07 September 2006

Victor David Hanson on The Good Life

You can file this under Better Late Than Never.

I meant to post something about this just after I read it in late July, but lost the link and then kept getting interrupted in my attempts to find it.

Anyway, my hero Victor Davis Hanson published a column 31 July on “The Fragility of the Good Life.”

Think back to the Roman era of the "Five Good Emperors" — between A.D. 96-180 under the reigns of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonious Pius and Marcus Aurelius — when all problems of the turbulent past at last seemed to have been solved. There was a general peace, ever more prosperity from Mediterranean-wide trade, and a certain boredom and occasional cynicism among the Roman elite. Few then had any idea that three centuries of war, revolution, poverty and scary emperors like Commodus and Caracalla awaited their descendants — all a prelude to a later general collapse of Roman society itself.

I was reminded of this column yesterday morning while listening to the Mike Rosen Show. A caller was complaining about his wages not increasing to match his increased health care costs. He was just certain that this is wrong; it shouldn’t be that way. Prosperity should never come to an end. Our fortunes should never change, unless that change amounts to an improvement, of course.

But what if prosperity ends?

Prosperity can also be deceiving. Many Americans, despite superficial affluence, are in debt and often a paycheck away from insolvency. By historical standards, they are pretty helpless. Most of us can't grow our own food, don't know how cars work and have no clue where or how electricity is generated. In short, few have the smarts to survive if the thin veneer of civilization were to be lost, as it has been from time to time in places like downtown New Orleans (emphasis mine).

Not that Hanson doesn’t say enough, but let me close with this quote:

Wherever businessmen gather the talk turns to the present prosperity in America; how long it will last, and what will follow it. Periods of prosperity like the present always have one accompaniment. Always it happens that a considerable number of people think this particular prosperity will not end, that there will never be another panic or another depression. They are always wrong. They will be wrong this time.

That was written in The New York Herald on 27 November 1925. In case you don’t know, the writer was correct: that period of prosperity did come to an end. It came crashing to an end almost exactly four years later on 29 October 1929.

The present prosperity will end. Rather than deal with that—or apparently any other—reality, and prepare for it, Democrats would rather whine about how bad the present economy is, how bad the present unemployment numbers are. (Of course, like any politician, they will give lip service to the idea of preventing another depression.)

Oh, there’s one other thing. In a previous post I briefly mentioned, among other things, the “war” on poverty. Some time before the October 1929 crash, President Hoover declared that poverty in America had been abolished (see J. Garraty, The American Nation, somewhere around page 800 or so, I think; look in the index for ‘Depression’). The market did not return to pre-1929 levels until 1955—twenty six years.

Just something to think about as you contemplate the future and listen to politicians, regardless of party, talk about the economy.


About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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