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December 03, 2007

Fear For Europe

This James Poulos post on the dystopic future of Europe seems a little overexcited. "The expansion of the EU," he says, "will cement into place a comprehensive, sprawling regime dedicated to micromanaging the health and security of citizens and noncitizens alike; the difference between politics and economics — the state and the market — will eventually vanish completely; and social, moral, and cultural license will be the consolation prize in an era of diminished or useless political liberties.

That sounds pretty bad. On the other hand, I was just in Europe, where the bars are full of smoke, the avenues are dotted by cheese shops (including those raw milk cheeses you can't sell in America), the bikers don't wear helmets, and the marijuana is way less regulated. But who're you going to believe: The ineluctable logic of Friedrich Hayek, or your lying eyes?

Moreover, I wouldn't take EU expansion as such a given. While in Amsterdam, we met with all manner of Labor party leaders and intellectuals, including the Deputy Prime Minister, and the despair they exhibit over the future of the "Europe project" can hardly be overstated. Forget the onerous individual regulations Poulos fears; the people keep rejecting proposed Constitutions, the opinion leaders keep darkly warning of Dutch troops under German command (as they, uh, already are in Bosnia), and the rising tide of nativism has rendered expansion into anything that could increase Muslim voice and immigration a rather unlikely possibility.

December 3, 2007 in Europe | Permalink

Comments

Other than Turkey, who's still trying to get into the EU? Romania, and who else in the Balkans? (And I think the Turks are likely to conclude that their prospects are very thin and they have strong reasons now to be less enamored with EU membership.)

IMO, (as a far-away occasional observer), the economic advantages of the EU are so overwhelming (and obvious) that eventually the politics will have to reflect the economics - it may take a few generations, but I sense a growing euro orientation becoming the norm.

The world economy is a mess, with globalization of labor and production, the demands of warming, the poor prospects for hydrocarbon energy, and worldwide financial/monetary affairs way out of kilter - and the Moslem migration/integration is a rather short term issue (several generations) viewed in the prism of european history.

One way to think of Europe is that politically they are about in the same situation the US was under the Articles of Confederation - prior to the US Constitution in 1789. Independent (colonies) countries with growing economic interdependence. The big difference, of course, is that long history of different languages and ethnicities and sovereign nations. It will take them longer. But they don't bear the crushing costs of military empire any more (like the US does), and their politcal discourse seems quite happy with that situation.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Dec 3, 2007 11:32:25 AM

In other words, Poulos isn't overly pessimistic--he's just pessimistic about the wrong things.

But who're you going to believe: The ineluctable logic of Friedrich Hayek, or your lying eyes?

Beautiful. And yet I suspect there are people who agree with that in a completely un-ironic sense.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Dec 3, 2007 11:33:48 AM

You might want to be a tad less enthusiastic about the weed, ez.

Posted by: Bloix | Dec 3, 2007 12:08:46 PM

The freedoms to protest, write slash fiction, imbibe pharmaceuticals, sleep with whoever you want to, aren't "freedom" to the folks at the American Scene. In their fuddy-duddy Platonism, they think that doing those things makes you less free, and that being barred from those pseudo-freedoms actually puts you on the road to real freedom, which would be some kind of Christian self-actualization.

And doubtlessly a Christian soldier like T. Boone Pickens would be less free, if he set up shop in Europe, to become the titan that God and nature so obviously intended him to be. That's mostly the kind of freedom they are talking about.

Posted by: kth | Dec 3, 2007 12:34:03 PM

I was just in Europe, where the bars are full of smoke, the avenues are dotted by cheese shops (including those raw milk cheeses you can't sell in America), the bikers don't wear helmets, and the marijuana is way less regulated. But who're you going to believe: The ineluctable logic of Friedrich Hayek, or your lying eyes?

The article by Poulos is a prediction of future EU, not today. By your reasonsing, no one should get excited about something that hasn't happend yet.

Posted by: El viajero | Dec 3, 2007 12:48:04 PM

But they don't bear the crushing costs of military empire any more (like the US does),

Ha ha ha! Oh yes, "crushing." As you can see from this chart, U.S. military spending as a share of GDP is close its lowest level in at least half a century. True, it has increased slighly under Bush, by about 1 percentage point, because of Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is still lower under Bush than under any other president of the last 50 years except Clinton.

European military spending, of course, has long been subsidized by the U.S., which has provided a hugely expensive military umbrella for Europe since the end of WWII. That is likely to change, and Europe will have to become more responsible for its defense, rather than continuing to suck on the teat of the United States.

Posted by: JasonR | Dec 3, 2007 1:06:42 PM

Shorter El Viajero: "The ineluctable logic of Friedrich Hayek, of course."

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Dec 3, 2007 1:06:59 PM

That may well be true (that the Europe project is slowly grinding to a halt). However, I think we need to acknowledge that what's already been accomplished is nothing short of a miracle. Consider: 50 years ago Europeans were actively killing each other in enormous numbers. And now they're part of a union, with a (mostly) common currency and economy. I find that absolutely amazing.

Posted by: beckya57 | Dec 3, 2007 1:08:04 PM

Each time I go to Europe, it seems more Americanized than the last time I went. Especially Britain and Germany. Not just in obvious ways, like the ubiquitous presence of American popular culture and businesses, but in the everyday attitudes and behavior of ordinary people.

And I just love those wireless credit card machines they have in restaurants over there. Definitely something we should adopt. Now if they could just get their restaurants to employ enough servers so you don't have to wait 20 minutes for them to even take your drink order....

Posted by: JasonR | Dec 3, 2007 1:26:07 PM

Each time I go to Europe, it seems more Americanized than the last time I went. Especially Britain and Germany.

So true. Our police are shooting unarmed swarthy people now too!

Posted by: ajay | Dec 3, 2007 1:36:54 PM

JasonR: The US is spending more per year on military and nuclear weapons than the next 14 biggest spenders combined.

US outlays for defense as a percentage of federal discretionary spending, has from Fiscal Year 2003 consumed more than half (50.5%) of all such funding and has risen steadily.[9] Discretionary spending accounts for approximately 1/3 of all federal outlays.
...
The recent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan are largely funded through supplementary spending bills outside the Federal Budget, so they are not included in the military budget figures listed above. In addition, the United States has black budget military spending which is not listed as Federal spending and is not included in published military spending figures. Other military-related items, like maintenance of the nuclear arsenal and the money spent by the Veterans Affairs Department, are not included in the official budget. Thus, the total amount spent by the United States on military spending is higher.

I haven't seen what the the 'real' total of DoD budget, Iraq/Afghanistan, black budget, intelligence, Energy Dept nuclear weapons, VA budget is currently. Let's guess that its over $1 trillion a year. Then add in the cost of the federal debt interest payments. It used to be that a 'billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon it adds up to real money'. That decades old quote from Ev Dirksen, (R)IL needs to be updated to a 'trillion here, a trillion there'. China and Japan both hold about a one trillion dollars in Fed. Reserve notes. Only Allah knows how much the Oil Monarchies hold. Is it healthy that they've paid for our imperial spending, and they can call the notes any time they want to make a point?

If you don't feel crushed by this burden, consider what depreciation of the US dollar (because we have borrowed from the world to finance this empire-sized military) has cost us - and the full cost is still not known as the dollar continues to lose value against other currencies. The Euro has gone from about $0.85 cents to over $1.60/dollar in just the last couple years. 50% declines in currency value are what is usually associated with failing economies.

We haven't seen the worst, yet, of the effects of borrowing from the world to spend on non-productive (in the economic sense) spending for security items. Yes, this is a crushing burden. We just haven't recognized and paid the price, yet.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Dec 3, 2007 1:49:07 PM

U.S. military spending....is still lower under Bush than under any other president of the last 50 years except Clinton.

Quiz: what enormously expensive geopolitical situation did every president of the last 50 years have to deal with except for Clinton and Bush? (Hint: it rhymes with "mold spore".)

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Dec 3, 2007 1:56:31 PM

Big difference between the "Europe project" and the EU as a concrete set of institutions. The first is moribund and unpopular. The second is alive and well and malign: look at the extension of EU internal market and competition law into health, education, and social security. No democratic support, and for that matter there is almost never member state support... but no mind. The European Court of Justice and Commission are very skilled at developing ways to extend EU law through liberalization regardless of whether anybody wants it or it's good policy.

Pathetically, the highlight is the Third Non-Life Insurance Directive. It at least had an identifiable beneficiary: insurance companies, which now are more profitable. Usually EU health and social security law imposes simple deadweight costs.

I spend a lot of time interviewing and working with the people making EU health and social policy. I read a lot of academics and journalists moaning about the collapse of the European project. Nobody has told the health policymakers that the European project collapsed. They are just continuing, whether it is applying competition law to English hospitals, forcing the Irish to end risk-pooling across health insurers, or trying to ban German subsidies to municipal hospitals on the grounds of improper state aid.

Given that the EU's original design (per Jean Monnet) was intentionally undemocratic, why is that a surprise? It was designed to proceed irrespective of democracy, and it does. I'm very sorry that it has lost its mojo. Perhaps if it were not built on the extension of EU powers through liberalizing policies, only partly masked by a fug of ineffective "Social Model rhetoric," people would like it more.

Posted by: Scott | Dec 3, 2007 2:34:23 PM

Tom Hilton,

You have completely missed the point. If the 3-4% of GDP we spend on defense now is a "crushing" expense, why wasn't the 8-10% we spent during the cold war even more "crushing?" How is 3-4% not a much lower burden than 8-10%?

The reality, of course, is that neither is a "crushing" expense, and JimPortland's comment was stupid.

Posted by: JasonR | Dec 3, 2007 2:35:54 PM

JimPortand,

The chart I linked to reflects defense spending in total, not just the "military budget." We spent a much higher share of our GDP on military affairs in previous decades than we do now. The claim that even that much higher level of spending in the past, let alone the current much lower level, represents a "crushing" burden on the American economy is just utter nonsense.

Posted by: JasonR | Dec 3, 2007 2:45:35 PM

JasonR, you miss my point. Of course the 8-10% of GDP was crushing; the difference is that there was a reason we were spending that much, and the reason seemed sufficiently compelling that the crushing burden was considered acceptable. There is nothing remotely approaching any comparable rationale today, and comparing pose-Mold Spore budgets with Mold Spore-era budgets is deeply dishonest.

As far as I can tell, there is another bit of dishonesty there: funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is largely outside the defense budget, and thus (I would guess) not included in the figures your chart displays. In which case, tack on (conservatively) another $100 billion per year for real military expenditures.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Dec 3, 2007 3:25:24 PM

Tom Hilton,

JasonR, you miss my point. Of course the 8-10% of GDP was crushing;

What an absurd claim. The U.S. economy and standard of living grew enormously during the cold war years. That's "crushing," is it?

the difference is that there was a reason we were spending that much,

No, there's a reason we spent what we did back then, and there's a reason we spend what we do now. There's always a reason. Just because you personally don't agree with the reason doesn't mean it isn't a reason. By the way, do you agree with all the military spending on the Vietnam War during the 60s and 70s? On the SDI and new nuclear weapons programs under Reagan during the 80s? Strange, liberals usually seem to think that spending was wrong.

As far as I can tell, there is another bit of dishonesty there: funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is largely outside the defense budget, and thus (I would guess) not included in the figures your chart displays.

Also incorrect. Spending on Iraq and Afghanistan is included in the chart. That's what caused the (small) increase under Bush compared to Clinton.

Posted by: JasonR | Dec 3, 2007 3:59:22 PM

JasonR, when you write "European military spending, of course, has long been subsidized by the U.S.", you should keep in mind that all european countries had forced conscription of every male citizen well into the nineteen nineties. So maybe Reagan was pushing the US budget into deficit spending with his star wars program, but europe continued to provide for a healthy influx of cannon fodder.

Second, when demanding that "Europe will have to become more responsible for its defense", you have to be careful what you wish for. It might just happen, which will probably give you a new thing to whine (or is it troll) about.

Posted by: oliver | Dec 3, 2007 5:15:31 PM

Also incorrect. Spending on Iraq and Afghanistan is included in the chart. That's what caused the (small) increase under Bush compared to Clinton.

Could you provide a link to the data source so I can verify that for myself?

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Dec 3, 2007 6:21:05 PM

Tom Hilton,

It's from OMB budget and GDP data, which may be found here.

You didn't answer my questions about past military spending. Do you support the military spending on the Vietnam War during the 60s and 70s, or the spending on missile defense and new nuclear weapons programs under Reagan during the 80s?

Posted by: JasonR | Dec 3, 2007 6:54:01 PM

oliver,

you should keep in mind that all european countries had forced conscription of every male citizen well into the nineteen nineties.

No they didn't. Britain, for example, hasn't had forced conscription since the 1950s. You're not guessing, are you?

So maybe Reagan was pushing the US budget into deficit spending with his star wars program, but europe continued to provide for a healthy influx of cannon fodder.

Also false. The vast majority of conscripted persons were never put in any combat situation.

... which will probably give you a new thing to whine (or is it troll) about.

Ah, good one.


Posted by: JasonR | Dec 3, 2007 7:01:57 PM

Leaving aside one's attitude in general toward the commonly statist policies of European governments, it's absurd to attribute these policies to the European Union as a multinational institution, as opposed to the typical national government of a typical EU member. The EU's primarily policies are oriented around promoting markets and making Europe safe for capital.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Dec 4, 2007 2:41:21 PM

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