Some blame a culture of comfort. Others blame politicians. Why not blame John Edwards?
In Greece, the bill collector knocks on the front door. The country staggers, one German forefinger from default. Default means fewer buyers for Greece's debt, even at much higher rates of interest. As we see with the housing collapse, financial institutions and economies globally interconnect. Trouble there spells trouble here.
The Greece deficit as a percentage of its gross domestic product is over 13 percent. The rules of the European Union, of which Greece is a member, require a percentage below 3 percent. Its debt as a percentage of its GDP is 115 percent. The EU requires a level of not higher than 60 percent.
Greece is but one of many "advanced" countries with bad balance sheets. To the list add Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, England, France and many others. Japan recently saw its bonds downgraded because of high public debt. In America, government continues to spend way more than it takes in, with the trend line rising higher. Our deficit-to-GDP percentage is close to 10 percent. Our debt-to-GDP percentage for 2009 was 83 percent -- with 94 percent expected in 2010.
This brings us to John Edwards.
The former Democratic presidential candidate talked about the "two Americas." In one America, everybody lives off the family trust fund. They know the secret handshake that admits them into Harvard and gets them the best tables at restaurants. They name their girls Ashley and give their kids German sports cars when they graduate from prep school.
But then there's that Other America.
In Edwards' Other America, everybody's a victim. "Oppressors" post signs above the ghetto or barrio or trailer park that say, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." Kids cannot or should not be expected to take advantage of government-provided education and easy entrance into a junior college, college or university -- often with subsidized tuition. In this America, we treat people as if they are too stupid or lazy to act responsibly. Did Edwards call for more cops, aggressive law enforcement and longer sentences to combat crime that makes life harder and more dangerous? Does he want parents to choose the schools their children attend? No, he wants to subsidize counterproductive behavior with an arsenal of welfare and entitlement programs, along with the "you owe me" mentality.
Americans, including the poor, live far better today than at any time in history. Life is easier, safer and full of choices. Success and upward mobility depend less than ever on physical strength and more than ever on knowledge. And knowledge is more accessible than ever. Most rich people did not start out that way. There is a great deal of upward and, for that matter, downward mobility. Many living in the Other America own their homes outright, own more than one car and live at a level of comfort that equals the middle class of even some "advanced" countries.
But Edwards tells us that it isn't enough to be blessed to live in a country that assures an unalienable right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We need guarantees. Government -- ignoring its limited duties prescribed in the Constitution -- must provide an ever-expanding "social safety net" at the expense of the work and wealth of someone else. Some have it better than others. And government should address the gosh dang unfairness of it all.
Class envy, characterizing "the disadvantaged" as victims, and stoking a sense of entitlement are the push-pull between politician and citizen. Never mind that society needs producers. It needs innovators, risk takers, job creators. Wealth takes work and lots of time. Luck of birth plays a part, but effort drives the bus.
Edwards, in fact, is a walking, talking refutation of the need for more government. In speeches, he'd tell, "My daddy was a millworker." Yeah, for a time. But Daddy Edwards got promoted -- as many hard workers do -- to supervisor and then to manager. The Edwards clan moved from working-class neighborhoods to a middle-class neighborhood. Then Daddy Edwards became a manufacturing consultant whose son became a rich medical malpractice lawyer.
Yet Edwards arrogantly insists that the formula his family applied -- good parenting, education, hard work -- doesn't work for the Other America, even though he started out in it.
The European social democracies, including Greece, were built on "economic equality" and "social justice" -- the costs borne by someone else. The bill is coming due. Proposed cuts in generous pensions and changes to early retirement face intense opposition and have already sparked riots. When robbing Peter to pay Paul, you can guarantee the support of Paul. But try taking stuff away from Paul.
Edwards' vision -- and that of President Barack "I think at some point you have made enough money" Obama -- is, in the end, self-defeating. It promises protection from want and uncertainty. But it delivers dependency, less prosperity -- and an even longer sentence in the Other America.