The Coming Civil War
On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, a Union fort in Charleston Harbor, on the South Carolina coast. It was the first battle of a bloody Civil War which would last 4 long years. The war pitted the industrial Union against the agrarian Confederacy. The Civil War was ostensibly about slavery but it was also about the rights of individual states to make their own laws versus a central government forcing them to abide by laws that were not in their best interest. (As immoral as it was, slavery was a important part of the South’s economy at the time.). When the war was over the Union was preserved at the cost of 750,000 Americans lives.
One hundred and fifty years later, another civil war looms on the horizon. This war won't be fought on battlefields, it will be fought in the hearts and minds of Americans. This one will hopefully end up being a lot less bloody but could conclude with the end of the USA as we know it.
This country is divided. On one side are millions of Americans who receive transfer payments in one or more forms (Welfare, unemployment, Social Security Disability, Medicare and Medicaid, student loans etc….) and on the other are people who create the wealth that is transferred. If an answer is not found soon we may find ourselves broke.
Before you assume that this is another Right Wing rant and click to another page, let me assure you that this is not an argument for elimination of aid to people who may really need it. Nor is the answer to raise the taxes on the idle rich. Despite the calls for these actions, they would only provide short term relief.
The divide in this country is as historian Arthur Herman put it a “battle between those who see wealth and prosperity as something created by hard work, ingenuity and innovation in a free market system-or something to be doled out by the government”(or the “makers and takers”). In the past two generations millions of Americans have grown up believing the Government should provide aid wherever it is needed instead of teaching people to be more self sufficient. Government should protect them and enrich their lives. There will always be those who can’t make it through no fault of their own. For them the Government should help them until they can get back on their feet. Government should be the last resort. But for too many over the past few decades it has been the first choice.
At it’s simplest there may seem to be a divide between the rich and poor in this country. But transfer payments are not only for the poor. In 2008, nearly 52 million Americans were recipients of Social Security (nearly 90% of all people over the age of 65). Unemployment, Medicare, federal college grants and guaranteed student loans are used by many Americans, not just the poor. I myself have taken advantage of Unemployment on a few occasions in my life and Social Security is a key element in my retirement planning. My son could not have graduated from college last year without college grants and student loans.
So it looks like we are all in this together. But unless a solution to our fiscal crises is found, there will come a day when the transfer checks are light (or just don’t come out at all) because there is not enough money to go around. That day may come next year or thirty years from now. What will happen then?
Events elsewhere in the world seem to suggest it won’t be pretty. As a reaction to Argentine President Chistina Kirchner’s austerity actions, rioters in her country ransacked supermarkets, and department stores in that country last month. Rioters demanded free food and other items. Looting and vandalism were rampant. In Greece earlier this year similar actions took place.
Could those things happen here? I can’t read the future and granted Argentina and Greece are closer to default than we are. Hungry and angry people will act similarly everywhere. What worries me is what happens when unemployment or Social Security checks stop coming? To many Americans, these transfers are the only thing keeping them from poverty. Most of these people are not the ones who will take to the streets. It may cause an unhealthy resentment towards the people that they consider to be the cause of their misery. This would lead to a weakening of the nation. Would we be able to come together as a nation despite our conflicts to respond effectively to a challenge from outside the nation; say the rise of China as an economic power, or a jihad against us? With a great percentage of our tax revenue going to transfer payments and interest on debt, our ability to finance an effective and powerful military would be compromised. Other government activities would be effected and the ability for our children to go to college would be in danger
But how could we avoid this situation. It will take hard work, compromise, willingness to work to solve the problem and time. Between 1837 and 1860, the US had eight Presidents all of which could see the coming storm clouds and none were successful in stemming the conflict.. They were willing to “kick the can” to the next President and Congress to solve. The result was a long and bloody Civil War. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were willing to rely on their successor solve the problem and the current President seems to be willing to do the same thing. It will take cuts in spending and higher taxes for all for us to be able to solve this problem. The President and Congress must be willing to govern by what is best for the country in the long run and not by that days opinion polls.
James Fearon a scholar at Stanford defines a civil war as “a violent conflict within a country by organized groups that aim to take power at the center or a region, or to change government policies” Other scholars contend that each side must have at least 1000 casualties per side annually. Hopefully, the coming conflict will not have these numbers. It will be in the minds and hearts of people, rather than on the battlefield. If we don’t solve it we are in deep trouble.