Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Old Continent in the New World

In one of my classes I have long given a lecture on how the US and Europe are so different with regard to economic policy, and how this has generally redounded to the benefit of the U.S.

It was one of my favorite lectures, but I may now have to scrap it, and throw into the digital trash all of the data and wonderful anecdotes I have collected over the years. One of the most striking things about this electoral turn of events is how much more like Europe we could soon become. According to India’s Economic Times, Jose Manuel Barroso, Europe’s chief bureaucrat, could hardly repress his satisfaction as he said he looked forwarding to crafting with President Obama a “new deal for a new world.” Among the items he looks forward to reworking is “financial reform,” by which is meant attempts to bring the global flow of funds under the control of the state.

It is possible, although the odds are in my view less than 50/50, that the next two years will see the introduction of a European-style single-payer health system. In that regard, the worst election news in my judgment did not come from the presidential race, but from Arizona, where a proposition asserting that Americans do not lose their freedom to contract with private parties even when the contract in question involves health care appears to have gone down to a very narrow defeat. Not even half the Arizona population, in other words, agrees that a resident of that state and a medical provider have the right to strike an agreement in their mutual interest. Further European-style privileging, East India company-style, of labor unions as monopoly bargaining agents, with all of the corruption, intimidation, economic stagnation and the annihilation of individual creativity unions bring, is also on the agenda. The Constitution makes radical change difficult, so the worst excesses may be trimmed, but an agenda that would be familiar to Clement Attlee may at least be on the table.

This battle will be lost. Not necessarily the political battle, but the battle with economic reality. It may well be that the result of the election is to make America much more like Europe, the opposite of what people (including me) were predicting until very recently. But the world has other ideas. Countries full of hard-charging, creative, innovative people all over the world (whose talents have thus far benefited America tremendously, but need not continue to do so) are not interested in the welfare state or the rights of unions or other alleged “stakeholders.” They are interested in achieving great things on their own, in escaping from the smothering hand of collectivism rather than embracing it. As an Indian official recently memorably said, “We find the Europeans fighting for a 35-hour week, and we in India are fighting for a 35-hour day.“ For the Americans too, the battle will be futile, but only at tremendous cost to the American standard of living and national interest.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home