Monday, February 06, 2006

There is a time and a place for everything, Cato! And this is it!

The always insightful Teddy Dalrymple looks at the future of Europe at Cato Unbound:

The principal motor of Europe's current decline is, in my view, its obsession with social security, which has created rigid social and economic systems that are extremely resistant to change. And this obsession with social security is in turn connected with a fear of the future: for the future has now brought Europe catastrophe and relative decline for more than a century.

What exactly is it that Europeans fear, given that their decline has been accompanied by an unprecedented increase in absolute material well-being? An open economy holds out more threat to them than promise: they believe that the outside world will bring them not trade and wealth, but unemployment and a loss of comfort. They therefore are inclined to retire into their shell and succumb to protectionist temptation, both internally with regard to the job market, and externally with regard to other nations. And the more those other nations advance relative to themselves, the more necessary does protection seem to them. A vicious circle is thus set up.

In the process of course, the state is either granted or arrogates to itself (or, of course, both) ever-greater powers. A bureaucratic monster is created that takes on a life of its own, that is not only uneconomic but anti-economic, and that can be reformed only at the cost of social unrest that politicians naturally wish to avoid. Inertia intermittently punctuated by explosion is therefore the most likely outcome.

Dalrymple's essay is the first in a series asking if "Old Europe" is doomed that will appear at Cato Unbound. Charles Kupchan, Timothy B. Smith, and Anne Applebaum (author of the indispensable Gulag: A History) will follow Dalrymple with their own thoughts on the subject.

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