Don’t Blame the Young

October 24th, 2011 at 12:00 am David Frum | 61 Comments |

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Last week, I delivered the annual Thomas Ewing lecture at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.

Thomas Ewing served for many years in the Illinois state legislature, then in Congress in the 1990s. He was a Republican of course – in fact a namesake ancestor was one of the founders of the Republican party in Illinois in the 1850s.

The lecture was partly inspired by Herman Cain’s comment that if you are unemployed, you should blame yourself. The text of the lecture follows in full below.


It’s been aptly said: Americans admire underdogs -  and despise losers.

So many other cultures have jokes that express an ethic of resentment.

There’s the Russian joke about the peasant who has a single cow and is envious that his neighbor has two. The local sorcerer offers the unhappy peasant a magic wish. He wishes, “Kill one of my neighbor’s cows.”

There’s an Arab joke about a peasant who finds a magic lamp. A genie appears and offers him anything his heart desires, on condition that his neighbor will receive double the same wish. The lucky man considers then asks: “Poke out one of my eyes.”

In my own native Canada there’s a joke that a Canadian lobster pot does not need a lid: if any of the lobsters tries to climb out of the boiling water, the others will drag him back in.

I can’t think of an American equivalent of these jokes. The American attitude to success has always been summed up for me by a true story, not a joke, told by my wife. When she and I were still courting, she worked at a Los Angeles television production company. The company parking lot was taken over each night at 6 by the valet parkers of a nearby restaurant, a very expensive restaurant. Emerging late from work, my future wife noticed one of the attendants gazing lovingly at a magnificent car. I forget what it was, let’s say a Bentley. “It’s beautiful,” my wife said. “Yes,” he answered. “But it’s not the car I’d buy if I had the money.” And he proceeded to detail the car of his dreams.

That was a long time ago – let’s hope that he gained his success, and that’s he driving that very car home tonight up the Pasadena Freeway.

The American respect for individual success contributes enormously to the American national success. Russia, the Arab world, other places gripped by an ethic of resentment tend not to do very well.

People who believe they can succeed if they invest the effort are more likely to invest the effort in the first place – and people who invest the effort are more likely to succeed.

The American belief that it’s up to each of us to achieve our own success inspires Americans to do the work that will enhance their chances of success. Most of them. Most of the time.

But what happens to that American belief in success in a time of severe, prolonged, and widespread economic depression – a time like now?

Retired businessman Herman Cain currently leads the polls in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Two weeks ago, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Cain was asked about the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. He had this to say:

“Don’t blame Wall Street. Don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”

That would be a pardonable thing to say when the unemployment rate was near 3%. But when unemployment is 9% by the official measure, and much higher when you count all those who want full-time work but can only find part-time – it’s just not reasonable to tell those who don’t have a job to blame themselves.

Right now, if you aggregated all the people in the country who are seeking full-time work over here – and totaled all the current job vacancies over there – you’d have a ratio of about 5 job-seekers for every job possibility. I graduated from  college in another very tough economic year, 1982. But even then the ratio of job-seekers to jobs was about half what it is now. Seniors, I hate to be the one to tell you this – but then you probably already know – you are about to graduate into the worst job market since the Great Depression.

And it’s not your fault.

On my website,, we’ve hosted dozens of young contributors talking about your generation’s job crisis. Every time we do, we hear from commentators about how the young are the authors of their own misfortunes. They studied the wrong subjects in school. They are slackers who waste too much time playing video games. They’re entitled products of indulgent parents. You’ve heard it all yourselves I’m sure.

I agree: slacking is bad. Don’t overdo it on the video games. If any of you feel entitled, stop it.

It’s also true however that when your economy slumps into the worst collapse in output since the Great Depression, jobs disappear for physicists as well as poets – for grinds as well as slackers.

It’s wrong and unjust to blame most the generation that has suffered most from the catastrophe, but that did least to create the catastrophe from which they suffer. Your near neighbor Abraham Lincoln posed a better challenge:

“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.”

Let me try here a short history of the crisis and an outline of the right response.

Over the past generation, the US economy grew strongly. Comparatively few of the gains reached the typical American worker or family. In the summer of 2007 – that is, before the onset of the current crisis – the typical American worker was actually earning less after inflation than the typical worker earned seven years before.

Yet at the same time as wages were stagnating, housing prices were rising, and credit was being made more easily available to more people.

You all know what happened next.

People borrowed against their home equity to pay the bills their stagnant incomes couldn’t cover: things like college tuition for their children.

The American family sank ever deeper into debt.

Between 1986 and 2006, American households doubled their debt level relative to income – with the larger part of the increase coming after 1996.

Then the housing market collapsed.

And we discovered it was not only households who had borrowed heavily. Financial institutions had been incurring huge risks undetected by their regulators, borrowing 20, 30, 40, 50 to 1 against their capital. When the housing market went wrong, so did their bets. Great names like Citibank, AIG, and other colossal firms teetered on the verge of failure.

For a moment in October 2008, the entire commercial paper threatened to stop dead, sweeing away the banking industry, and plunging the country and the world into a new great depression.

The government intervened to rescue the financial industry. But as the gambling stopped, so did the flow of credit that had ballooned the economy – and the US economy plunged into the deepest recession since World War II. 8 million jobs were lost between the fall of 2008 and the spring of 2009.

Since the spring of 2009, the economy has recovered, but only very weakly. The private sector has added about 2 million jobs. State and local governments have cut about 500,000.

As you’d expect, wages are falling behind. The typical American family today has a lower income after inflation than in 1997. Job creation lags. Young people starting their lives face daunting obstacles.

In the first year after the disaster, the Obama administration took bold action to jump-start the US economy. The results have disappointed almost everybody. Now we seem locked in a state of paralysis

Despite stable prices and record-low interest rates, the Federal Reserve hesitates to act for fear of creating inflation – to my mind, the equivalent of refusing to use the fire extinguishers as the house burns down because you fear that you might flood the basement.

The Obama administration is proposing a new round of stimulus spending joined to higher taxes on high-income earners – a combination that looks designed to offend Republicans. The idea seems to be to force Republicans to vote no – and thus give a president who failed to achieve economic recovery a line of attack against his opponents in the election year ahead.

As policy fails, and the unemployed languish, a generation loses its start in life.  It’s startling to think that this year’s graduating class entered school as Lehman Brothers failed. Those freshmen must have assumed that things had to return to normal by the time they completed their degrees. Instead, even if we started creating jobs tomorrow at the best rate of the 1990s, we would not see normal employment again until the class of 2016 receives their diplomas.

In a crisis this bad, it’s clear what the political parties in Washington must do: argue ferociously over who is to blame.

I don’t see why they bother. There’s enough blame for everybody. More challenging is to discern the correct answer.

Let me give you an example of why this is difficult.

As the US economy has plunged into recession, the national debt has exploded, from some $6 trillion three years ago to $14 trillion. This debt is dismaying. But it raises a question: is the public debt a cause of the nation’s economic troubles – or a symptom of those troubles?

Many on the Tea Party right arraign the debt as the cause , and then conclude that cutting the debt by cutting government spending must be the solution.

Others – and I put myself in this group – dispute the Tea Party’s economics and its math. President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus cannot have caused an $8 trillion debt increase. The debt is caused by the collapse of government revenues – as a share of GDP, the federal government is now collecting less than at any time since the Truman administration. Government revenues collapsed because the economy is so weak. When the economy recovers, revenues will increase, and the deficit will shrink. Recovery alone will not do the full job – some spending cuts and some tax increases will still be required – but trying to balance the budget before the economy recovers will only make problems worse.

So there are analyses to reach and decisions to make before anything positive can be accomplished.

Yet even before this, we have a more fundamental level of problem to address – a problem that prevents the US government, especially the federal government, from acting even when a decision is made.

Some of you may know the name Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives. O’Neill served in Congress for more than 30 years. After his retirement in 1987, he was asked how Washington had changed since he arrived in 1953. He answered, “The people are better. The results are worse.”

What he meant: There are many fewer drunks in government than there used to be. Fewer crooks. Fewer cheaters and sexual harassers. More educated people, more people who have traveled or lived abroad. Yet back when Congress contained many more drunks and crooks and cheaters, back when the members were less educated and less traveled, nobody doubted that Congress would vote to pay the American national debt. This summer, a better educated, more sober, more honest, and probably less adulterous Congress pushed the United States to the verge of national default.

Every new president appoints about 10,000 people to staff his or her administration. That staffing process takes longer and longer with each new presidency, as we impose ever stricter disclosure rules. It’s like a watch winding down: Obama slower than George W. Bush, George W. Bush slower than Clinton, Clinton slower than George HW Bush, and so on.

In the 1980s, important measures often passed the Senate by majority vote, 53 to 47 or something like that. Today, we have a de facto 60 vote requirement.

You all know about the filibuster, and how 40 senators can stop things from happening. But oftentimes it takes only 1. A single senator has the power to delay indefinitely a vote on any presidential nominee – until recently, that single senator could even do it secretly. This power is not found in the Constitution. It’s not found in any law of the United States. It’s not even found in the written rules of the Senate. It’s a custom and convention that has grown up over time – and that now prevents President Obama from filling two vacancies on the Federal Reserve, the most important economic agency of the US government.

As you we all know, the federal government has already put $800 billion to use to stimulate the economy. The Obama administration is now requesting another $450 billion. Similar programs in the 1930s financed public works still visible to this day: the present Chicago waterfront, New York’s East River Drive, Philadelphia’s railway terminal, the embankment of the Los Angeles River. Where are our projects? Some roads and bridges have been improved, but there are no big signature projects. In fact, less than 1 dollar in 8 of the stimulus funds went to infrastructure at all – despite the economic studies that show that infrastructure spending is the very most effective form of stimulus.

Why so little? One important reason: unlike in the 1930s, modern infrastructure programs just move too slow. Environmental assessment, administrative review, notice and comment – we’ve built an entire legal and regulatory structure to ensure that every project is checked and double-checked. Result: while New York’s East River drive was finished in half a dozen years from proposal to paving, the equivalent road up the west side is still unfinished half a century after the first proposals.

Nobody wants to return to the old days when highway engineers could bulldoze half a city without anyone able to stop them. But years from now, when America looks back at our time with 9% unemployment, the federal government able to borrow for 10 years at an interest rate of 1.5%, it will say: this disaster was also an opportunity to build and rebuild your airports, your highways, your rail networks, your sewer systems, your data networks – and what did you do with it? I don’t think we’ll be very proud of the answer.

Where does the answer begin?

I’d suggest: the answer begins with you and me – and especially with you, the students in this room.

Your parents and grandparents have strained American system of government. They inherited a system of government that can only work if infused with an ethic of compromise and negotiation –and they broke that system with a radical refusal to live up to that ethic.

Most democracies are parliamentary systems of one kind or another. In Britain for example, the party that wins the most seats in the House of Commons forms a government. A majority government in Britain is very powerful, it can do almost anything it wants. The opposition’s job is to try to mobilize public opinion against the government – in hopes of persuading voters to replace the government.

If the US had a British system of government, the current leader of the country would be Prime Minister John Boehner. But the US has a very different system, in which Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama must find ways to share power, not only amongst themselves but with the Senate and the Supreme Court too.

Everybody must agree if anything is to happen. Remove the spirit of give-and-take from the system and the system breaks down – as it seems to be breaking down today.

Let me point to 3 examples of the system break-down that should matter to people in this room.

1) The United States pays more to treat sickness than any country on earth. About 17% of national income is spent on healthcare. The next runner-up, Switzerland, spends about 13%. Most democracies spend about 11-12%. If the US could magically reduce spending to Swiss levels, it would be the equivalent of getting the US defense budget for free.

Yet the US is not healthier than countries that spend much less. Americans live two years less than Canadians – and the longevity gap is widening.

Americans don’t see the doctor more often than people in other countries. When they get sick, they don’t spend more time in hospital. If they get cancer, their odds of survival are somewhat better than Brits or Canadians, but not dramatically so.

Where does the money go? The short answer seems to be that everybody involved in American healthcare is much better compensated than their European or Canadian counterparts.

Why doesn’t some Sam Walton or Henry Ford entrepreneur come along to make a giant fortune by squeezing costs and delivering a decent product at a much lower price? The short answer is that we’ve passed a vast national system of rules and regulations to stop that healthcare Sam Walton or Henry Ford.

Health insurance is regulated by the states, not the federal government, so we have 50 marketplaces, not 1. We passed a new prescription drug benefit in Medicare, making the federal government the largest buyer of pharmaceuticals – yet it’s not allowed to use that buying power to press for discounts. Most working-age Americans receive health insurance through their jobs, in ways that conceal the true cost of that insurance, so that there’s little competitive benefit to an insurance company to squeeze providers to reduce costs.

And when I say “we” have done this, I mean both parties, acting together, to protect their industry constituencies.

2) Since 1970, the United States has admitted 40 million migrants into the country. I’m one of them, I was born in Canada. Unlike the pre-1970 immigrants- and unlike post-1970 immigrants to Canada and Australia – the post-1970 immigrants to the US are less well-educated and less-skilled than the native born population. Increasingly, immigrants arrive poor – stay poor – and have poor children and grandchildren.

The tilt in US immigration policy toward the poor and unskilled imposes very large costs on the whole country. ETS – the people who write and administer the SAT – estimates that immigration decisions already made ensure that the US workforce of the 2030s will be less skilled and even less literate than the US workforce of the 1990s. Social welfare costs will rise accordingly.

How’d this happen? It happened in large part because we have taken a very permissive attitude to illegal immigration. In the decade of the 2000s, for example, more than half the immigrants to enter the US entered illegally: somewhere between 5 million and 8 million people depending on who is counting.

No other country on earth faces an illegal immigration population on anything like this scale, because most countries punish employers who use illegal labor. Enforcement is never perfect of course. Illegals still find work in small enterprises and farms. But only in the United States do you find entire industries – and major corporations – using illegal labor on a very large scale.

One short anecdote illustrates why this is so.

In the 1990s, the meatpacking industry massively shifted from legal to illegal labor. Illegal labor was preferred not only because illegals could be paid less per hour, but also because meatpacking is a very dangerous job. An injured legal worker is entitled to worker compensation, health care and other costly benefits. An injured illegal worker has no recourse.

Prodded by outraged unions, the Clinton administration launched a crackdown on the industry in the late 1990s. Packing plants were raided, accounts were audited. Some big plants were almost 90% illegal, which does not happen by accident.

The response? The meatpackers protested the crackdown and Congress defunded the enforcement program.

Through the next decade, illegal labor flowed into homebuilding, eldercare, and other major industries. It wasn’t a secret. And from the point of view of the public officials averting their eyes, it wasn’t really a policy failure either: they saw illegal immigration as an important component of America’s competitiveness strategy, a way to suppress wages and thus inflation.

Today’s debate over a fence on the Mexican border is a distraction, and I’d suggest: a deliberate distraction. Any fence will be tangled in litigation: it took 11 years of lawyering to build just 14 miles of fence between San Diego and Tijuana. Enforcement must take place in the workplace – and that is precisely where the most powerful lobbies in US society wish to prevent it from occurring. I think it is powerfully symbolic that the most strident voice demanding a fence, lethally electrified no less, is that of Republican candidate for president Herman Cain – a past chief lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association, one of the most powerful of the anti-enforcement lobbies in Washington.

3) Well before the crisis of 2008, the United States faced chronic and growing budget deficits. A budget deficit is not merely a financial problem. It’s an indicator of political failure: an inability to bring means into line with ends.

For three decades – with a brief interval in the 1990s – the United States has been unwilling or unable to reduce spending to meet revenues or to raise revenues to meet spending.

Of course when I say “the United States,” that’s just a figure of speech. What really happens is that one political coalition refuses to allow cuts in healthcare spending, another different political coalition demands a big defense budget, and a third and different coalition refuses to allow revenue increases.

In a parliamentary system, like Great Britain, these three coalitions would eventually meet in the office of the Chancellor the Exchequer, and he’d have the power to force a compromise between them

Even in the United States, there used to exist an approximation of such a coordinated system, managed by powerful figures in the White House and Congress. That system broke down in the 1970s, and has never recovered. The different coalitions snarl at each other, demanding the others retreat and surrender, in an ever-intensifying conflict with ugly racial, regional, generational, and class undertones.

These confrontations seemed intractable enough even in times of relative prosperity. They will divide the country even more painfully in the years of austerity ahead.

How do we make rational choices in a Congress where leadership has broken down, where lobbyists command so much power, and where so many members have come to disdain compromise as betrayal?

Failures to govern leave the system on automatic pilot.

Which is how it happens that Americans spend 10x as much on Medicare treatments for the last 2 months of life as on the early childhood nutrition programs that shape the chances of poor children over their entire course of life.

Which is how it happens that Americans find it easier to raise the most economically harmful taxes – payroll taxes in 1983, capital gains taxes in 1986, income taxes in 1993 and very possibly again in 2013 – than to impose economically beneficial taxes on pollution or consumption.

Which is how it happens that the demands and fears of the generation passing from the scene so displace and dominate the needs and yearnings of those arriving on the scene.

It’s not a happy story. It’s a story that you can change. Our institutions grow, but they do not grow by themselves. They are shaped by the efforts of human beings.

The bad political habits that have gathered upon us in the past generation were once novelties. They can be junked as antiques.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has movingly urged that “politics shouldn’t be so different from the rest of life, where rational people do somehow find a way of overcoming their disagreements.”It was so once. I can be so again. It must be so if we are to lead this country out of its economic crisis – and to a better future.

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61 Comments so far ↓

  • Primrose

    I’m not sure we are are so much a non-resentment society as that we shift our resentment to the poor. We would rather let children suffer needlessly than one person get benefits they don’t deserve. We have an increasing bitterness to any one who asks of us an obligation, even if in giving it we save ourselves money.

  • zephae

    One thing I would’ve added about the question “is the public debt a cause of the nation’s economic troubles – or a symptom of those troubles?”:

    The scope, severity, and longevity of the unemployment crisis also puts a huge strain on income security and social service programs as more people are added to the roles for long periods of time. As the economy improves, not only does revenue increase, but large amounts of spending on these programs are greatly reduced, producing a two-for-one deal on deficits and debt.

  • Graychin

    I never blame the young. They didn’t make our world. We did. When I look at where we started and where we are today, I’m ashamed of my generation. No one is going to call us The Greatest. We were selfish. We still are.

    Blaming the unemployed for unemployment? Why not? Screw the next generation. We got ours (frequently given to us). Let them get their own.

    Leave my government benefits alone, and cut my taxes. Vote Republican.

    • Fart Carbuncle


      Everyone is responsible for their own actions.

      If you have no values, like many of today’s youth, then you deserve what you get.

      “If [Christopher] Dawson is correct, the drive to de-Christianize America, to purge Christianity from the public square, public schools and public life, will prove culturally and socially suicidal for the nation.

      The last consequence of a dying Christianity is a dying people. Not one post-Christian nation has a birth rate sufficient to keep it alive….The death of European Christianity means the disappearance of the European tribe, a prospect visible in the demographic statistics of every Western nation.”

      -Pat Buchanan

      • Pavonis

        No, what is amusing is that atheists have a lower divorce rate than Evangelicals in the U.S. And that the crime rate has been dropping for years. Or that more secular countries (Japan, Western Europe) have less crime, poverty, and teenage pregnancy than the U.S.

        And what the heck is Pat Buchanan blabbering about with the “European Tribe”? Western culture has spread all over the world. You’ve got to be insane to believe it is in any danger. Unless, of course, you’re into fascistic racial purity theories.

        • LauraNo

          Oh, “European tribe” is code for “white tribe”. What a sicko that guy is.

      • DeathByIrony

        And Pat Buchanan is worthy of quotation because…

      • Graychin

        Unlike Mr. Buchanan, keeping America White doesn’t matter to me. Why should it?

        • Fart Carbuncle

          Historians will look back in stupor at 20th and 21st century Americans who believed the magnificent republic they inherited would be enriched by bringing in scores of millions from the failed states of the Third World.

  • Bingham

    Jesus Christ. 10,000? Political appointments? 10,000?

    Or am I missing something?

    • beowulf

      Look on the bright side, local postmasters aren’t patronage appointments anymore.
      But yeah, that does seem like a lot.

  • David Frum Says “Don’t Blame the Young” | Precinct Politics

    [...] == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}David Frum, the namesake of, recently gave a speech at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, about an hour drive from where I am writing this post, [...]

  • SFTor1

    Well, David, if you had named names in some of the examples you used to illustrate Washington intransigence, we would have had full disclosure, and The Republican Party would have been exposed for the obstructionists they are.

    It’s damning enough as it is, actually.

  • Levedi

    These days I only have one question when I read articles like this – What do I, the average voter, do now? The article makes sense. It’s well written. I just don’t know what to do to fix the mess. Clearly, Herman Cain is not going to be my pick for president, but I’d already decided that. So, now what?

    • rbottoms

      1.) Vote Democrat

      2.) Vote Democrat

      3.) Vote Democrat

      • DeathByIrony

        Romney is fine, if left to his own devices. It’s the simple fact that he brings the modern republican party along with him.
        There is of course, every reason to believe that he could run through life ignoring his party’s more unreasonable missives, a la Barack Obama.

        • wileedog

          “There is of course, every reason to believe that he could run through life ignoring his party’s more unreasonable missives, a la Barack Obama.”

          Maybe if he got a 2nd term, but I have a hard time believing the man who has spent the last half decade twisting himself into a pretzel to get the GOP nomination is suddenly going to stand up on principal his first 4 years in office when he knows he will be primary’d by the loonies in a heart beat if he goes off script.

          The Dems are more forgiving to their wayward sons – look how long Lieberman held office. Look at the fact that there are things like Blue Dog Dems – there is no equivalent in the GOP.

          If Romney gets in with a GOP controlled congress and doesn’t slash and burn the federal government to the ground they’ll get another lineup of crazies to run against him in 2016, and he knows it. I fully expect him to be a rubber stamp his first term if he gets in, with his total goal getting a 2nd term. Its really the only thing that defines him.

      • Fart Carbuncle

        Many of us left the Democratic plantation long ago.

        In the United States, years of government largesse promoted by Democrats have progressively built an entitlement culture, a culture of slavery to the government.

        Personal freedom and independence have, for many people, been traded for the false sense of security promised by the recurring free lunch. Capitalizing on this pervasive expectation of something for nothing, politicians promise more and more in the form of pork barrel spending, government bailouts, and health care reform, knowing that if citizens are willing to trade personal independence and freedom for dependence on the government and consequential slavery, political objectives of power and control are easily within reach.

        So, if you’re smart, you will:

        1) Vote Republican

        2) Vote Republican

        3) Vote Republican

        • jrd555

          That would be an option if the Republicans hadn’t gone off the deep end when it comes to economics. But the movement on the right is now so anti-intellectual, anti-government spending that anyone who has even a basic grasp of the economy really can’t vote for them. So I’m stuck. Vote for Obama and hope he doesn’t turn left or vote for whatever nut gets the GOP nomination.

  • roubaix

    Thanks for posting this, I enjoyed it.

  • rbottoms

    My only quibble is not distinguishing between blanket criticism of the young by the likes of Herman Cain and those of us who criticized a few of the more entitled sounding youngsters for not even considering career in the military.

    Every single one of the college educated unemployed (Americans) who have posted here could join the Army and get into OCS (Officer Candidate School) in a heartbeat.

    So yes, they do have a choice, one that they wouldn’t under any circumstances consider. And given their likely conservative bent and militarish views it makes being a Chickenhawk all the more relevant.

    • Bingham

      But then what would the Guatemalans do, arby?

    • Giggles

      Frankly people don’t want to join the army because they might get killed or maimed. There are other problems including long tours of duty, distance from loved ones, inherent discrimination (DADT as a start), the killing of citizens, endless war in Afghanistan, and picture postcards like Abu Ghraib.

      The fact is the military budget is due for a cut and as the private sector has already proven payroll and benefits are the easiest to cut.

      • Pavonis

        One of my unemployed friends is just too short to join the military. Other people are against the Iraq War. Yet others would make bad soldiers. There are many reasons. If the U.S. itself is attacked, everyone should join but otherwise I think it is too much to ask.

    • Ray_Harwick

      Maybe it’s because that 5 to 1 ratio of people to jobs available David mentioned also applies to the officer corp. Ya think? I do. It’s not just that. We probably have the brightest enlisted corp this country has ever had and that’s because these same college graduates turned to the military because they couldn’t find a job. Aside from that, a sizable number of college graduates are not physically fit enough to even survive basic training – much less battle conditions.

    • rbottoms

      My comment isn’t based on every one of them being good soldier material.

      It’s that not a single one of them have tried.

      • zephae

        Considering the youth of our military and the fact that many of them join partly to pay for college, I have to ask who you hang around? I personally have a couple of friends that are in the military and either already have or are planning to get a better education, so where are you getting the idea that “not a single one” has tried?

        • rbottoms

          I was referring to the bloggers for Mr. Frum who are jobless and aren’t from Canada, though the Canadians could of course join their military.

      • Henson

        Your comment was posted in ignorance. It is actually very difficult to get a commission at all right now because of that bad job market we’re discussing. It is even more difficult to get into an OCS class. OCS is used to fill gaps not filled by the academies and ROTC, and is largely filled with prior enlistees with experience and skills the military finds more marketable than a sociology degree. The military doesn’t just hire people because they’re qualified. They hire people for the same reasons anyone else does – there’s an opening, and the applicant is competitive.

        - A recent Navy vet

        • rbottoms

          Actually, I was an NCO. I see nothing wrong with being an enlisted soldier. I just assumed that would be to lowly a position for these finely groomed college grads to accept. As we used to say, I’m an NCO, not an officer I work for my money.

          Lot’s room in all the services for new E-1′s.

        • Henson

          That’s the thing. There isn’t room for a lot of these people. The military isn’t hiring any more than corporations are, but their entrance requirements are probably much more stringent. Oh, you smoked pot in school? Oh, your hearing isn’t the greatest? Well, 5 years ago that would’ve been a waiver request, but now? Next in line, please! You’re not worth my (the recruiter’s) time.

  • hisgirlfriday


    Thanks for sharing this speech and I hope your trek to Central Illinois was a positive and hospitable one.

    Mr. Ewing was my former Congressman and his daughter was a very nice, smart band teacher in my hometown for a few years. It’s a shame that Mr. Ewing was unable to prevail in his fight with Phil Gramm over SEC regulation of credit default swaps when he sponsored the Commodities Futures Modernization Act. I would imagine another address could be devoted just to that topic’s affect on our economy for young people going forward.

    Anyway though, I hope that while you were in Decatur you were able to check out some of the many local Lincoln sites. For example, even if you didn’t have time to make it to Springfield, Decatur’s intersection of Main and Main Streets was where Lincoln delivered his very first political stump speech. Lincoln, a supporter of Henry Clay and the Whig’s American System, was making the case for “internal improvements” to the nation’s infrastructure having seen up close as a flat-boat captain the need for these improvements to maximize commercial productivity.

    He would run for the Illinois General Assembly a year later on a platform of transportation infrastructure improvements, banking reforms and universal free education.

    If only the party of Lincoln could adopt his platform once more…

  • MurrayAbraham

    I agree with almost everything. My dissent? Resentment.

    We do have a very powerful resentment culture in our country, only it isn’t directed at financial success but … education. And I always perceived it as a disguised resentment for wealth given the cost of education in our country.

    • Ray_Harwick

      Well, if Sarah Palin is an indictor (and she is), there is a resentment of “elites” in this country. The list of who falls into the class of elites grew by leaps and bounds with the introduction of Palin to the rest of the 49 states. I think we can safely say that Palin and that one-third of the country David identified would call David Frum an elite.

      However, I think David is talking about a national consensus of resentment and I just don’t see that resentment beyond the Tea Party mentality. The overwhelming majority of people revere and prize educational achievement.

    • Redrabbit

      Americans cloak their class warfare in ‘cultural’ terms, which is acceptable to the right, as opposed to economic terms.

  • He Loved Big Brother

    The young are the only ones showing any sense of outrage and responsibility at the appalling behaviour of their parents generation (of which i, at age 50) am a member. We should not blame them, but they should most certainly blame us. The disgraceful politics, accompanied with the relentless transfer of wealth from the young to the old and from the weak and poor to the powerful and affluent is a recipe for revolution. Let us hope that when the young find their voice they will perhaps be able to forgive us, but do not count on it…..

  • nhthinker

    Frum misses as much as he hits…

    1) Global market for labor that is willing to work for much less than the coddled liberal arts educated graduates.

    2) In addition to health care, the US pays much more per-capita on military defense and military aggression than citizens of any other country.

    3) Today, many Americans are openly disrespectful of people with some types lower skill jobs. Our lexicon now includes “McJob” with the implication that it is more respectful to be unemployed than to take a lower wage job or relocate to place with more opportunity.

    4) Emphasis on entitlement became the touchstone of the Democratic Party not long after JFK spoke the famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you,..”

    Frum’s essay sounds like Carter’s “Malaise” speech: Compare that to JFK:

    “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shank from this responsibility – I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

    And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.

    My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

    Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own. “.

  • quell

    Dude….no one cares about Dead White Male Phailosophy anymore. The Global Demographic Singularity is Near.
    Pax Americana is dead and the “freed” market is revealed as the soul-less rapacious harvestor of the masses that it has always been.

    vox populi, vox anon

    • nhthinker

      Quell, Go revel in your inane delusional SyFi philosophy.

      The derisive of “acting white” by working hard at school and in the economy, has done more to hold back non-”white males” than almost anything else.

      Non-”white males” that immigrate to this country and have not been tainted by victimization mentality actually do quite well.

      The US is still the land of opportunity for those that want an opportunity as opposed to wanting a land of entitlement.

      • quell

        land of opportunity? how much of that opportunity was dependent on cheap energy and americans being the overclass of the world?
        game ovah.
        No more cheap gasoline.
        After the Arab Spring, the American Fall.

    • rbottoms

      There’s this little bit of government action you may have heard of called Welfare Reform, happen nearly 20 years ago?

      When Rush gives you some new talking points how about trying them out?

      I’m all for Angry White Men(tm) fighting the Democrats of the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s with the same slogans and ideas that worked back then. The rest of the world has moved on from scary black bucks buying steaks on welfare with white ho’s on the corner and the mythical black woman with 50 kids riding around in her Cadillac pimp-mobile.

      • LauraNo

        Some people can’t, or won’t, evolve so they just keep spewing the same old crapp. Somehow, it works for them.

        • nhthinker

          Hard work and being thankful works for me.
          I save at a rate that is less than the average Chinese but much more than the average American.
          I do not over-consume and look to people like Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet as living well within ones means.

          A Starbucks on every corner is a sign of a very warped and indulgent false prosperity.

  • Ray_Harwick

    This speech is a keeper. Thank you, David.

  • Steve D

    My parents (of the “Greatest Generation”) recalled the Depression and World War II, and were fond of the old line about starving children who would be glad to eat what we had. It wasn’t a cliche – they knew first hand that prosperity could be lost.

    The other side of prosperity should be feelings of gratitude, not entitlement. Instead my generation and those after it embraced prosperity but resented its shortcomings. First it was Civil Rights (and none of the people who drove the Civil Rights crusade were Boomers – Martin Luther King, Earl Warren, William O. Douglas, Rosa Parks, Eisenhower who called out the military to enforce the law – not a Boomer in the bunch. Boomers didn’t drive Civil Rights any more than OWS will drive real economic reform.) What we really resented was anything that intruded on our complacency. We embraced prosperity but resented the waste it generated. We embraced free education but resented tough grading. We embraced services but resented taxes. We embraced free sex but not the consequences. We embrace the Internet but don’t want to pay for service. We embrace cheap goods but resent the big box stores and offshoring.

    The ultimate resentment is against reality itself. I see many people who are angry at reality itself merely for having consequences. It’s reality’s fault that I have a lousy lifestyle merely because I dropped out of school and did drugs. It’s reality’s fault that I’m in prison. Reality should give us whatever we want without consequences. Reality may have a liberal slant when it comes to energy, climate change, and evolution, but when it comes to lifestyle consequences, reality slants very conservative.

    And now? We resent the stagnant home prices instead of being grateful to have a home. We resent stagnant wages instead of being grateful to have a job. We resent the cost of health care instead of being grateful to live in a time when we have public sanitation (which is actually responsible for most of your long life span) and surgery. How much of the “doubled productivity” of the 2000′s did you personally generate? Do you work twice as hard, or twice as fast? Did you learn a programming language or a real human language? Here’s one: in this global marketplace, are you absolutely proficient in the metric system? If I say 23 kilometers, 61 kilograms or 22 C can you picture that in American terms? If the productivity is your boss’s because he invested in new infrastructure, how is that an increase in your productivity?

    I would personally like to see a quick return to prosperity. Where we need to go morally is a different place. It will mean abandoning casual credit purchases. It will mean houses dropping in value to where most workers can afford them. It will mean actual hard work, instead of merely complaining how hard we have to work.

    • Xunzi Washington


      I mean, I suppose that no matter how bad things are, you could always just be thankful that you’re not dead and take that as your reason to STFU. On the one hand, I get the virtue in being thankful and not letting resentment rule your life, but on the other hand you act as if people shouldn’t be upset and that they really don’t have anything to complain about at all. That’s just the reverse vice – instead of being guided by resentment, you stick your head in the sand and blind yourself with excessive gratitude. This, it seems to me, is the quick path to a kind of senseless quietism that I have no doubt that those with power and money would be more than happy if we all embodied.

    • LauraNo

      It’s not true, or fair to say “we” about all those things. Say “republicans” or “some people”. I have never resented tough grading or taxes or all the rest you state until you get to stagnant wages and falling home prices because that is something an evil political party and evil greedy lobbyists and corporations imposed on us, not because it is a fact of life. I resent the high cost of health care, because, again, an evil political party causes that to be the case, not because it is inevitable. I resent the lack of jobs because that SAME evil political party fights for the free-for-all on Wall Street that causes these Great Depressions. Etcetera.

      • nhthinker

        I suppose you have a great explanation of why Greece and California, both overwhelming run by liberals for the past 50 years, are in much more trouble than the conservative countries and states.

        Let’s hear it…

  • benjidia

    This article is wrong on way too many levels, but let’s try a few. The TEA Party wants LIMITED GOVERNMENT-that means not only quit spending money, but get out of the way. THEY are responsible for the current economic conditions by REQUIRING banks to give loans to people who couldn’t afford it. Second, my son graduated in May of 2011 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He had 3 jobs offers in one week! Major DOES matter, and he makes more money than his dad. Third, going into massive debt for school is the fault of the parents! They must live above their means so they think their kids can too. We could afford engineering school and an expensive technical school for my daughter because WE lived way below our means. Time to be responsible for ourselves and quit thinking government is the answer. Never forget Solyndra etc etc etc. We are smarter than them!

    • zephae

      Are you really saying the banks were so incompetent they couldn’t have identified a bad deal for them and tried to stop it? They absolutely could’ve said no to those requirements and lobbied for reasonable limitations, such as substantial down payments, to protect themselves from the risk, but they didn’t. The reason for that was they saw a tremendous opportunity to gamble and make a whole lot of money. Sure, there was a risk it would all fall apart, but they knew they were so integral to the system (“too big to fail”) that the government would certainly come in and bail them out. How is that not their responsibility? And further, they were the ones that cut this stuff up and poisoned the entire financial system with it. I didn’t see the government giving AAA ratings to bad investments, but that’s exactly what happened anyway.

      Second, there have already been articles on this very website about students with engineering degrees that couldn’t find a job. Just because the prospects are a little better doesn’t mean they don’t still suck. What would you say about the woman living in Houston and working full-time for an aerospace contractor that has a master’s degree in physics and systems engineering, has no kids, lives in a modest 1 bedroom condo, but still can’t afford her student loans and has to tutor on the side to make ends meet? She was responsible, but still gets hammered and you act as though there isn’t a problem here.

      • zephae

        Taking a little more time to read up on the Community Reinvestment Act and the claim that it drove the mortgage crisis, I found this little gem of a line from its wikipedia page:

        “Some economists, politicians and other commentators[105][106] have charged that the CRA contributed in part to the 2008 financial crisis by encouraging banks to make unsafe loans. However, every empirical study that has looked at CRA loans has concluded that they were safer than subprime mortgages that were purely profit driven, and CRA loans accounted for a tiny fraction of total subprime mortgages. [107]“

  • benjidia

    Forgot one other fact: There are currently 70 self-proclaimed socialists in Congress. One side wants government to control everything and they would re-write the constitution to make that possible. The other side thinks America is a great country because of the constitution and capitalism. Where is the compromise? It doesn’t exist! 2012 will be a battle for the future of the country, luckily there are more people who value freedom and liberty than those who don’t. Google “socialists in Congress” if you don’t believe me, they aren’t hiding.

    • LauraNo

      Why in the world would they hide? What kind of lopsided view of America do you have that you think people need to hide their politics in the USA? If that were the case, every crackpot Ron Paul supporter ought to be in hiding, along with every right-wing nut job who thinks the Confederate flag should be on license plates. But no, they are all around me, I see them everywhere on my tv and boy, have you got a load of those republican candidates at the primary debates? Talk about out-there in lala land…

  • nikhil_gupta

  • valkayec

    Mr. Frum, yours was a wonderfully accurate speech. I agree with it, and would only cite one complaint. That complaint is that you failed to note clearly and definitively the corrosive and corrupting effect of money in politics.

    Remember when Secty. Clinton said that it’s very difficult to criticize or take action against China’s economic policy when that very country is the one funding your own country? Well, the same is true of politicians. Because of the vast amounts of money politicians require to run for office, they cannot make effective policy responses for fear of offending the very people, corporations, and unions that provide them with the donations required to run for office.

    The challenges the country faces are not insurmountable but are becoming more and more structural as the years pass. Yet, our elected officials are incapable of addressing these challenges because they are afraid of offending their donors whose money is relied upon.

  • tiffinsmith

    “THEY are responsible for the current economic conditions by REQUIRING banks to give loans to people who couldn’t afford it.”

    This statement is unequivocally false.

    • rbottoms

      What’s your point? It’s what Republicans believe, it doesn’t have to also be true.

  • rpwinfield

    “How do we make rational choices in a Congress where leadership has broken down, where lobbyists command so much power, and where so many members have come to disdain compromise as betrayal?”

    Nexus of the discontent felt by Occupy Wall Street & the Tea Party is indeed K-Street.

  • buddyglass

    While I think Cain is mostly a buffoon, I’m highly sympathetic to his quote on unemployment. It does seem that a great many of the unemployed are in that situation due to poor choices, lack of foresight, or a refusal to take lesser positions and/or relocate.

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