The only thing we have to fear is…insufficient fear?

by Michael Smith.

There’s not much to like about the federal government’s runaway spending and mounting debt, but there is a bright spot in the picture: public awareness. Thanks to bank bailouts, stimulus packages and other forms of conspicuous consumption practiced by Washington since the 2008 financial meltdown, Americans no longer see the national debt as a dry subject best left to bean-counting bores. They’re beginning to see it for what it is: an existential threat to the nation’s future.

That’s no small matter. As any reformed alcoholic can tell you, the first step to recovery is to acknowledge the problem. The abstract nature of deficit spending makes it much easier to ignore than your average hangover, yet the scales have fallen from the nation’s eyes. Credit the failure of the big banks, AIG and General Motors for the sudden awakening. The public debate over “Too Big to Fail” made a lot of people realize that there is no such thing.

The wave of personal bankruptcies and home foreclosures drove the point home just as institutional failures dominated the news cycle. The result was a phenomenon with unequaled power to focus the mind: fear. When real danger is afoot, fear is good. It’s also perfectly rational. We need more of it if we’re going to curb the unsustainable growth of government.

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