Hoover Institution historian Victor Davis Hanson’s latest column has a theme: “For answers to the next century, look back at the last one.” He is essentially rephrasing the tired and worn out axiom that those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.
Unfortunately, this tired and worn out axiom holds much truth. One can look at recent policy disputes and gather some idea what might result if those in power proceed as intended.
First might be the future cost of health insurance. Projections abound have them rising, but the reason should have been clear to those crafting the Affordable Care Act, particularly with mandates. History shows that government mandates—mostly state-level prior to the ACA—create artificial demand; and the additional demand drives up prices. So for the feds to promise and expect premium savings from a law containing more mandates was either dishonest or naïve.
Next might be the New Year’s deal over sequestration. There is much history to guide one to reasonable conclusions with regard to tax and spending deals of this sort. In the 1980s, Congress passed $280 billion spending cuts in exchange for a $98.3 billion in tax hikes, but spending continued driving upward and upward. Now, with tax hikes in place, Congress spends a lot of time looking for ways to undo the cuts—and it is reasonable to conclude that they might do just that, with the exception, perhaps, of defense cuts (more on that below).
Third, one might look at defense at the end of conflicts. Nations naturally and necessarily cut back their armed forces at the end of war, but the United States has a history of arguably going too far and cutting in an imprudent manner. Following the Gulf War (and Cold War), the US slashed defense spending, and when the Global War on Terror went hot in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military was too small and had not evolved for the threats at hand. Of the sequestration cuts, defense comprises the largest portion, and the feds appear to be sacrificing advances in favor of a bottom line.
Last is a current debate: immigration. The year 1986 featured the exact same debate with the exact same parameters. The deal is a promise of enhanced border security in exchange for legal status for illegal immigrants. Much like the tax deals of the past, the border security didn’t happen after 1986, leading to the exact same problem today, only an exponent thereof in terms of scale.
While the actors and particulars might change, history can, indeed, share valuable lessons for the future. Unfortunately, modern actors tend to opt for learning their own lessons, even if they are practically the same ones future generations learned with great and unnecessary pain.