model of health care deserves consideration, but will any of his ideas get the hearing they deserve?
After all, the pervasive regime of political correctness prefers that provocative ideas not be heard at all. As the author notes, Cornell University booted a professor for assigning F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom to students. The products of government education, subject of a thoughtful chapter, emerge shrink-wrapped in statist superstition: Government is inherently wise and to pass a law against problem X is to solve problem X. And so forth.
Williamson finds allusions of government violence in “The Godfather” but “2001: A Space Odyssey” better shows where we are now, what we might call late statism. HAL, the supposedly infallible computer in charge of the mission, is clearly malfunctioning but wary of being disconnected.
Williamson is fully aware that “politics is not going to go quietly and the political class may make the coming changes unnecessarily painful and disruptive.” When the state’s legitimacy is questioned, “it grows vicious.” True to form, “the federal government has been reduced to a thrashing and infantile thing, and the violence implicit in the system has risen to the surface.”
Therefore, the end might well be near, but it’s not likely to be so awesome.