In the current issue of City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple:
In Britain, government spending is now so high, accounting fo more than half of the economy, that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish the private sector from the public. Many supposedly private companies are as dependent on government largesse as welfare recipients are, and much of the money with which the government pays them is borrowed....
Deficits are like smoking: difficult to give up. They can be cut only at the cost of genuine hardship, for many people will have become dependent upon them for their livelihood. Hence withdrawal symptoms are likely to be severe; and hardship is always politically hazardous to inflict, even when it is a necessary corrective to previous excess. This is what Britain faces.
The proximate cause of the rioting over the last several days in the London district of Tottenham the death of a local man at the hands of police in circumstances that remain unclear, but the wider background--the government's effort to control spending--appears pertinent. "Frustration in this impoverished neighborhood, as with many others in Britain," the New York Times informs us, "has mounted as the government's austerity budget has forced deep cuts in services and aid."
Note the use of "impoverished" in that sentence. The rioters all appear well-fed and well-clothed. They live in a district filled with foot and automobile traffic, in which busses and the subway provide cheap transportation to the rest of London, and in which people obviously have enough money to support a network of retail establishments that bespeak first-world wealth, not third-world poverty. The government has begun the necessary work of unwinding public indebtedness--and, as people with a standard of living much of the world would envy feel justified in taking to the streets, reporters in the mainstream media feel free to ignore the evidence of their eyes, describing the rioters as "impoverished."
Which brings me to the tea party.
Getting control over the federal budget will prove hard, dirty, difficult work. I'm not predicting riots. But things have already gotten tense in state capitals--think of the demonstrations in Madison--and as normally dispassionate a columnist as Joe Nocera has already referred to the tea party as "terrorists." And all this at the mere prospect of spending cuts.
Some in the tea party--for that matter, quite a few people right here at Ricochet--demonstrated exasperated impatience when the Republicans in the House of Representatives failed to use the debt ceiling debate to effect deep cuts in federal spending. But we had won only one election and one house of Congress. That wasn't enough--it just wasn't. As Gov. Mitch Daniels put it not long ago, "Big changes require big majorities." I'd go so far as to argue that cutting spending last month would have damaged the tea party's standing, causing a reaction among Democrats and the press that would have set back the entire effort.
Patience--patience and realism. Next year, the tea party must carry the country.
And even then, the fight will only barely have begun.