Mark-Steyn.jpg

Should Mark Steyn Lighten Up?

Glenn Reynolds calls our attention this morning to a piece in Forbes, written by John Tamny, entitled “Mark Steyn Resides In a Crowded — and Centuries Old — Echo Chamber of ‘American Doom’”.  Here’s a sample:

Mark Steyn is easily one of the most entertaining – and frequently insightful – opinion writers in existence today. Agree or disagree, his National Review op-eds count as a must-read for many – including this writer – as evidenced by his popularity.

But right or wrong, and it says here that Steyn is wrong, one of his most popular modern narratives is the one about how the U.S.’s best days are behind it. To quote Steyn from a recent book,  After America, “the prevailing political realities of the United States do not allow for any meaningful course correction,” and “without meaningful course correction, America is doomed.” …

To be blunt, ‘America’ has been ‘doomed’ for longer than the United States has even existed as a country. Steyn has entered an echo chamber of doomsayers that is long in tooth, and that could fill many Rose Bowls. Maybe Steyn is correct this time despite joining a chorus of naysayers who’ve always been wrong, but even if correct, it seems he misreads what ‘doom’ is, or what it will look like.

Tamny then goes on to assess the soundness of Steyn’s arguments regarding particular cases in point: long-term demographics, immigration, budget deficits. He concludes that Steyn’s overall take is narrow and unnecessarily fraught:

No doubt we can do much better, better in the sense that without all the barriers erected by government that our present lifestyle of plenty would seem like Haiti relative to what we could be economically. But to posit as Steyn and others have for centuries, that we’re on the path to destruction is not credible. And as evidenced by the massive capital inflows that our productive are still entrusted to deploy, markets confirm this basic assertion.

To be clear, ‘doom’ per Steyn’s definition isn’t some horrid future that never seems to reveal itself despite centuries of predictions offered up by our wise commentariat. Instead, ‘doom’ is today, it’s the ‘unseen,’ it’s what we don’t have when it comes to future Googles and Intels, cancer and heart disease cures, and transportation advances that would make the automobile and the airplane seem positively pedestrian. That’s what Steyn and the chorus of doomsayers might be talking about were they not so blinded by inconsequential notions of birthrate, unwashed immigrants who renew us, and deficits that investors line up to buy the income streams of.

So who’s right? Is Steyn a crotchety old coot, or is Tamny a pie-in-the-sky goofball?

In a funny way, the very quality of Steyn’s writing tends to make me suspect his conclusions a little. It’s too seductive. Reading him always gives me an uneasy feeling that I’m being lured down the path of despair by dazzling turns of phrase. I confess that I have not yet read After America because I’m afraid I won’t be able to resist Steyn’s rhetorical juggernaut. There’s only so much lacerating wit I can withstand before I swoon — and then where would I be?

I know there are many Steyn fans here at Ricochet. What do you feel, in your heart of hearts? Do you agree with him that America is down for the count? And if so, I have to ask: what are we all still yammering about?

  1. Bryan G. Stephens

    My problem is, I really tend to think we are doomed in that I cannot see how we get from here to there.

    On the other hand, I live in denial, and keep on keeping on, like we are not.

  2. Fred Cole

    I think it’ll be half a century before we know if in 2013 we were already doomed.

    That being said, my natural cynical inclination is to point out that the world has always been going to hell and the good old days never were so good.  We’re just not that special.

    The 20th century was the most murderous century on record.

    The 19th century didn’t have antibiotics.

    The 18th century didn’t have dental anesthetic.

  3. Mama Toad

    Tamny has a weird writing style (“it says here that Steyn is wrong” — what is the “it” referring to?) and his comparison to Mickle is completely off-base.

    Steyn hasn’t held off joining the American experience — he lives here, pays taxes, and owns his own home. 

    “Immigration” doesn’t bother Steyn; illegal immigration bothers Steyn. He himself is a green-card holding member of society who hates the fact that millions of others don’t follow the law that he does. It bothers me too — all of my grandparents were immigrants to this country, and I am in favor of immigration, but we have no control of our borders and that is not a Good Thing.

    Nothing about Mark Steyn’s writing is a “centuries-old echo chamber” of doom. I thank God for Mark Steyn and his clarity, his wit, his ability to frame discussions.

    He clearly loves this country and hopes desperately it can turn itself around, but what, honestly, is there to be so cheery about? He’d rather be writing theater review, but if you are on the Titanic and it is sinking, it is pretty lame to be sitting on your duff doing nothing.

  4. Israel P.

    Steyn is perfect the way he is, for what he does. He is sounding an alarm.

    Whether there is a way out may as yet be undetermined.

    If you want real doom, listen to Derb.

  5. Douglas Johnson

    Today IS doom.  How so?

    Patrick Monyhan shocked the nation when he reported in the 1960′s that the illegitimacy rate for American blacks was at 25% and rising.  He predicted doom where that rate could double or triple if nothing else was done.  At that time the illegitimacy rate for whites was 6% and he made the point that there was nothing to stop that from double or tripling.

    Today, the black rate HAS TRIPLED, and the white rate has gone up SEVENFOLD.

    In 1973 when the SCOTUS decided Roe we were witnesses 600,000 abortions every year, and the doomsayers predicted that number would skyrocket with Roe.  Doom has arrived and we are now at 1 million/year–a number we yawn at today but would have scared the hell out of us in 1973.

    And so on…

    The worst part of today’s hell is there is nothing so bad that can’t be cured by materialism.  So long as we have enough money, we don’t much care about all the above.  And that is the doom of materialism–where right and wrong and human happiness is all a function of having what we want.

  6. Fred Cole

    That being said, I don’t know if anybody in 5th century Rome knew that the lights were about to go out.  They certainly knew they were dimmer.

    And we’re not in the dimmer phase.  Rome had a centuries long decline.  It should have ended in the 3rd century, but held on.  

    So I wonder if anyone knew when Commodus took the throne that the long slide was beginning.  I doubt it.   I’m sure there were those people who said so, but I suspect they would have said so in any century under any ruler, the ones who thought the centuries decline slide was starting then just happened to be right.

  7. Douglas Johnson
    Bryan G. Stephens: My problem is, I really tend to think we are doomed in that I cannot see how we get from here to there.

    On the other hand, I live in denial, and keep on keeping on, like we are not. · 11 minutes ago

    Patrick Moynihan shocked the world with his statistics and predicted the doom we have arrived and at surpassed since then.  But no one cares.  I think the first step is realizing we have already arrived.

  8. Chris Campion

    Investors lining up to buy the income streams of deficit spending is touted as a sign of a healthy nation?  Where else has that also happened, historically?  Hm.

    By failing to recognize the unsustainability of the present spending course of the USG, and other factors, we will be looking back in time years from now wondering why we didn’t avert something that was completely fixable – if we made the hard choices when it counted.

    Like right now.  Instead we dither over sequestration and debt limits, the theatre of the absurd, as our debt jumped 10 trillion in 7 years.  We’re living, right now, with the effects of the debt overhang, the recession we’re in, and Steyn’s the one who’s got it wrong?

  9. Mama Toad
    Judith Levy, Ed.

    . . . . What do you feel, in your heart of hearts? Do you agree with him that America is down for the count? And if so, I have to ask: what are we all still yammering about? 

    Steyn is warning us that there is no guarantee that America will be great forever. He is right that the current political realities are such that the two parties are so similar in terms of taxing and spending, with the only restraint being in the rate of growth of spending, that no realistic course changes can be expected. The world is becoming much more dangerous and our leaders are fools who blather and blunder across the world stage. 

    We are in deep trouble, and being clear headed about the nature of the trouble is the only chance we have of changing things. It is better to know than not.

    We continue to “yammer” because we’re Not Dead Yet.

    Read the book, Judith. I think it will be better than you think. It isn’t as funny as America Alone, but it is just as important to understand what we face.

  10. Skyler

    Steyn doesn’t refer to antibiotics or dental anesthetics. He talks about freedom, a condition that can exist at any level of technology. It is demonstrably true that our freedoms are eroded significantly, despite, or more likely because of technology.

    My grandmother had her own business as a housekeeper. She worked alone. Can anyone legally do that today? Can an immigrant from the Azores just do that without massive support from an agency? And if she wanted to hire helpers it gets to the nearly impossible stage for one poor worker to track a payroll.

    The federal monster has made life nearly impossible to live without their control and since decisions are made in DC for the entire country, we have little ability to affect decisions. This is why politics has become so bitter and uncompromising; too much is at stake for every congressional act.

    Steyn is dead on.

  11. Manfred Arcane

    Reading a book (fiction) about the fall of Constantinople.  If the author is correct, the Emperor Constantine could only muster about 6000 citizen soldiers to defend his capitol against an array of ~100,000 soldiers in the Sultan’s army.  I found that incredible, that the Empire had withered to that degree.

    It couldn’t have been that there weren’t enough men at arms around to field a credible army – it had to be a lack of interest to uphold Byzantium.

    Fred Cole: That being said, I don’t know if anybody in 5th century Rome knew that the lights were about to go out.  They certainly knew they were dimmer.

    And we’re not in the dimmer phase.  Rome had a centuries long decline.  It should have ended in the 3rd century, but held on.  

    So I wonder if anyone knew when Commodus took the throne that the long slide was beginning.  I doubt it.   I’m sure there were those people who said so, but I suspect they would have said so in any century under any ruler, the ones who thought the centuries decline slide was starting then just happened to be right. · 20 minutes ago

  12. Manfred Arcane

    See, this really zaps me.  Folks here can’t distinguish policies the Reps are driven to follow because they have to operate in a country half full of Dems, from the policies they naturally would implement if they didn’t, if they had their own country.

    The doom comes only if Reps remain wedded to the idea of one America.  There are two, clearly, and as soon as they recognize this, get over the pain of recognition and ‘Paradise Lost’ syndrome, we can begin the Great Divide and things will be fine.  But this idea gains no purchase with Reps, which leads me to believe that they have caught a smidgeon of what Michael Savage rightly identifies as the Dems mental disorder.

    Mama Toad

    Judith Levy, Ed.

    . . . . .

    … He is right that the current political realities are such that the two parties are so similar in terms of taxing and spending, with the only restraint being in the rate of growth of spending, that no realistic course changes can be expected. .

    We are in deep trouble, and being clear headed about the nature of the trouble is the only chance we have of changing things. It is better to know than_not.

  13. Sisyphus

    Notice that Tamny needs to put words into Steyn’s mouth in the second paragraph quoted to square his equation. Washington is running America and the world off the rails, leaving Washington as the only real boom town. At least until we have squeezed every last penny out of the children, and then the unborn. If the dollar had not been the global currency and backer of so many other currencies at the start of the century, the situation would be a lot grimmer, but because we were and are we get some undeserved breathing room while creditors ease down their positions on the dollar. 

    Steyn is not Dave Barry, humor is just the velvet glove on a solid, learned, and blunt assessment of the fundamentals. Tamny is just the echo of an establishment that doesn’t really understand the problem and so wants to dial back the hair shirts in the public square who do. Five years of Depression have taken a hard toll on the millions thrown out of work, many permanently. The consequences of Washington excess goes beyond skipping that occasional latte at Starbuck’s.

    Tamny should be considered for the Nero’s Fiddle Award.

  14. The Mugwump

    The nature of crisis is that everything is fine until suddenly it isn’t.  Even when problems are foreseen well in advance, it’s in the nature of politics that factions continue to feud for short term advantage.  When the Goths arrived before the gates of Rome, the Roman aristocracy maneuvered for personal advantage rather than address the existential threat.  Arrives the penultimate day when events suddenly become unmanageable and their consequences irreversible.  Why should history be different this time around?   

               

  15. Duane Oyen

    Nobody knows anything- confident predictions by futurists are normally wrong.

    Mark is the most fun writer to read and a lot smarter than I am, but he gets overwrought at times based on assumptions and trends that we can’t predict.  His demography regarding the Muslim world follows Malthus- the recent trend for which we have some marginal numbers extends perpetually, rather than that group being the same as every other group of humans in history.  David Goldman (“Spengler”) serves as the counterweight to Steyn’s thesis- in fact, population in the Muslim world is going down down down, growth is collapsing; our Western demographic problem is preserving the culture more than it is numbers.

    Even the debt needs to be put into perspective.  The issue is trend, growth of spending, and the fact that Obama is essentially using capital to pay for daily expenses at a time when population and economic growth may well be in long term stall mode- but the actual burden of servicing the debt is lower now than it was 20 years ago.

    Smart people heed warnings, and we need to have a Jeremiah- but we also need to maintain perspective and not give up.

  16. The Mugwump
    Manfred Arcane: Reading a book (fiction) about the fall of Constantinople.  If the author is correct, the Emperor Constantine could only muster about 6000 citizen soldiers to defend his capitol against an array of ~100,000 soldiers in the Sultan’s army.  I found that incredible, that the Empire had withered to that degree.

    It couldn’t have been that there weren’t enough men at arms around to field a credible army – it had to be a lack of interest to uphold Byzantium.

     

    27 minutes ago

    In truth the Turks had already crossed the Bosporus and were busy gobbling up the Balkans.  The massive walls of Constantinople were an impediment that could be bypassed until a proper siege could be planned and implemented.  The populace of the city had long since fled.  Constantinople was a mere shell of its former self defended by Genoese mercenaries.  The final siege was largely symbolic insofar as the empire had long since succumbed to age and decrepitude.   

  17. KC Mulville

    If you can tell me how we can pay off $17 trillion, or even reverse the trend of adding to that number, I’ll be willing to talk about the wonderfulness of the current state of affairs.

    When you look down and see thin ice, then look up and see Democrats jumping up and down, a plunge isn’t hard to predict.

  18. Concretevol

    Without someone sounding the alarm there is never a course correction.  Tammy seems to be saying that “sure, things could be better but we’re doing pretty well.”  That doesn’t sound like call for change of any sort.  I think Steyn is correct in shaking people by the lapels and yelling at them to wake up.  I bet the passengers on the Titanic sure wished someone would have done that to their captain.  My favorite Steynism is “we’re on the deck of the Titanic passing out condoms”.  Someone needs to shout a warning about the damn iceberg. 

  19. Israel P.
    Duane Oyen:

    Mark is the most fun writer to read and a lot smarter than I am, but he gets overwrought at times based on assumptions and trends that we can’t predict.  His demography regarding the Muslim world follows Malthus- the recent trend for which we have some marginal numbers extends perpetually, rather than that group being the same as every other group of humans in history.  

    You don’t need to continue the Muslim population growth at its current rate. If there are few Greeks and Italians and Spaniards being born today, there won’t be any more that those to be having children twenty-thirty years from now. The Muslims retake Spain by default.

  20. Mike LaRoche

    John Derbyshire and Mark Steyn are correct. We are doomed and the American Republic is finished.