The Most Dangerous Deficit of All

Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

The Most Dangerous Deficit of All

The tanking economy is beginning to expose our lack of strong character.

Looting takes guts. Few people have the nerve to smash their way into an empty shop and risk getting caught. However, far more would burglarize a store that had already been breached—if conditions were right.

Don’t believe me? Remember New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina broke the levees, thousands remained stranded without electricity, without transportation, without communication, and enclosed by rising toxic waters. With police preoccupied with search and rescue, soon the city was crawling with deputy criminals. They ransacked evacuated shops, emptying them not only of water and food, but also jewelry, small appliances, tvs, computers. They brazenly roamed the streets hauling boxes, trash bags and shopping carts packed with stolen goods. They armed themselves with knives and guns from weapons dealers and pawn shops.

Many of these people under normal circumstances wouldn’t think to do such things. But desperation drew them toward depravity. They watched others doing it—they felt abandoned by the government—they became intoxicated with bitterness and a sense of entitlement—they rationalized their criminality in dozens of ways. And they successfully convinced themselves there was nothing wrong with it. Thus, the city plunged into lawlessness. Within two short days, thugs and gangs held siege. Arsonists arbitrarily set buildings ablaze. Rescue workers became targets: Snipers fired at military helicopters; one shot a policeman in the head; crooks assaulted trucks trying to reach survivors with provisions. The chaos was so violent that beleaguered national guardsmen were given shoot-to-kill orders—against ungovernable American citizens.

Here’s the take-home lesson. Trials reveal people’s hearts. They dig up the soil and let us see what we are made of, as British preacher Charles Spurgeon said.

This fact is eminently worth contemplating as we witness this economic slow-motion multicar pileup hitting the world. Fiscal irresponsibility is causing business failures, which is hammering jobs, which is decimating consumer spending, which is motivating bureaucratic recklessness, which is ravaging currency values, all of which is stirring social unrest and, in some cases, actually toppling governments (witness Iceland and Latvia). Optimism is scarce. Warnings waft through the air from every corner of just how bad conditions will get.

What, then, will this sequence of trials end up revealing about us? Early indicators are worrying.

In the United States, the shrinking power to consume is putting people on edge. “Recessions breed pessimism,” wrote the New York Times’David Brooks. “That’s why birthrates tend to drop and suicide rates tend to rise.” Mental health experts expect increases in drug and alcohol use, depression and anxiety—not to mention criminal behavior like thievery. ucla psychiatrist Timothy Fong says the mindset among a growing number is, “I used to be able to afford that, I should be able to afford that now, I deserve that stuff.”

Police departments nationwide are already reporting increases in thefts, robberies and burglaries. Britain’s crime rates are surging, and the government blames the economy. There, police are bracing themselves for a “summer of rage” as those losing jobs, homes and savings take to the streets in potentially violent protests. Known activists are preparing—all they need are malcontent “foot soldiers” to stir havoc.

Cash-strapped families are suffering through a rise in domestic violence. At the same time, cash-strapped states are slashing social services such as aid to victims of domestic violence.

Such trends are bound to spiral downward as dwindling public funds also force cutbacks in law enforcement. Already some police departments are requiring that policemen take periodic days off without pay, or are laying them off completely. Miami Police Chief John Timoney says, “The fact that most police departments currently are being asked to make cuts is an indication of how badly this recession is affecting local tax bases.”

Again, the concern is not about individuals just waiting for a chance to commit crimes. It is that it only takes a few who are willing to break the glass. Once the breach occurs, there are almost certainly many who would follow them across the line into lawlessness.

Just look at Latvia. A few weeks ago this former Soviet republic witnessed a peaceful demonstration, 10,000 strong, erupt in a violent riot. Protesters pried cobblestones from the streets, threw them through the windows of shops, offices, even the Finance Ministry, and began looting. Soon, Molotov cocktails were flying at police. Such demonstrations are flaring up all over Europe.

Expect similar fireworks in a city near you. Gerald Celente, who tracks global trends for corporate clients as head of the Trends Research Institute, says the next three years in America will see job marches, food riots, widespread tax rebellion and massive social disruption. As much as we might want to ignore him, Mr. Celente successfully forecasted the 1987 stock market crash, the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, 1997’s Asian currency collapse, the subprime mortgage debacle, and last year’s failure of several Wall Street giants. And he predicts that because people today have so much to lose, conditions will get worse than those of the Great Depression. “You’re going to see crime levels in America that are going to rival the Third World. Welcome Mexico City,” he told Russia Today. “You’re going to start seeing people being kidnapped in this country like they do in other underdeveloped nations. So it’s going to be very violent in America.”

Given the fact that Jesus Christ Himself told us that trouble in the end time would escalate into horrors worse than any in human history (read Matthew 24:21-22), it is difficult to ignore such a warning.

When severe trials hit, such as those now developing, only two things can prevent civilization from giving way to the law of the jungle. One is strong individual character. The other is strong, authoritative government.

Most Americans are investing their hope in the second of these. Enormous faith is being placed in the power of federal bailouts and social programs to prevent a Great Depression ii. This is misplaced faith. Reckless federal spending of non-existent money, the rewarding of irresponsibility, and a record increase in public welfare dependency don’t qualify as strong, authoritative government. These plans are absolutely bound to fail, and the subsequent public disillusionment and social disruption will be even worse.

Watch for a strong-government response on the European continent, however, that will work. It did before, amid the economic collapse and unrest of the Great Depression, as right-wing fascist and nationalist governments took over and restored order—to chilling results.

Absent such a radical shift in the U.S. and Britain, the preservation of civilization will rest solely on the character of the citizenry.

Talking to those who personally endured the Great Depression makes clear that strong character held society together. People sacrificed, families drew closer, mothers made underwear from old flour sacks, children pitched in to earn extra pennies or to collect coal for heat, neighbors helped one another.

Certainly there are many people who would take that same course in the face of depressed conditions today, at least initially. But there are also plenty of others who simply don’t have the internal strength of character to do so.

They are really just a few broken windows away from joining the criminal set.