Three premises underlie Kevin D. Williamson’s “The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome”:
1- “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” / “Reality is not optional.”
2- The modern welfare state is in such a position, having greatly over-promised future benefits.
3- In the absence of the welfare state, quite a few goods currently provided by the state, both public and private, will be provided via private, voluntary social arrangements.
The first premise is axiomatically true, and the second is nearly self-evident. The third point, I would argue, will be a matter of degree or severity.
The awesomeness of all this is that these privately provided goods, by virtue of being subject to market forces, will gradually improve and will sooner or later surpass the utility of the goods presently state-provided.
Along the way, Williamson reminds us that politics – even our beloved constitutional democracies – are categorically the same as a mafia protection racket, though in most cases qualitatively preferred to the goon squad. Politics is violence. (You will eventually go to jail for failing to comply with even the most mundane ordinance.) “Legitimate” government holds the monopoly on acceptable violence. These are things many of us have heard before, but it’s helpful to hear them again from time to time.
More importantly to the argument, politics is a sclerotic process, not subject to the same competitive, iterative market forces that continually improve most other human endeavors. “Politics” is incapable of learning from its mistakes… until things collapse.
A dubious unstated premise is that the collapse will be swift. (At the very least, the potential ugliness of The End is not discussed.) Despite the apparent imminence of The End, I suspect the welfare state will not go gentle into that good night. Attempts will be made to salvage and extend the welfare state in a crippled form for many decades to come.
It does not take too much imagination to envision the US under a decrepit welfare regime turning into exaggerated form of present day Japan – a fully infantilized population, purchasing Hello Kitty umbrellas and socks, marrying inanimate objects, and to the extent that some are still capable of human interaction, licking each others’ eyeballs for kicks. I personally suspect that our culture is so far shot that it will take quite a bit to get things back on track. Mutual aid societies from Ye Goode Olde Days seem absolutely quaint.
Nevertheless, the collapse will happen, and we will have to figure out how to provide the things that are currently being rendered by the state. The book may be a little optimistic about how goods such as education, and even some degree of security and justice will be privately provided, but come Hell or high water, they will be so provided. Throughout the book, Williamson gives us examples of how these things were accomplished before the Leviathan state and how certain current voluntary arrangements bypass or complement state-provided goods, so it is not unreasonable to think that we’ll eventually stumble though, necessity being the mother of invention.
Some of the examples given are quite intriguing. The book imagines a third-party service that stops purchases at the point of sale if the service determines that the transaction violates some previously expressed preference, such as not buying goods produced in inhumane conditions. By this market-oriented process, human rights abusers will be punished where it really hurts them, in their wallets. That sounds a lot more efficient than sending John Kerry over to Derkaderkastan to scold officials and impotently threaten economic sanctions.
Just to nit-pick a little over the difference between education and an iPhone, education is bound by human factors to the extent that iWidgets aren’t. There’s only so much information you can cram into a kid’s noggin. While there is much room for improvement in a more market-oriented environment, education will never experience the same sustained exponential improvement that electronics have over the last thirty to forty years. (I’m almost positive there’s a technical term for this, but it’s been over a decade since I’ve taken Econ.)
Clocking in at a manageable 218 pages, and written in a snarky style reminiscent of his fellow NR writers Steyn and Goldberg, “The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome” is a serious but not dense or overwhelming exploration of what we’ll all be doing when government isn’t capable of doing things for (or to) us.