Ed Driscoll

Meanwhile, In Old Europe

Since transforming America into Europe has been the religious goal of US forward-thinking “progressives” for over a century, let’s go around the Continent in 8.0 mbps and see how things are going there:

At PJM, Kyle Smith writes, “Britain’s Already Dead, It Just Hasn’t Been Buried Yet:”

Don’t be fooled by the pomp and dazzle of the Queen’s royal Diamond Jubilee flotilla easing past the tourists, celebrity-spotters, and pickpockets on the Thames. Britain is a country rotting from the inside, the first nation on earth that elected to destroy its culture with political correctness.

Asks British columnist Rod Liddle, “Who are the people who have made Britain what it is today, the ones who ensured that we became a limp-wristed and decrepit, post-imperial satrapy of incompetence, sanctimony, self-obsession and self-loathing?”

Who indeed? (By limp-wristed, Liddle means lacking in conviction, not gay). The short answer is the new aristocracy, the bien pensant, well-shod, culturally aloof types who watch the BBC, read The Guardian, and vote to nudge the country ever farther along its current trajectory, which has not even slightly been altered by the return of a Conservative to the premiership. Against the wishes of the average citizen, Britain has a government that is simultaneously abdicating its core functions and pretending to take responsibility for other duties for which it is spectacularly ill-suited. It has abandoned a proud, concrete culture in pursuit of a hazy dream of a transnational ideal. The people’s response has been to fume lightly and do nothing, because they’re British and expect things to be bad and get worse.

Well, you can always get away from England for a few days by jetting down to a nice relaxing vacation in sunny Spain. How are things going there? “Spain is in ‘total emergency’, the EU in total denial,” Janet Daley writes in the London Telegraph:

I’ve never actually heard the term “total emergency” before, at least not in the context of global economics. It sounds like the title of a disaster movie. When it is uttered in sober tones by the elder statesman of an advanced democracy to describe his country’s financial condition, the effect is rather startling.

The man who delivered this apocalyptic judgment, former Spanish prime minister Felipe González, being a socialist, might be expected to detest austerity programmes that require cuts to government spending. But there seemed to be few disinterested observers of Spain’s economy prepared to quibble with his assessment.

Forget Grexit. Greece’s teeny, tiny economy is a footnote now. As is Ireland’s decision – which seemed more like a sigh of resignation than a plebiscite – to engage in however much self-flagellation the EU gods insist on, for however long it takes. What might have seemed dramatic a week or so ago has now shrivelled in importance by comparison to the realistic possibility of a spectacular crash in the fourth largest economy in the EU. Spexit (and Spanic) are lodged in the lexicon, and have become part of the psychological reality that moves markets. The equivalent of more than £55 billion was withdrawn and transported out of Spain last month – and that was before the country’s largest bank was nationalised. No one seems to be kidding himself that the collapse of the Spanish economy could be somehow weathered and overcome, as the default of Greece might be.

In the midst of a series of lectures in Germany, Victor Davis Hanson writes that that nation, so far, is weathering the EU’s self-generated storm the best of all its nations, largely thanks to the culture of its citizens:

Unlike Americans, the Swiss are among the most homogeneous people in the world, without much diversity, and they make it nearly impossible to immigrate to their country.

So Switzerland supposedly has everything going against it, and yet it is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Why and how?

To answer that is also to learn why roughly 82 million Germans produce almost as much national wealth as do 130 million Greeks, Portuguese, Italians, and Spaniards. Yet the climate of Germany is also somewhat harsh; it too has no oil or gas. By 1945, German cities lay in ruins, while Detroit and Cleveland were booming. The Roman historian Tacitus remarked that pre-civilized Germany was a bleak land of cold weather, with little natural wealth and inhabited by tribal savages.

Race does not explain present-day national wealth. From 500 B.C. to A.D. 1300, Switzerland and Germany were considered brutal and backward in comparison to classical Greece and Rome, and later, to Renaissance Venice and Florence.

Instead, culture explains far more — a seemingly taboo topic when economists nonchalantly suggest that contemporary export-minded Germans simply need to spend and relax like laid-back southern Mediterraneans, and that the latter borrowers should save and produce like workaholic Germans to even the playing field of the European Union.

But government-driven efforts to change national behavior often ignore stubborn cultural differences that reflect centuries of complex history as well as ancient habits and adaptations to geography and climate. Greeks can no more easily give up siestas than the Swiss can mandate two-hour afternoon naps. If tax cheating is a national pastime in Palermo, by comparison it is difficult along the Rhine.

I lived in Greece for over two years and often travel to northern and Mediterranean Europe and North Africa. While I prefer the Peloponnese to the Rhineland, over the years I have developed an unscientific and haphazard — but often accurate — politically incorrect method of guessing whether a nation is likely to be perennially insolvent and wracked by corruption.

Do average passersby throw down or pick up litter? After a minor fender-bender, do drivers politely exchange information, or do they scream and yell with wild gesticulations? Is honking constant or sporadic? Are crosswalks sacrosanct? Do restaurant dinners usually start or wind down at 9 P.M.? Can you drink tap water, or should you avoid it? Do you mostly pay what the price tag says, or are you expected to pay in untaxed cash and then haggle over the unstated cost? Are construction sites clearly marked and fenced to protect pedestrians, or do you risk walking into an open pit or getting stabbed by exposed rebar?

To put these crude stereotypes more abstractly, is civil society mostly moderate, predicated on the rule of law, and meritocratic — or is it characterized by self-indulgence, cynicism, and tribalism?

The answers to these questions do not hinge on race, money, or natural wealth, but they do involve culture and the way average people predictably live minute by minute. Again, these national habits and traditions accrued over centuries, and as much as politics or economics, they explain in part why Bonn is not Athens, and Zurich is not Naples, or for that matter why Cairo is unlike Tel Aviv or why Mexico City differs from Toronto.

In their more off-guarded moments, the Germans will admit that they sure took the rest of the EU for quite ride, VDH adds:

In minutes you begin to sense that the entire cohesion of the EU is predicated now on two dubious premises. One, of course, is 70-year-old war guilt. I do not mean that in the logical sense as it pertains to the use of victimization by Mediterranean debtors (after all, how can once fascist neutrals like Spain and Portugal, or the successors of Mussolini’s Axis Italy, piggy-back onto Greece’s World War II suffering?). Rather, there is a larger guilt about the Holocaust, Hitler, and starting a war that ended up killing 50 million and, obviously, wrecking Germany (Germans like to point out the extent of the 8th Air Force’s and Bomber Command’s destruction along the Rhine, where 60-80% of some of the larger urban centers were destroyed.) War guilt, then, looms as the lever to pry out German cash, and after three generations the Germans are getting tired of it.

The second premise touches on a vaguer issue — the near admission that with a wink and a nod German companies and banks set up a sort of mercantilism, in which a Mercedes or Siemens found lucrative markets in Mediterranean Europe, got banks to back buying on time, and then sold things on credit to dubious government-sponsored entities and private corporations. After all, the Athenians had no business having one of the highest per capita rates of Mercedes ownership in Europe. Did Germans really think that siestas and 9 p.m. dinners led to prompt repayment of Audi and BMW loans?

No Players Left?

In other words, Germans seem to admit that they were playing poker with amateurs, that they knowingly took the players for a ride, and that they now find themselves with all the chips and no one anymore with the wherewithal to keep on playing. And yet they don’t think they can start over and divvy up the chips, not just because to do so would be to forfeit their winnings, but also because they suspect that the game would repeat itself identically every five or six years. They are right, which explains why the euro in its present manifestation is doomed, and why the Germans are exasperated for doing everything rightly that is now condemned as doing everything wrongly.

Walter Williams writes that there are plenty of lessons in Old Europe for America’s future:

What we’re witnessing in Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and other parts of Europe is a direct result of their massive spending to accommodate the welfare state. A greater number of people are living off government welfare programs than are paying taxes. Government debt in Greece is 160 percent of gross domestic product. The other percentages of GDP are 120 in Italy, 104 in Ireland and 106 in Portugal. As a result of this debt and the improbability of their ever paying it, their credit ratings either have reached or are close to reaching junk bond status.

Here’s the question for us: Is the U.S. moving in a direction toward or away from the troubled EU nations? It turns out that our national debt, which was 35 percent of GDP during the 1970s, is now 106 percent of GDP, a level not seen since World War II’s 122 percent. That debt, plus our more than $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, has led Standard & Poor’s to downgrade our credit rating from AAA to AA+, and the agency is keeping the outlook at “negative” as a result of its having little confidence that Congress will take on the politically sensitive job of tackling the same type of entitlement that has turned Europe into a basket case.

I am all too afraid that Benjamin Franklin correctly saw our nation’s destiny when he said, “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”

Surveying the wreckage of Europe’s postwar welfare state, Mark Steyn warns his American readers, “Look around you. The late-20th-century Western lifestyle isn’t going to be around much longer:”

In a few years’ time, our children will look at old TV commercials showing retirees dancing, golfing, cruising away their sixties and seventies, and wonder what alternative universe that came from. In turn, their children will be amazed to discover that in the early 21st century the Western world thought it entirely normal that vast swathes of the citizenry should while away their youth enjoying what, a mere hundred years earlier, would have been the leisurely varsity of the younger son of a Mitteleuropean Grand Duke.

Nahh, as long as there’s a Democrat president in the White House, old media will cheerfully tell its dwindling viewers and readers that, as Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss would say, “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”