Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Trouble In Utopia
“Americans work too hard,” said my son-in-law. “Over there, people sit around sipping good wine and relaxing. Maybe we should pack up and move to Europe.” He and my daughter had returned from cruising the Mediterranean on their honeymoon, stopping in Spain, Italy, and Greece. I had been reading things like America Alone by Mark Steyn about the looming debt crisis and low birth rates in those countries.
“I don’t think they’ll be relaxing like that for too much longer,” I said.
Last week, the end of the European vacation was coming into view. The almost-daily riots in Greece had escalated. Leftists threw Molotov cocktails at police. Huge banners hung from the Parthenon calling for revolution in Europe.Financial reality had intruded into socialist utopia and the left didn’t want to face it. Ironic that the birthplace of democracy and the birthplace of Achilles is also the place where democracy’s Achilles’ heel is being exposed. And what is that? Democracy works well until the majority realizes it can vote itself money out of the public treasury. The Greek majority has been doing that in the form of extended vacations, boundless entitlements, cushy jobs with short hours, and early retirement. Spain, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, and other European countries are right behind them - weakening democracies lined in a row and ready to tip over.
After World War II, average life expectancy rose in Europe as retirement ages declined. That meant Europeans would be sipping wine, relaxing at sidewalk cafes, and collecting fat pensions for many more years than the system could sustain. Taxes rose somewhat to help pay for it all, but not nearly enough. Added to this was an unwillingness to bear children. They weren’t having babies to grow up into workers paying those increased taxes.It takes money, effort, time, and self-sacrifice to raise children. That cuts into vacations and afternoon wine-sipping. It’s definitely more difficult to relax with little kids running around, teenagers challenging you, asking for money, borrowing your car, and questioning your values. It’s much easier to just go on living with your own parents until you’re forty-five. Mom can do laundry, cook, clean, and iron your clothes while government takes care of everything else. When your aging parents move on to assisted living or die, you can take over their house. Then retirement for you won’t be far away because you can stop working altogether at 53.
If anyone should suggest Europeans are too lazy and selfish even to reproduce, post-modern rationalizations abound. There’s: “Who would want to bring children into a world full of racism and imperialism?” Then there’s: Having children uses up scarce resources and increases our carbon footprint! Haven’t you heard about global warming?” And, of course, there’s: “Humans are overpopulating the earth and crowding out other species.”
While whales and polar bears are doing fine worldwide, human beings in Europe are declining rapidly and their economy is heading for a crash. Liberal/socialist politicians have been reelected again and again on promises of more and more unsustainable entitlements. When taxes were insufficient to pay for it, they borrowed. When it became obvious to lenders that Greece couldn’t pay it back, the money dried up. Liberal/socialist politicians couldn’t deliver on utopian promises and announced cutbacks. The left went ballistic. It was like parents with declining income cutting allowances to their children, who then threatened to burn down the house.Left wing demonstrators in Greece riot because they want government to do more for them. The conservative Tea Party in America demonstrates because they want government to get out of their way while they take care of themselves. Greek leftists leave behind destruction and dead bodies after their riots. Conservative Americans pick up after themselves, leave their demonstration sites spotless. Still, American media do their best to depict them as racist homophobes.
As Greece sank into anarchy, over here the Dow went into an afternoon free-fall brokers hadn’t seen before. Some analysts were blaming a computer glitch, but others knew what it was: the realization that the United States isn’t very far behind Greece. We’re on the same road they are and rapidly accelerating. We’re $14 trillion in debt and adding to it with trillion-dollar-plus annual deficits for the foreseeable future. Our demographics aren’t as dismal as Greece’s, but bad enough. Unfunded liabilities for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security exceed $100 trillion and that’s without considering the costs of the new health care “reform.” American investors looked at this and Greek riots - and they saw America’s future. That vision shook them deeply, as it should.
Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher saw it coming decades ago when she said: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”