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Fear and Rejection

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Ya-ta Boy

Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Location: Established in 1994

PostPosted: Thu Jun 02, 2005 6:46 am    Post subject: Fear and Rejection Reply with quote

This is an opinion piece by David Brooks, from the NY Times.

June 2, 2005
Fear and Rejection

Forgive me for making a blunt and obvious point, but events in Western Europe are slowly discrediting large swaths of American liberalism.

Most of the policy ideas advocated by American liberals have already been enacted in Europe: generous welfare measures, ample labor protections, highly progressive tax rates, single-payer health care systems, zoning restrictions to limit big retailers, and cradle-to-grave middle-class subsidies supporting everything from child care to pension security. And yet far from thriving, continental Europe has endured a lost decade of relative decline.

Western Europeans seem to be suffering a crisis of confidence. Election results, whether in North Rhine-Westphalia or across France and the Netherlands, reveal electorates who have lost faith in their leaders, who are anxious about declining quality of life, who feel extraordinarily vulnerable to foreign competition - from the Chinese, the Americans, the Turks, even the Polish plumbers.

Anybody who has lived in Europe knows how delicious European life can be. But it is not the absolute standard of living that determines a people's morale, but the momentum. It is happier to live in a poor country that is moving forward - where expectations are high - than it is to live in an affluent country that is looking back.

Right now, Europeans seem to look to the future with more fear than hope. As Anatole Kaletsky noted in The Times of London, in continental Europe "unemployment has been stuck between 8 and 11 percent since 1991 and growth has reached 3 percent only once in those 14 years."

The Western European standard of living is about a third lower than the American standard of living, and it's sliding. European output per capita is less than that of 46 of the 50 American states and about on par with Arkansas. There is little prospect of robust growth returning any time soon.

Once it was plausible to argue that the European quality of life made up for the economic underperformance, but those arguments look more and more strained, in part because demographic trends make even the current conditions unsustainable. Europe's population is aging and shrinking. By 2040, the European median age will be around 50. Nearly a third of the population will be over 65. Public spending on retirees will have to grow by a third, sending Europe into a vicious spiral of higher taxes and less growth.

This is the context for the French "no" vote on the E.U. constitution. This is the psychology of stagnation that shaped voter perceptions. It wasn't mostly the constitution itself voters were rejecting. Polls reveal they were articulating a broader malaise. The highest "no" votes came from the most vulnerable, from workers and the industrial north. The "no" campaign united the fearful right, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, with the fearful left, led by the Communists.

Influenced by anxiety about the future, every faction across the political spectrum found something to feel menaced by. For the Socialist left, it was the threat of economic liberalization. For parts of the right, it was the threat of Turkey. For populists, it was the condescension of the Brussels elite. For others, it was the prospect of a centralized European superstate. Many of these fears were mutually exclusive. The only commonality was fear itself, the desire to hang on to what they have in the face of change and tumult all around.

The core fact is that the European model is foundering under the fact that billions of people are willing to work harder than the Europeans are. Europeans clearly love their way of life, but don't know how to sustain it.

Over the last few decades, American liberals have lauded the German model or the Swedish model or the European model. But these models are not flexible enough for the modern world. They encourage people to cling fiercely to entitlements their nation cannot afford. And far from breeding a confident, progressive outlook, they breed a reactionary fear of the future that comes in left- and right-wing varieties - a defensiveness, a tendency to lash out ferociously at anybody who proposes fundamental reform or at any group, like immigrants, that alters the fabric of life.

This is the chief problem with the welfare state, which has nothing to do with the success or efficiency of any individual program. The liberal project of the postwar era has bred a stultifying conservatism, a fear of dynamic flexibility, a greater concern for guarding what exists than for creating what doesn't.

That's a truth that applies just as much on this side of the pond.


What is this about Polish plumbers? I've seen several references to them lately, but none tell what incident/situation is being refered to.

I've only been to Greece and that was back in '89. For those who have visited both the US and Europe, are living standards really 1/3 lower in Europe? And for anyone who would know, is European productivity on a par with Arkansas--which except for Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods (chickens) is not known for economic leadership but is otherwise a pretty nice place to visit?
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Joined: 02 Feb 2003

PostPosted: Thu Jun 02, 2005 7:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good article.

It's possible the standard of living is much lower, though you have to factor in the freebies and longer vacation time the Europeans enjoy. Purchasing power is certainly much lower and higher taxes cuts things down further.

I was always under the impression that American liberals were not so much reacting towards the European way of life (which seems far more "liberal" than American liberals feel comfortable with) as they were reacting against the harsher aspects of the Republican Party's values--but perhaps I was mistaken on that. It would take much higher taxes in America to effect even a portion of what Europeans enjoy as far as welfare state policies go, and even liberals are nervous about that.

This bit from Brooks sums it up rather well:

"It is happier to live in a poor country that is moving forward - where expectations are high - than it is to live in an affluent country that is looking back."

The huge issue of declining birth rates/aging population seems to make European decline almost inevitable unless immigration is increased, and I doubt there are too many calls for that at present. The wefare state can't survive if no one is paying to support it.
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Ya-ta Boy

Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Location: Established in 1994

PostPosted: Thu Jun 02, 2005 9:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My take on the American liberal/conservative thing that you mentioned is this: (and it is just my opinion)

American liberals see the flaws in capitalism and work to fix them. For example, if capitalism is successful, it tends to destroy competition, which is the heart of capitalism. So the liberals intervene with government regulations that attempt to preserve or restore competition. The liberals also see Big Business as a rival of government and want to use government as a balancer, since individual workers certainly can't go toe to toe with the CEO. As many on this board have pointed out, American liberals are not far enough left to be considered socialists. I think that is true. Ironically, it seems that there are more Marxists now than before the Berlin Wall fell--and they are all in the universities. I'm pretty sure you could fit all the American socialists in one medium-sized football stadium and have room left over for the outright communists.

One of the conservatives will have to explain what they think. As far as I can tell, American conservatives just hate any and all governments and shout "Me! Me! Me!" There must be more to their philosophy than that, but I haven't figured it out.

One of the nice things about the NY Times is that it publishes both liberal and conservative opinion pieces. George Will and David Brooks are two of the more well-known conservatives.
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Joined: 18 Jan 2003

PostPosted: Thu Jun 02, 2005 10:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some people have no idea how good they have it. And some of the biggest whiners have it so good. Reminds me of an article about Norway. (or was it Finland?) Something like: "Everyone complains because we have (the best of) everything."
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Leslie Cheswyck

Joined: 31 May 2003
Location: University of Western Chile

PostPosted: Thu Jun 02, 2005 3:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Europe is dying.

Europeans, start f*cking!

It is the only way.

Send in the Viagra Corps.
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