Thursday, June 11, 2009

No Free Continental Breakfast

It seems that there is a “taxpayers' revolt” of sorts currently afflicting the liberal/socialist establishment of many countries in Europe, as well as the EU itself. The theme: Pushback against bailouts, stimulus plans, and nationalization, American-style. And this is all being taken by the “conservative” press over here as a warning sign to the Obama administration not to go too far with all of this collectivization business lest it come back in the form of rude rejection in 2010 and 2012. But this argument is way too simplistic and misses a number of points. To begin with, socialism has been an on-again, off-again (but mostly "on") thing in Europe since World War I; it has had ample time to show its strengths (assuming there are any) and weaknesses (which are legion). But in any case, the baseline of socialism in Europe is much higher than it is here, and is likely to stay that way. And I don't see Europeans rejecting socialism per se simply because there is no significant competing ideology – there is no European equivalent of American rugged individualism (vestigial tho' it may be), laissez-faire, vigorous capitalism, “being your own boss”, or genuine risk-taking. (And there is also no fetish for continuous economic "growth", boosterism, or a "frontier mentality".) National government and business have been poodles in each other's laps over there for generations. And Europe also suffers from a lack of American-style icons; is there a European equivalent of John Wayne? Of Gary Cooper? Of Ronald Reagan? Of Rush Limbaugh, even? I doubt it very much. So without examples – even mythical ones – or a coherent ideology of political liberty and economic freedom, the Europeans are unlikely to throw off the shackles of socialism at any time in the foreseeable future; it will be a matter of working at the margins at best.

But there is another angle to all of this, and it is fraught with irony. The Europeans seem to be rejecting bailouts, stimulus plans, and nationalization (which is funny considering how much of their economy has been nationalized for decades), all of which are seen as liberal or left-leaning ideas. But they can just as readily be seen as conservative, right-leaning, and fascist ideas; no one was ever a better friend to big business and industry than Hitler and Mussolini. So are the Europeans rejecting socialism of both the left persuasion and the right persuasion? Again, I doubt it. They are rejecting one narrow band of _application_ of socialist principles of whatever origin, but certainly not the principles per se.

Furthermore, the notion that the pushback in Europe is handwriting on the wall for Obama & Co. entirely misses the point that the world-wide economic crisis started right here, and under a Republican (and allegedly “conservative”) administration. So if the Europeans wanted to package-deal these issues, they could just as credibly reject conservatism, nationalism, and meddling in the affairs of other countries, since these were all earmarks of Bush & Co., on whose watch the whole catastrophe got under way (albeit, aided and abetted by Democrats and liberals). The main thing tying current European regimes with bailouts and so on is the fact that those regimes simply happened to be in office at the time the crisis arose; I daresay any regime of any stripe would have felt compelled to do something similar, as did the Bushites (in order to “save” capitalism, of course).

Plus, there was also the exquisite timing of the meltdown here at home, which I still say was anything but an accident. The situation had been festering for years, but it only came to a head toward the end of an already-failed administration (on the foreign front, I mean), and thus offered ample reason to throw those particular rascals out and install a new set of rascals. People who object to Obama's economic policies and initiatives have amazingly short memories, since most of what he is doing is a direct continuation of what Bush was already doing, and, in fact, if the Republicans had won in November, McCain & Co. would be doing the exact same things (while not bombing Iran and turning Georgia into another Vietnam, that is).

So the bottom line is that very little of what is going on started with Obama, and the rejection of copy-cat policies on the part of European governments is anything but an overall rejection of socialism. And, whatever they are rejecting has no relevance to our situation since liberals and “conservatives” are equally to blame -- except that Obama has the privilege of claiming that none of it is his fault, and that he is just having to deal with the mess dealt by his predecessor. (And he will continue to make this claim right up to Inauguration Day 2017; mark my word. He knows that it worked for FDR.) And in fact, Americans are probably less upset by our government's economic policies than the Europeans are about theirs – probably since we still have plenty of economic “cushion” and a modicum of vigor, whereas Europe has been skating on ever-thinner ice for quite a while, owing in no small part to their pre-existing utopian/socialist/collectivist social and economic infrastructure combined with out-of-control immigration. We have the same exact problem, but not to the same extent (at least not yet). Immigration – invasion, migration, whatever – will still be the economic “game changer” for the U.S.; of this there is no doubt. Any system that rewards people for not working, or for being underemployed, can only survive as long as most people _are_ employed. Beyond that, it's going to collapse from its own weight.

Plus, Americans are still touchingly naive when it comes to the concept of "temporary" or "emergency" measures on the part of the government. Completely forgetting about the New Deal, most of whose main features are still very much in place, they really expect all of the Bush and Obama measures to accomplish their missions and go away eventually. What they fail to see is that, once a given government program or agency is in place, its primary mission changes instantly from the stated one to that of self-preservation. The Europeans at least have the merit of being more realistic, hence more cynical, about government; they know that governments are entities unto themselves, and ravening beasts that are, at best, barely kept under control.

Another inevitability is that our constant meddling overseas, with its accompanying economic and social costs – an ailment _not_ shared by our European “allies”, except in the most desultory fashion – cannot go on forever either. Our entitlement programs, ragged as they are, are all on a timetable to self-destruct, and we don't seem to have the will of even the Europeans to go in and do major surgery. So overall, this “rebellion” on the part of the European voters is, for them, a fairly minor quibble. And its implications for us are not only insignificant, they pale in comparison with our real problems, which transcend presidents, administrations, and specific economic policies.

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