Peter Wehner contrasts the views of Charles Murray and David Brooks on the all-important question of whether the United States soon will become very much like Europe. Murray, in an address to the American Enterprise Institute, argued that there exists the real possibility that irreversible damage will be done to the American project over the next few years. Brooks, in a New York Times column, argued that America ‘s cultural DNA ensures that we will never be Europe, but rather will remain a vibrant commercial republic.
Like Wehner, I think Brooks is too sanguine. An observer of Britain in the early part of the 20th century might well have invoked its cultural DNA to deny that the British economic system could be radically transformed. But radically transformed it was, and without the assistance (to my knowledge) or any great demographic shift of the kind we’re witnessing in this country (there were two World Wars, though).
In any democracy, the majority will always be tempted to expropriate the wealth of those at or near the top of the economic heap. To the extent this temptation has been resisted in the U.S., it probably has less to do with our DNA than with the ability of our economic system to deliver something like the American dream on a mass scale.
But in the context of a highly competitive global economy, a large influx of unskilled immigrants, and the decline of the American family (among other daunting developments), this ability is diminished, even in relatively good times. In relatively bad times, the act of faith necessary for the majority to tolerate large-scale economic inequality becomes extremely difficult.