Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Why is Europe a dirty word?" by Nicholas Kristof

Here. I usually don't like Kristof, but he's nailed it:

"It’s a languid morning in Peoria, as a husband and wife are having breakfast. “You’re sure you don’t want eggs and bacon?” the wife asks. “Oh, no, I prefer these croissants,” the husband replies. “They have a lovely je ne sais quoi.”

He dips the croissant into his cafĂ© au-lait and chews it with zest. “What do you want to do this evening?” he asks. “Now that we’re only working 35 hours a week, we have so much more time. You want to go to the new Bond film?”

***

But the basic notion of Europe as a failure is a dangerous misconception. The reality is far more complicated.

What is true is that Europe is in an economic mess. Quite aside from the current economic crisis, labor laws are often too rigid, and the effect has been to make companies reluctant to hire in the first place. Unemployment rates therefore are stubbornly high, especially for the young. And Europe’s welfare state has been too generous, creating long-term budget problems as baby boomers retire.

“The dirty little secret of European governments was that we lived in a way we couldn’t afford,” Sylvie Kauffmann, the editorial director of the newspaper Le Monde, told me. “We lived beyond our means. We can’t live this lie anymore.”

Yet Kauffmann also notes that Europeans aren’t questioning the basic European model of safety nets, and are aghast that Americans tolerate the way bad luck sometimes leaves families homeless.

It’s absurd to dismiss Europe. After all, Norway is richer per capita than the United States. Moreover, according to figures from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, per-capita G.N.P. in France was 64 percent of the American figure in 1960. That rose to 73 percent by 2010. Zut alors! The socialists gained on us!"

To which I could add: European welfare state vs. Wal-Mart, obesity, and Nascar, along with creationism and fantasies about the Federal Reserve.

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