Federal City

2.16.2006

Darymple: Unfortunately I have to Disagree

Rare is the view of Europe more pessimistic than mine. However, Theodore Darymple comes awfully close. Over at Cato Unbound, Darymple, wrote an answer to the question “Is ‘Old Europe” Doomed?” Darymple explains how ‘Old Europe’ isn’t doomed, but it is “sleepwalking to further relative decline.” According to Darymple, it is Europe’s love-affair with the welfare state that is propelling them off the cliff.

When I read that I hesitated to disagree, but I must. In his essay Darymple claims that “[t]he principal motor of Europe’s current decline is…its obsession with social security….” And while few objective observers can disagree with the enormous cost Europe maintains in the name of social security, I would call Europe’s love of the welfare state as the symptom, not the disease. You see, lurking beneath that Ponzi Scheme social security check is a bureaucrat and behind that bureaucrat stands an electorate. The real “motor” driving Europe to bankruptcy court and ultimately disaster is not social security but the attitude of the electorate. This is especially clear when we compare the US with Europe (or at least a generalized amalgamation of Europeans).

America has been blessed. Since the first humans set forth on what would become the good the United States, this land has drawn forth the adventurous, the brave, the independent. Men and women who weren’t afraid to cross the Bering Straight or to raise a family in the solitary wilderness of the Appalachian Mountains, people looking to make a fortune and willing to chase gold from North Carolina to California to Montana to Alaska, all of them came here. Drawn to this land were hard working families who—despite the fact they spoke no English--weren’t afraid to sail the Atlantic. Indeed, I credit the self-reliant attitudes and ideals embraced by the millions upon millions of immigrants with most of what’s good in this country. Modern Europe, though ancestral home to a vast number of US immigrants, is now so vastly different than its most illustrious progeny that the two are almost polar opposites. As America's self-reliant streak attracted hard-working self-reliant immigrants, Europe's embrace of idea of society over individuality (to the point where they have almost rejected independence) unfortunately seems to attract a number of like-minded immigrants. [clarification: I would say that almost every immigrant anywhere is self-reliant to a degree, I just rarely read of the immigrant to America for unemployment checks while that seems the norm in Europe.]

Why is there a love affair in America with the automobile and not in Europe? Europe after all is home to Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi, Jaguar, and Ferrari. But the average European is probably much less likely to own a car and probably even less likely to consider a car ‘vital.’ They depend much more upon public transportation than the average American and unconcerned with the limitations bicycles offer them. But here in America, the car is one of the main organs of life. When AF and I moved in together and I informed my mother that we planned to sell my car and she was aghast: “How will you get around? What if you both want to go somewhere by yourself?” My mother hit it right on the head, cars in America represent freedom, independence to go where, when, and how quickly you please. One must wonder about the importance Europeans place in these ideals.

Guns present a similar contrast. In America, there are probably few things as loathed and as revered as the gun. In Europe they have cast the gun as the mischievous implement, the problem, nothing but trouble. They are willing to rely entirely upon a police force for their protection. In America, the scenario is quite different. Despite the vocal opponents to the Second Amendment, few Americans would honesty consider repealing the right to keep and bear arms. Guns are important to Americans because we are a society of individuals that refuse to outsource our protection to others whether it be the government or a private security company.

These two contrasts are only the tip of the iceberg. With the ever-increasing reach of government, Europe has long forgotten the virtue of self-reliance. They seldom, if ever, entertain an idea that promotes self-reliance in place of a state solution. Research must be publicly financed, trade must be protected, industries must be regulated. Europe has become a continent of dependents. This is why Social Security is so popular and the very idea of privatizing Social Security is based upon self-reliance and self-preservation. It is no wonder that many Europeans find that idea so distasteful. But make no mistake, it is Europeans love of the welfare state, manifest as ever-broadening social security, that has steered Europe towards disaster.

It’s been a long time since the rough and daring, brave and hard-working men and women, upon whose broad shoulders the beams of independent society are laid, left Europe. It’s been even longer since they were a welcomed part of European society. Instead those people have emigrated to the US, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia (where we often see economies and societies that have eclipsed their mother countries). And unfortunately for Europe it seems that the spirit of independence and self-reliance left with those émigrés. No longer do Europeans question authority. Hundreds of years have gone by since serious European thought questioned ever-increasing regulation, herd mentality, or the limits of government to solve all problems. Why is this attitude so prevalent (or at least seems to be) ? That’s a question for someone far smarter than me. But the fact is, it is the Europeans’ cancerous attitude that will doom them and their love of social security is merely a symptom.

Unfortunately it seems that—as history marches forward—the only thing that changes is the ever-decreasing time between repetitions; I can definately foresee a time when the US may be looking at the same fate.

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