Departing for New Hampshire in November 2010, Sen. Judd Gregg, the fiscal conservative President Obama wanted in his Cabinet, blurted an inconvenient truth: "This nation is on a course where if we don't do something about it, get ... fiscal policy (under control), we're Greece."
The remark was regarded as hyperbole. But Gregg had a point. For though Greece, measured by the size of her economy, is only 2 to 3 percent of the EU or the U.S. economy, she is a microcosm of the West.
Consider the demography.
According to the most recent revision of the U.N.'s "World Population Prospects," Greece in 2010 had 11.2 million people.
More than 24 percent were 60 or above, more than 18 percent 65 or older. Three percent were 80 or above. And, every year, for every nine Greeks who are born, 10 Greeks die.
Greece is slowly passing away.
Fast forward to 2050.
Greece's population will have fallen by 300,000 to 10.8 million. The median age will have risen by eight years to 49.5. Half the population will be 50 or older. More critically, the share of Greece's population 60 or older will be 37.4 percent, with 31.3 percent over 65. One in nine Greeks will be over 80.
If Athens is breaking under the weight of early retirement and pensions for seniors today, her situation will be horrendous by mid-century.
Where, in 2010, there were four Greeks under 60 for every Greek over 60, by 2050, there will only be 1.7 Greeks under 60 for every Greek over 60.
Conclusion: The retirement age must rise, and pension benefits fall, or Greece collapses.
What of the possibility of a new baby boom? Not likely, given that the fertility rate in Greece has been below replacement levels for three decades and is today only two-thirds of that needed to replace the present population.
Indeed, by 2050, the fertility rate of Greek women will have been below zero population growth for 80 years. One wonders: How can the U.N. estimate that Greece's population will fall only 3 percent by then? Is the U.N. assuming mass immigration from the Muslim world?
But what does Greece have to do with the rest of Europe, or with us?
Only this. The median age of all of Europe is rising, and the demographic numbers for Greece look positively rosy alongside those of the east, where population declines in the tens of millions are projected for Russia and Ukraine. And outside Iceland and Albania, not one nation of Europe has a fertility rate sufficient to maintain its population. Those that are projected to grow, like Britain, have to be relying on Third World immigrants and their higher birth rate.
But while this may maintain an existing population size, immigrants from the Maghreb, Middle East, Caribbean, Latin America and South Asia, on average, lack the language, technical skills and educational levels of native-born Europeans.
The same is true in the U.S., where peoples of European descent are expected to drop to half the population by 2041. Hispanics will grow from 15 percent to near 30 percent of the U.S. population, and their absolute numbers from 50 million to 135 million by 2050.
Yet, again, Hispanics and children of Hispanic immigrants have not, as of yet, reached close to parity in educational achievement with Americans of East Asian or European ancestry.
People equate today's immigration with the immigration of 1890-1920. But another major difference is this: We erected a Great Society over 50 years that did not exist in 1920.
In Washington in the 1950s, a city of 800,000, half black and half white, food stamps had not been invented. Families fed themselves. Today, in a District of Columbia of 600,000, one in five are on food stamps. Nationally, a program that did not exist in 1964 feeds one in seven Americans, 44 million people, at a cost of $77 billion a year. And that is but a small fraction of our new Great Society.
We are entering a new "age of austerity," said British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2009.
The halcyon days are over. Government payrolls, as is happening from California to New York to Washington, D.C., will have to be slashed. Pension and health care benefits, not only for seniors, will have to be reduced. Retirement ages will have to be raised. From food stamps to foreign aid, programs are going to be capped and cut.
The left believes it can get the money from the wealthy. But the top 1 percent of Americans in income already carry 40 percent of the federal income tax load, while the bottom 50 percent of wage-earners ride free. This, too, will have to end.
We are either going to man up and radically reduce government at all levels in the United States, or the bond markets are going to do it for us, as they are doing it today for Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
We're all Greeks now.