And Now, The Good News

Friday, July 30, 1999

Those of us who are pessimistic about the decline of American standards and apprehensive about this country’s future certainly had enough reasons to become more pessimistic during the past year. Fortunately, the White House scandal was not the only thing going on, and some of the others present a very different picture.

Teenage birthrates are down. So are abortion rates. So are divorce rates, violent crimes, and the number of welfare recipients. Teen drinking in 1995 was less than half of what it was twenty years earlier.

Children spend less time watching television now. Poverty among blacks has gone down. The marriage rate has had a recent upturn, after years of decline. (These trends are all plotted in the January/February issue of the American Enterprise magazine.)

We haven’t gotten back to where we once were, before the corrosive ideas and reckless practices that began in the 1960s created social disaster in the midst of economic prosperity. Still, there are too many signs of a turnaround to be just isolated coincidences.

The most important turnaround has been in people’s minds. Most working mothers today do not buy the “quality time” argument, as they did back in 1979. Most Americans today say that we are spending too much on welfare, while most did not say that just a few years ago. Premarital sex is no longer accepted among a majority of college freshmen, as it once was.

Trends have swung around worldwide. For the better part of this century—actually, the worst part of this century—socialism of one sort or another has been the goal of countries on every inhabited continent. In Germany it was National Socialism for a dozen hellish years. Communism was another form of socialism that reigned from Central Europe across Asia to the Pacific.

With so many signs of degeneration and regeneration, how is it all going to turn out? We don’t know. But now it is at least a contest in which we have a fighting chance.

Fabian socialism in postwar Britain and various kinds of socialism in newly independent African nations, as well as socialism in India and in parts of Latin America, helped complete the picture. In all these places, socialism began with a bang and ended with a whimper.

In the democratic West, socialism led to runaway inflation or soaring unemployment or both. In some African nations, there was an absolute decline in national output, while population continued to grow. Countries that used to export food began to experience hunger. In communist countries, there were deaths in the millions from starvation and government killings.

All this started turning around in the late 1970s. Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in America were the big names in the process, but even left-wing political parties in places like New Zealand and France began moving toward privatization and the market. Communist China moved toward the market after Mao’s death—and then doubled and redoubled its income per capita as a result.

With so many signs of degeneration and regeneration, how is it all going to turn out? We don’t know. We have never known. That battle has never been won once and for all. But now it is at least a contest in which we have a fighting chance, economically and morally, as well as politically.