A Country Addicted

Posted on 2012 June 25


How do you become addicted?

Easy. You start with a small dose of some pleasureable drug. It feels great! Of course, the drug causes weird side effects and eventually you come back down, which feels dully painful. So you take a little more of the drug and feel great all over again. This cycle repeats several times until you’re taking so much drug that the idea of stopping is unthinkable. Soon you’re spending a fortune, yet the pleasure and pain have equalized, so overall you’re much worse off than before you started.

How do we begin a new government program?

Easy. We start with a small project and toss a little money at it. It feels great to do something about the problem. Of course, the program causes side effects, and eventually we are pained by it. So we agree to spend a little more — hoping this time it’ll really fix the problem — and we feel great all over again. This cycle repeats several times until the program is so huge, involving so many people, that stopping seems unthinkable. We’re now spending a fortune but the advantages and disadvantages have equlized, so overall we’re much worse off than before we started.

Sounds like an addiction to me.

What’s the definition of addiction? Basically, it’s people who ingest drugs, get in trouble from it, but keep taking the drugs anyway, until their lives are consumed by it. Plus addicts will deny the problem and/or defend vigorously the addiction.

You know where I’m going with this. Just for the record, American government at all levels currently consumes just about half the entire economy, dominating education, medicine, charity (welfare, etc.), retirement insurance, infrastructure … and of course public security and defense. And, if you ask them, most people will defend vigorously our dependence on these programs.

Along comes a budget conference, where liberals want to spend a little more and conservatives (sometimes) want to spend less. They behave like two drunks sitting in a field — surrounded by cases of beer, bottles of wine, and several fifths of whiskey — and they start arguing over whether they should consume thirty-one beers today or try to cut back and only drink twenty-nine.

Are they nuts?!?

Not exactly. They — and we — are addicted to government.

Addiction can kill you, even if you are otherwise spectacularly successful. Think of all the entertainment and sports stars who ended their lives as addicts. A few hit bottom and managed to salvage themselves and return to success. But there’s no guarantee.

(I’m also thinking of Greece. And Spain and Italy. Meanwhile, big and successful America peers across the waters at those besotted fiscal wastrels, shakes its head in disapproval, and orders another drink.)

So how do we get clean? Not easy. Like an addict, we must confront the problem. That’s the hardest part. One does not hold one’s breath, waiting for an addict to face facts. And if the addiction involves something necessary to life — like food (or, for a country, national defense) — the user must learn somehow to consume exactly enough for survival but not so much as to slip back into addiction.

If the addict finally does face the painful truth, there are methods and means that can support sobriety, including active participation in recovery groups and an increase in positive activities like volunteering, hobbies, productive work, etc. But it can be a rocky road with many potholes and detours.

For our society, that kind of sobriety is, at present, The Road Not Taken. If we succumb to the temptation to blame our political opponents for these troubles, we remain trapped by the addiction. Still, we can change. We can let go of our addictive desire for bureaucratic control over others. We can learn to live and let live. It’s up to us.

But I’m not holding my breath.