Wednesday, June 4, 2008

In the Name of Liberty

Americans had little doubt that they had liberated the desert tribes of Mesopotamia from “Tyranny”, rather than imposed a new tyranny of their own. They managed to support – and applaud – the biggest growth in government spending, debt, and bureaucracy since Franklin Roosevelt, and applaud it, of all things, in the name of liberty...

Success has transformed a modest people whose greatest virtue was once minding their own business into a vainglorious race, who mind everyone’s business but their own. They cannot save a dime themselves, but now they offer to save the entire planet. There was a time when they admired the English for their literature... the Germans for their organisation... the French for their intellect and style... and the Japanese for their industrial discipline. Now they turn their heads to the heavens and see only their own reflection in the clouds. They revere themselves with double the adoration and thrice the fidelity. Old Europe is a museum, they complain. It is rigid, cowardly, and gummed up with social welfare regulation. And Japan? The so-called miracle economy has been stuck in an on-again, off-again recession for more than 16 years, they gibe, because the Japanese lack the guts to restructure their economy along American lines.

This disdain is not based in logic or reason, of course. Few attitudes are. Or, as they say on Wall Street – “Markets make opinions”. That is to say, when stocks have been rising for a long while, investors have opinions about why the bull market will last forever. If stocks are falling, their feelings lead them to believe prices will continue to fall for all eternity. But, of all attitudes, none is so irrationally conceived and so inveterately held as people’s good opinions of themselves. And Americans’ opinions of themselves are no exception. Since they have created their success themselves, surely they must be in charge of it too, they think.

Discounted is the hard work of their fathers and grandfathers who went ahead of them. Dismissed are the virtues of thrift, sound money, limited government, and collective modesty. Flipping with boredom through the back pages of their history, Americans pay no attention to the dead. And the future... the unborn? It is as if they think the book has no sequel.... as if it were the last opus ever... the final word, the Omega Civilisation. We can almost hear the gods snickering. One day, historians will look back at our era and marvel at how George Bush and Tony Blair determined to convert the Iraqis to democracy. To our descendants, it will look like a mad caprice; a quaint, religious gesture; an act of remarkable faith or delusion, like missionaries showing the heathen the correct posture for copulation.

[Via Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets: Surviving the Public Spectacle in Finance and Politics]

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