On Becoming Europe
Thoughts of Our European Future to Come
After concluding another 16 days in Europe. I am again reminded how different their form of socialism is, and yet how closely it resembles the model that Obama seeks for America. The vast majority of citizens lives in apartments, even in smaller towns and villages. Cars are tiny. Prices are higher than in the states; income is lower (The government taxes you to pay for things like “free” college, so you won’t have much to spend on antisocial things like your Wal-Mart plastic Christmas Tree or your second K-Mart plasma TV.)
Mass transit is frequent and cheap, but often crowded and occasionally unpleasant. The stifled desire to acquire something—large house, car, deposit account—is of course not quite destroyed by socialism, but rather is channeled into a sort of cynicism and anger, often leading to a hedonism of few children, late and long meals, and disco hours until the early morning. The number of Gucci like stores selling overpriced label junk like 200 Euro eye-glass frames and 1000 Euro leather bags to socialists is quite amazing.
A Party for Everything
Multiple political parties flourish, all with passionate single agenda constituents. Graffiti is not gang related, but mostly political and nonsensical. Media is divided by politics, a leftwing paper, a rightwing magazine. Unions control almost all government services. And yet class is firmly entrenched and aristocratic snobbery more pronounced. (We already see that strange symbiosis between socialism for everyone else, capitalism for a few, whether in Michelle's clothes, the Obama's mansion, the Kerry fortune, the Edwards compound, the Gore appurtenances, the Clinton speaking cash cow, and too many others to list).
Among upper-class Greeks, one is constantly reminded that their grandfather, their cousin, or mother-in-law was this minister once, or that writer years ago, or today a famous diplomat—anything to focus one’s attention beyond the possession of the normal flat in the normal apartment building and the normal tiny Fiat and the normal public education.
Ministries to be Milked
When I talk to well-off Italians and Greeks who have substantial homes by the sea not available to most others, one of three realities leak out: one, they have family money made decades ago by their ancestors that includes ancestral estates permissible before the period of supposed mandated equality of result. In other words, theirs got theirs and then helped make laws so no one else could.
Or, two, people simply cheat on taxes all the time. If you buy something, the offer comes to pay in cash. A Greek explained to me his government job is his official tax-paying day job; the expertise necessary for it is what he farms out at night and on weekends for cash that goes for a second home, a larger car, a vacation abroad.
Or, three, the technocrats who run these vast welfare states are not only well paid, but more importantly are able to garner cars, travel, and plush apartments as tax-free job related perks (cf. the current scandal in London). If being a “venture capitalist” is what wannabe Harvard kids in their 20s sought in the 1990s, being a bigwig Minister, with neo-classical office, state Mercedes, and official residence is the perennial European equivalent. This is a continent of Tom Daschles, who win by being exempt from the burden of government that they subject on others, and win again by having the contacts to sort out government contracts to crony-businesses.
My point? The more Europe professes to be egalitarian, the more cynical and conniving the people have become—almost as if the human craving for one’s own property and to make one one’s destiny cannot be denied by the state, but by needs will be channeled into what the state mandates as anti-social for most, but quietly a perk for a few.