Tuesday, May 18, 2010


UPDATE: below

Jeffrey Bergner in the May 17th Weekly Standard:
As Europe is rocked by the Greek financial crisis, which seems likely to spread to additional European states, it may be worth asking why anyone would see in European politics a model for the United States. Yet this is exactly the position of America’s political left, which looks approvingly at Europe’s health care systems offering universal coverage. Now that Obamacare has been enacted, moreover, some progressive voices are already calling for a European-style Value Added Tax (VAT) to pay for it and the other ballooning entitlement programs run by Washington. The left continues to press America to look ever more like a European centrally administered social welfare state.

Most Americans--not just conservatives--are uneasy with the European model. This is not just a matter of national pride or misplaced chauvinism. There is something about the European model that most Americans distrust. . .

Today’s Europe is trying to reduce the genuine political issues surrounding union to administrative questions. This is Europe’s way; this is what it knows how to do. That the next steps toward union are tougher than those taken thus far is testament to the fact that Europe is encountering genuine political issues, not mere administrative niceties. There may indeed be a "democratic deficit" in Europe, but it is not newly emerging from the attempt to form a union. It has been there all along, in the centralized administrative capitals of Europe. As it advances toward union, Europe is confronting its diversity, and the slowness of the process suggests how very difficult this is. Europe has been unable to create a union by administrative fiat because it still has not resolved the foundational political choices implicit in union, much less had its union seriously tested. In all of this, what is there for the United States to emulate? Indeed, perhaps America is the better model.

Second, the predominance of equality over liberty in Europe has led to another predictable result: European central governments are not agents for preserving liberty, but for doing the bidding of their peoples. The European government’s role is not to preserve liberty by checking its own powers, but to serve as an enforcer of equality. The European administrative state is unencumbered by the kinds of limits that restrain the American government. There are no sectors of life into which it should not intrude; there is no need for its actions to be "slowed down" by the restraints of precedent or complicated rules and procedures; there is no need for it to be checked by slavish adherence to a pseudo-sacred document written in the distant past; and there is no reason not to try to impose fundamental equality by administrative rules, as opposed to full political debate.

We see today the unsurprising outcome. Majorities will provide for themselves an ever-expanding menu of entitlements. What reason could exist to oppose them? In the absence of the tempering effect of liberty, which teaches governments prudence about what they should and should not attempt, massive entitlement spending only increases. Majorities demanding entitlements do not much trouble themselves about who will pay the bill. Democratic majorities--as opposed to freedom-loving citizens--are self-entitled. When money for these entitlements run out, as they inevitably will, there is only one way to find new funds: by borrowing from the next generation, for whom it cares little.

Europe is further down the course of self-created entitlements than the United States (though we have gained ground in the last 18 months). As ever new entitlements are provided, ever more taxes are levied; ever more taxes diminish the productivity and creativity of the people; the goals and ends of the populace become ever narrower, until finally even rearing a replacement generation is too great a burden, threatening people’s comfort; and ever more money is borrowed from ever fewer lenders. This is unsustainable, and the fact that it has not yet come to its unhappy conclusion is no reason to emulate it. European politics is a slow engine of self-destruction. The question is not whether, but when, it will collapse. And when it does, the result is likely to be a more rigid and meaner despotism than the soft despotism of today. . .

The only corrective to a too great love of equality is a tempering dose of liberty, that is, a degree of prudence about what the central government should and should not do. The only corrective to bankruptcy short of centrally mandated rationing is restraint of the role of government. In all of this, America still seems a better model for Europe than vice versa.
See also Dan Henninger in the Wall Street Journal:
For Americans, this has been a two-week cram course in what not to be if you hope to have a vibrant future. What was once an unfocused criticism of Mr. Obama and the Democrats, that they are nudging America toward a European-style social-market economy, came to awful life in the panicked, stricken faces of Europe's leadership: Merkel, Sarkozy, Brown, Papandreou. They look like that because Europe has just seen the bond-market devil.

The bond market is a good bargain--if you live more or less within your means. The Europeans, however, pushed a good bargain into a Faustian bargain, which the world calls a sovereign debt crisis. . .

After Europe's abject humiliation, the chance is at hand for the Republicans to do some useful self-definition. They should make clear to the American people that the GOP is "The We're Not Europe Party." Their Democratic opposition could not attempt such a claim because they do not wish to.
And see Robert Samuelson in Monday's Washington Post:
You might think that Europe's economic turmoil would inject a note of urgency into America's budget debate. After all, high government deficits and debt are the roots of Europe's problems, and these same problems afflict the United States. But no. Most Americans, starting with the nation's political leaders, dismiss what's happening in Europe as a continental drama with little relevance to them. . .

The message from Europe is that this approach ultimately fails. Intellectually elegant evasions are still evasions. Though financial markets may condone lax government borrowing for years, confidence can shatter unexpectedly. Lenders retreat or insist on punishing interest rates. Market pressures then impel harsh austerity -- benefit cuts or tax increases -- far more brutal than anything governments would have needed to do on their own. We are, by inaction and self-deception, tempting that fate.


The May 23rd New York Times:
Across Western Europe, the "lifestyle superpower," the assumptions and gains of a lifetime are suddenly in doubt. The deficit crisis that threatens the euro has also undermined the sustainability of the European standard of social welfare, built by left-leaning governments since the end of World War II.

Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism.

Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella. They have also translated higher taxes into a cradle-to-grave safety net. "The Europe that protects" is a slogan of the European Union.

But all over Europe governments with big budgets, falling tax revenues and aging populations are experiencing rising deficits, with more bad news ahead.

With low growth, low birthrates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle, at least not without a period of austerity and significant changes. The countries are trying to reassure investors by cutting salaries, raising legal retirement ages, increasing work hours and reducing health benefits and pensions.


OBloodyHell said...

> European politics is a slow engine of self-destruction.

As I have observed, Postmodern Liberalism is a self-destructive meme.

OBloodyHell said...

> "The We're Not Europe Party."

No, that's the Tea Parties

The GOP is the "We're Not As Europe As They Are" party.

And as long as Michael Steele is in charge, it's going to stay that way.

A_Nonny_Mouse said...

Why do our Western governments assume it's completely impossible to kill off the productive sectors of society -- those which PAY THE TAXES that finance all their wonderful, compassionate programs intended to improve this, mitigate that, and subsidize that other thing over there?

The political elites are sure gonna miss us when we're gone, aren't they?

suek said...

Leftists are two legged lemmings...