The lessons of Detroit unheeded in London

‘Social democracy’ is among the most pernicious word combinations known to man, which is worrying. After all, most Western countries are social democracies now.

‘Social’ in this context means ‘socialist’, which is demonstrably bad news by itself. Whenever this approach to life was tried independently from democracy, it produced a swift calamity typically accompanied by unrestrained violence on a scale hitherto unknown to man.

Democracy adds a delayed-action mechanism to the primed socialist bomb, but it’ll still go off sooner or later. For socialism attempts to repeal economic laws rooted in human nature.

The underlying assumption is that if ideology contradicts human nature, it’s the latter that has to change.

Alas, human nature never stops proving that it’s created by an authority infinitely higher than any political dispensation. Only that authority could effect a meaningful change, and so far it has been refusing to do so.

Thus social democracy reliably produces a huge class of those whom the late Oriana Fallaci called ‘Mr I-Know-My-Rights’.

These people learn that they can provide for themselves not by working hard but by voting right (or rather Left). Elect a social democratic candidate (these days are there any other?) and subsistence is guaranteed. Things like food, accommodation, clothes, pensions, medical care become free.

Well, not exactly free because someone still has to pay for them. Except that the ratio of payers and payees keeps shifting away from the former. If in most Western countries this ratio used to be 5:1 not so long ago, these days it’s perilously close to 2:1 – or worse.

One reason for this is an aging population; another is, well, human nature. Most of us like the idea of getting a greater return for a smaller effort, or preferably no effort at all. Because of this universal trait, the availability of social benefits and the number of those desiring them exist in a symbiotic relationship.

A gap develops, and it can only be closed by promiscuous government spending financed by the printing press.

There’s no shortage of government officials eager to resort to this trick: social democracy breeds not only a certain type of voter but also a certain type of politician. Those prepared to sell their votes have no shortage of those willing to buy.

The outcome of this is clearly visible all over the Western world. But Detroit, which three weeks ago filed for bankruptcy, provides a useful microcosm.

In 1960 Detroit had a population of 1.6 million, 70 percent white, 29 percent black. The difference between the two groups was merely chromatic: they all worked hard, mostly in the motor trade. Detroit, then the fourth largest US city and the world’s automotive centre, was prospering.

But then the ‘social’ part of democracy kicked in, and the blacks were told that society owed them a debt for the injustices they had suffered 100 years earlier. The repayment could be claimed by earning without working.

Since work was now optional, education became unnecessary. In any case, much as socialists strive to change human nature, they’re fearful of developing human minds. After all, educated people could notice that an average politician is capable of committing several solecisms in one sentence.

Meanwhile in order to pay for the new entitlements the city had to raise taxes, especially those on property. These are now the highest in the country.

The hard-working people reacted in a highly predictable way: they ran away to sunnier economic climes. Moving in instead were people who didn’t know how to work but did know how to vote.

Now the city’s population is 707,000, with 85 percent of them black. Except that most of these aren’t the same people who used to work on Ford and GM assembly lines.

Skin colour, when it’s just that, matters only to racist pond life. Skin colour, when it becomes an ideology, matters to everyone.

Detroit has the highest murder rate in America and the lowest literacy: only seven percent of pupils can read properly. For every six OAPs there are only four people of working age.

How many of those four are actually working is anybody’s guess. The official unemployment rate is 10 percent, but of course such statistics can be massaged in any number of creative ways, such as excluding part-time workers or people on sick benefit.

Such creativity can distort the picture beyond recognition. Sick-benefit statistics in Britain, for example, show that the country has more invalids than in the wake of either world war. The cynic in me suspects that many of those beneficiaries should really be classified as unemployed – but honest accounting is contraindicated to dishonest politicians.

Mutatis mutandis, the situation in Britain is closer to that in Detroit circa 2013 than to Detroit circa 1960. How much closer depends on whom you’re listening to, but the parallels are there for all to see. The same ideology that corrupted Detroit’s blacks is indiscriminately corrupting all races in Britain.

The time bomb that’s social democracy is ticking away and one is tempted to say it’s up to us to stop it from going off. But then one looks at the available political options, and the temptation dwindles away.

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