It must look foolish or arrogant to attempt to summarize, in a few paragraphs, complex historical events. But the aim here is to portray a very general pattern, not to describe everything or explain anything.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the industrial revolution was completed in the countries of Europe and North America, producing a sizeable middle class and a strong commercial ethic. In other countries like Russia, and much of Asia, Africa and South America, the rural population was a majority with primary industries, like agriculture and mining, predominant.
Governments of less economically developed countries were drawn to and often adopted single-party socialism or communism. While governments of more developed countries found themselves both forced and ready to adopt welfare-based (i.e. socialist) multi-party democracy.
The aim of the political classes (the State) in both cases was to win elections (i.e. hold on to power and wealth) through promising to relieve people of worry, risks and responsibilities: especially in regard to health, housing, education and old age.
People naturally dream of having the impossible before sadly returning to their reality—which is all that was ever on offer. Politicians in both welfare democracies and socialist states offered the dream and did not worry too much about denial of reality.
Politicians have worked to actualize the dreams of the age, or at least persuade the populace that their dream was in the process of being actualized: just one more 5-year plan, one more big reorganization of the public sector, another super-size regulator with a «czar» with tougher rules and targets, house loans for all, or even an all-out war on poverty.
As result, many of society's institutions took on forms that had severe in-built limitations and that had to eventually fail. Many socialist countries have collapsed and are attempting to establish ain Cycle-1. Welfare democracies may well be currently facing a collapse of their dreams by the corresponding transit in Cycle-2.
Despite ongoing demoralization, inefficiency and social failure in socialist countries, it was never possible to predict the date of a collapse. As it turned out, communism essentially disappeared around the world over a matter of months in the late 1980s—and with barely a shot being fired.
Life could never be about having our needs met by others as of right. Rather it must involve recognizing our responsibilities, and working hard to get what we want by meeting the needs of others. Our needs, interests and goals should be judged freely by ourselves insofar as is possible in our circumstances. After all, who else should or could judge?
This entails living and interacting with others in a constructive way.
Individually we can do this, but we have limited energy to give to changing our circumstances. Most times we just have to put up with things, or else immigrate to a different society whose imperfections we must also tolerate.
The failure of socialism was inevitable. The idea of rationally planning something as complex as millions of economic interactions from a single centre of power is fatuous. The notion that individual enterprise and effort should not earn fair rewards runs counter to every person's deepest instincts.
Being impossible, due to its inherent contradictions and inconsistencies, the socialist-communist psychosocial contract must sooner or later lead to collapse. Its collapse resonates with the inevitable collapse of the divine right of kings.
The liberal welfare democracy, devised in its present form near the end of the 19th century, fell into a similar populist trap.
Initially a lot was achieved, despite politicians mutually generating World Wars where supposedly civilized and cultured people got involved in killing many millions of their own kind re-labelled «the enemy».
Education and health improved. Economic conditions improved. Quality of life improved. But as the century proceeded, politics got more extreme. The ideological battle disappeared in the 1990s, but inhuman behaviour by supposedly humanitarian governments continued.
People talked about the «right to health», the «right to housing» as if they were equivalent to the «right to association» or the «right to move about freely» and did not depend on realities like genetic make-up, hard work, personal habits and general prosperity.
What happened? The unspoken contract between the people and politicians in the welfare democracies was that the people were free to be productive and accumulate wealth, as long as they paid taxes. The government could use these to redistribute directly and indirectly via services or even, at times, cash handouts.
When first instituted, welfare demands on welfare were limited—retirement was at the age of 65, and life expectancy was about 67 years. Attitudes to entitlements were also restrained in the early days.
Taken too far, and with competing politicians that was inevitable, the effect is to drain resources from productive and prudent people, and to encourage the rest to become imprudent and unproductive via dependence on the state. An entitlement culture developed and to feed it, governments had to go increasingly into debt.
By promising the majority wealth that was not rightfully theirs to give, politicians won elections. The majority acted as if unaware that the money handed out came from themselves and the productive sector, and that debt spent on their behalf would fall on their children.
While the communist political system selected for tyrants and thugs as political leaders, the liberal-welfare political system selected for politicians willing to bribe and lie.
The end-result is the insolvency of governments and their banking systems following the global financial crisis of 2007.
We can apply some simple axioms here:
Axiom #1: If a trend in a human system is unsustainable it must eventually stop. Usually… only after going too far—so the trend typically reverses towards the mean but overshoots.
Axiom #2: Almost any attempt by a government to solve a particular problem makes it worse—because… any problem is just one element in a complex system. While the intent is clear and seems positive, unintended but foreseeable consequences worsen the situation and often occur in an indefinite future. Also human ingenuity views any government effort as a commons to be used for self-advantage, so the system is gamed.
This makes it highly likely that:
As a result, we can safely make a big scary prediction: people will wake up one day, and see the consequences of their desires for dependency and the foolishness of a blind faith in politicians and government.
Opinion polls increasingly show that politicians are not trusted. Evidently wider society is not yet ready to act on its instincts and convictions. That means there is just not enough suffering.
One fear associated with economic calamity in the West is the re-emergence of fascist dictatorships. But oursuggests a far more positive view. Many Western societies seem mature enough to move to the . If so, they will not regress to a totalitarian fascism, which is based on a charismatic leadership promising magic solutions while displacing popular rage on to some convenient scapegoat.
Where societies are still in military dictators can re-appear to replace authoritarian politicians. Such societies live in a dream and such an outcome might represent the fulfilment of that dream. However, seems now well and truly past in the West. People may not be fully enlightened, but it is likely they have enough education and enough experience of both dictatorships and freedom to resist militant authoritarianism as a solution.
Before examining that imaginative-scientific prediction, continue to a further appraisal of political institutions in the West.
Originally posted: July 2009; Last updated: 27 Mar 2014