THE INVISIBLE hand has been writing on our wall of late, and the message is scaring the markets. [There] is real trouble afoot, and the world's political and economic leaders are terrifyingly . . .
. . . out of their depth.
. . . .
The world's leaders have been on trial these last few months. In Europe, a long running [read long-running] currency crisis has tested the commitment of Europeans to the social ideals they so often speak of, and to the community of nations they have worked to build since the 1940s. . . .
In China they have been on trial as the accumulating evidence suggests that corruption, incompetence and malfeasance damaged the country's vaunted high speed [read high-speed] rail project and led to the deaths of dozens of passengers. . . .
In Japan they have been on trial since the tsunami last spring. Would Japan's bureaucracy tell the truth to the public? After a lost generation o stagnation would Japan's government come up with an effective plan to reconstruct the north and rebuild the country's economy? . . .
And in the United States we have a stagnant economy, a mounting debt and no real idea of the way forward. Would Washington come up with a constructive, future-oriented program to move the economy forward and start the adjustments necessary to prepare us to live within our means -- and to grow our means so it wouldn't be hard? . . .
Europe, China, Japan, the United States: the leaders of the world's four largest economies are nowhere near passing the tests that history has set for them. In all four places the instincts of the politicians are the same: to dissemble, to delay, to disguise and to deny.
. . . .
The message -- and it is not only for the lords of the feast -- is that we aren't great enough for our times. The challenges are immense and exhilerating; too many of us are shabby and small. We tread the endless circles of our own habits and ideas while around us the world is changed beyond recognition. We accept shabby lies and conventional fictions for solid truths; we build our homes upon the sand, and demand government subsidized insurance in case the floods come.
. . . .
. . . . [What] was extraordinary about Europe 100 and 200 years ago and is largely lost now was never imperial power or economic might. It is the cultural energy and dynamism that once made Europe the greatest font of creativity and ideas since ancient times. The art, the music, the philosophy and science of Europe captured the world. Now Europe designs very nice shoes, and its Michelin starred restaurants serve very nice meals.
Europe's challenge isn't to fix the euro or to reform its pensions. . . . Its challenge is to become Europe once more: to be as adverturous, as profound, as creative and yes as dangerous as it once was. . . . What matters in Europe is that the younger generation wakes from the materialist, conformist affluence -- deep wells of listlessness, anomie and despair concealed under whatever ephemeral cultural fads and fashionable causes drift by. They must begin to live, to take risks, to dare, to create and to build -- and, among other things, that means they (like the other affluent people) must start having children again.
. . . .
[In the United States, stale] quibbling over expense cutbacks that will not significantly reduce the deficits, and reforms that will change very little, is not what we need. Americans have the opportunity and the duty and the urgent pressing need to move into the future, to do and be more than ever. The thin rhetoric of a backward looking [read backward-looking] president, the obstreperous negativism of an opposition better at rejecting what it hates than building or even conceiving what it needs, the lotus-eating educational formation that cuts us off from our past, and the incessant noise of a superficial pop culture: none of this is worthy of America at its best and none of it will help us now.
We are not at the end of the road, but we are close enough now that the specter of national bankruptcy is becoming discernible through the mist. The frantic twisting and turning in both America and Europe as our societies come to realize just how we have overpromised and underpaid is only a start. We will blame the politicians as much as we can, but we the people have lied to ourselves. We accepted promises that sounded too good to be true[;] we accepted counterfeit promises and passed them along as good money.
Denial has been our closest companion and our best friend. . . .
To say that Greece is the same as Germany is a lie. To say that the pensions and health care benefits promised to state and local employees in much of this country will be paid in full is a lie. Nature does not honor lies; false promises cannot be paid. . . .
. . . .
Of what does this looming bankruptcy consist? In our case it is the looming inability to pay the trillions in unfunded liabilities of all levels of government, but behind it lies a deeper failure and a poverty of soul. Spiritual near-bankruptcy is the common condition that binds China, Japan, Europe, the US [read United States] and much of the rest of the world together.
The extraordinary pettiness and superficiality of what passes for social thought among the Davoisie of all cultures is rooted in a spiritual condition that Carlyle diagnoses with this customary mercilessness and clarity. The Davoisie who try to steer the world's various ships through the reefs and storms of our day have chosen for their core values what Thomas Carlyle rightly called the meanest and most despicable set of goals that the human race has ever found: we have made ease and wealth the goals of our policies, our governments, and our cultures. . . .
. . . .
China, Europe, America, Japan: each in its own way is moving toward comprehensive bankruptcy: financial, spiritual, social. Recent tremors in world financial markets are a warning from the invisible hand that we are skirting dangerously closs to that final frontier, but we will miss the point if we do nothing more than put our financial affairs in slightly better order.
(Walter Russell Mead, "The Invisible Hand is Writing On Our Wall," American Interest (blogs.the-american-interst.com), August 5, 2011)
Did you pick up a whiff of an Old Testament in Mr. Mead's jeremiad? His father is an Episcopal priest. And the full article is built around the story in the Book of Daniel about how an invisible hand wrote on the wall of the palace of King Belshazzar of Babylon: "Thou are weighed in the balance, and art found wanting."