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The European Welfare State and Reality: Never the Two Shall Meet

“We need to take a deep breath to overcome this crisis. We must make the efforts that will allow Europe to emerge from the crisis stronger than it went in.” — German Chancellor Angela Merkel
People who support free markets and limited government in our country often ask one another, “Why don’t more people on the Left see how unsustainable something like cradle-to-grave entitlement systems truly are? Why don’t more voters see the untenable path we’re on?” But these sorts of questions tend to be too focused on the effects, rather than the causes. People don’t vote for big-government candidates in a vacuum. And they don’t wholeheartedly believe candidates’ empty promises because they’ve crunched all the numbers involved and found that “x + y = top-down socialism’s gravy train.” In fact, there is something deeper at play here—and that something is much more akin to a supernatural religious belief than the “We’re just a bunch of rational, science-based Keynesian enthusiasts” vibe that our media and the academy perpetuate. The reason these fundamental questions miss the point is that they fail to take into account the fact that a lot of people have been instructed that collectivism is morally superior. Not that it works, but that it is good. A collective ethic is true. Collectivism is, well, fair. Statist economic policies like free healthcare, or a certain amount of legally guaranteed vacation, become part of a dynamic moral code that give Uncle Sam newfound power. This is a particular problem in the arena of entitlements, as Luke Holladay noted yesterday. The reality of the West’s ongoing financial collapse—even for those who are currently playing the hare to our tortoise—makes no dent in the psyche of tens of millions of people who ostensibly claim allegiance to concepts “freedom” while actually functioning as “wards of the state.” From Yahoo News:
Thousands of demonstrators are marching peacefully in Paris to denounce austerity measures in Europe that have sparked violent protests in other EU countries struggling to avert fiscal crises. The march organized largely by the “Left Front” party and the Communists comes ahead of the French parliament’s debate this week on a European fiscal treaty. The treaty would set up the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund that European leaders hope will help calm a debt crisis that threatens the euro zone and the global economy.
I’m glad these protests in France were peaceful, especially in light of the violent outbursts we’ve seen in Greece and elsewhere. (Note: by elsewhere, I mean in Oakland, Calif.) But what do you say to people who think they are playing musical chairs and simply need to grab a seat for their interest groups—when in reality, these chairs have been sold for firewood or you owe other countries, say, a trillion chairs? In Germany, Chancellor Merkel is, to her credit, attempting to strengthen the spine of fellow European leaders. Angela Merkel issued a blunt warning to Germany’s ailing Eurozone neighbors yesterday, telling them that pressing ahead with painful reforms and tough budget policies was the only way of resolving Europe’s intractable and deepening economic crisis. Why spine-stiffening? Because Europe’s party is over. Whole countries are out of money, and there is no mystery as to why we are here. Unsustainable entitlement systems were created, and many young people were throughout the last half-century indoctrinated with the bizarre concept that true morality and “freedom” resides in becoming a serf. People were taught to ignore the fact that wealth-creation is the only way to grow a sustainable economy that can support even modest entitlement benefits, and that, while the public sector can redistribute resources, only the private sector can create wealth. In short, what happened in Europe is that millions of people came to believe that “spreading the wealth around” was something to cheer, rather than hold in contempt. But Europe is not the only place in trouble today; so are we. Millions of us are ignoring reality. The problem resides deep under the surface in the hearts and minds of good, decent, woefully misinformed people. We’re looking at a long war here to take back the moral high ground and win over the culture. This isn’t just about the country’s vote this November. It’s about what sort of world we want our kids to live in.