Skip to comments.Beating swords into welfare cheques ... Mark Steyn
Posted on 06/04/2010 1:27:00 AM PDT by Rummyfan
The trick in this line of work is not to be right too soon. A couple of years back, I wrote a bestselling hate crime. Dont worry, Im not in plug mode; indeed, I shall eschew even mentioning the books title. But its general thesis is that the jig is up for much if not most of the Western world. Alarmist, pronounced Macleans, reflecting the general consensus of polite society here and in Europe.
Polite society has spent the years since playing catch-up. So if you dont want your fin du civilisation analysis from a frothing right-wing loon you can now get it from the house-trained chaps at the New York Times:
Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism . . . The Europe that protects is a slogan of the European Union.
Protects from what? Right now, Europe mostly needs protection from itself, and its worst inclinations:
With low growth, low birth rates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle.
The Times hits all the Steynian themes, including the Continent as defence-welfare queen: Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella.
Absolved from having to pay for their own defence, Continentals, like Canadians, beat their swords into welfare cheques, and erected vast cradle-to-grave social entitlements. Even under the U.S. security umbrella, they proved unsustainable. Why? Because Europeans stopped breeding. And, even with unprecedented levels of immigration, theyve been unable to halt population decline. Again, that was mere Steynian alarmism a year or two back. Now its received wisdom. Heres Time magazine:
Germany is shrinkingfast. New figures released on May 17 show the birth rate in Europes biggest economy has plummeted to a historic low.
Thats true. Time doesnt really provide much in the way of historical perspective, but, for the purposes of comparison, in 1964 West Germany alone produced 1.35 million new babies; in 2009, a united Germany managed less than half that651,000 births. In 1964, Germany was undergoing its postwar economic boom. In the mood for a reprise? On the depleted manpower of 2010, that aint gonna happen.
And these days, remember, Germany has to support a continent. Its the economic powerhouse thats supposed to be rescuing the euro and preventing the five soi-disant PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain) from having the Big Bad Wolf of reality blow their house of straw to smithereens. Dream on. Germanys working-age population is likely to decrease 30 per cent over the next few decades, says Steffen Kröhnert of the Berlin Institute for Population Development. Rural areas will see a massive population decline and some villages will simply disappearGermany will become a weak economic power in the future.
I disagree with Herr Kröhnert only to this extent: rural areas are already seeing a massive population decline, such that village sewer systems are having to be narrowed, at great expense, to cope with the reduced flow, and wolves are returning to the East German plain. You look at those old speeches of der Führer roaring on about Germanys need for lebensraum. Few people have ever needed it less.
There is no precedent in human history for increased prosperity on declining human capital, even before you factor in the added costs of propping up a bunch of other nations facing even worse socio-economic arithmetic. Can mass immigration save you? No. You can never import enough people fast enough: according to Armin Laschet, Integration Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, already 40 per cent of the children in the Fatherlands cities are ethnically non-German, and thus the future of those cities will be non-German, too.
Could you ramp that number up to, oh, 70 per cent? Sure. But it still wouldnt be sufficient to prop up an unsustainable economic model. Entire sovereign nations are now in the situation of a homeowner whos fallen too far behind on the payments and has no prospect of catching up: you might as well just put the door keys in an envelope, leave em at the bank for the new owner, and move on.
This much is now agreed; its the conventional wisdom of our conventional media. What remains at issue is what to do about it. In the Time magazine story, advice on how to boost Germanys collapsed fertility rate is all about more money for state-funded child-care facilities, etc. In other words, more government, more entitlements, more of what got Europe into its demographic death spiral in the first place.
In the U.S., meanwhile, Obamas courtiers are beginning to muse about the introduction of an EU-style VAT, which the locals generally translate as a national sales tax. VAT stands for value-added tax, because youre taxing the value that is added to a product in the course of its path to market. But I find myself ruminating on value in a more basic sense. Advanced social democracies dont need a value-added tax; they need a value-added life. The Europe that protects may, indeed, protect you from the vicissitudes of fate but it also disconnects you from the primary impulses of life. It drains too much of the life from life, said Charles Murray last year. And that statement applies as much to the lives of janitorseven more to the lives of janitorsas it does to the lives of CEOs. Capitalists sometimes carelessly give the impression that theirs is a materialistic argument. But anti-capitalists do not want for material comfortsyou go to the poorest part of town and you see plenty of cellphones and plasma TVs. And Eutopia is distinguished mainly by a lethargic hedonism: shorter working hours, longer vacations, earlier retirements, bigger benefits. What do they do with all that free time? Write operas? Paint pictures? Not sos youd notice. Life is a matter of passing the timeor, indeed, of holding the moment: Linger awhile, how fair thou art, in the words of Goethes Faust, which would make a fine epitaph for the European Union.
How fair thou hast beenbut only for the moment, and the moment is passing. Europes economic crisis is a mere symptom of its existential crisis: what is life for? What gives it meaning? Post-Christian, post-national, post-modern Europe has no answer to that question, and so it has 30-year-old students and 50-year-old retirees, and wonders why the small band of workers in between them cant make the math add up. Its striking that both the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the minister for families, Kristina Schroeder, who announced the latest grim statistics, are themselves childless women. Germany has one of the oldest ages of family formation in the developed world, and once you lose the habit, its hard to re-acquire it. I am all for seriously natalist tax regimes, not so much because they leave more money in peoples pockets but because they leave more responsibility in there. But thats the bottom linenot introducing a new entitlement but instilling in people for whom life is a diversion a sense of purpose larger than themselves: whats it all about, Alﬁe? Cradle-to-grave nanny-state protection? Government security does not in and of itself make for a satisfying, purposeful life: indeed, the University of Michigan and other studies suggest quite the oppositethat welfare makes one unhappier than a modest income honestly earned and used to provide for ones family.
So it will take more than reoriented benefits to save Germany. In the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Wood bemoaned the political backlash against free markets, but, understandably, European countries wont trust the market to self-correct because theyve so jiggered it they no longer have a domestic market in any meaningful sense. If youre a German bank, to whom do you lend money? You dont have enough young people to grow your business, so you lend further and further afield, in markets you dont fully comprehend, such as post-Soviet Eastern Europe or even the United States, a significant chunk of whose subprime mumbo-jumbo is held by Germanys Landesbanken. By some estimates, German banks could have to write off a trillion bucks worth of toxic loans. The problem isnt that Greece is the sick man of Europe, but that Germany isand, when the economic engine of a continent no longer has enough folks to shovel the coal in, that puts a huge question mark over Ireland, Sweden, Slovenia and beyond.
This is the crisis of our times, and the first Western nation to figure out a way around it will have a huge advantage in the decades to come. When Barack Obama started redistributing American wealth, a lot of readers dusted off Mrs. Thatchers bon mot: The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other peoples money. But European social democracy has taken it to the next level: theyve run out of other people, period.
It was upbeat with a little girl and her Father talking about how using Food Stamps will help to make the food the Mother cooks healthy and nutritious.
Oh how far we've come...
We get a similar one here in CO on the radio—two old women talking about SNAP. Selling welfare like it’s a product. Makes me sick.
Which of course means that people who can get food stamps don't have enough money for food, but have plenty of money for a radio.
They are listening to the ad on the radio in their Escalade silly. :)
Japan will be the first with the solution: Robots.
We have similar existential issues here ... children with sweatshop iPods building Facebook lives, a population distracted by TV and media propaganda picking sides in a phony Kabuki theater of Democrat versus Republican, a government disconnected from its responsibilities and existing only as a shell of pretense and pretend, functioning only as a cancer killing freedom and our financial future.
Ethics ate situational, morals are relative, "all cultures are equal" ... the idea of "core values" is scoffed at by professors and politicians and preachers. We have no compass, no rudder, no direction.
But we are fragmenting along some very real cultural lines, and the unprepared will see horrors in the near future.
This article is validating his book. Both the book and the article are good and worth reading in the sense of listening to the watchman on the wall (before it’s too late).
I don’t see why this demographic problem can’t be solved in one or two generations. All that is required is for people to have more children. I don’t even think they’d need to have a lot more, just 2 instead of 1 or 3 instead of two. With the advances in child health I think the population would grow rather quickly.
So, rather than mourn the coming death of the west, urge people to have more babies.
A good trick, if you can get people to do it. What's the incentive?
The problem is not as simple as a low child birth rate. More babies is not going to solve anything, unfortunately.
It's a reverse avalanche effect: if this generation has very few children then there are that many fewer adults available in twenty years to have children. So they have to have several times the replacement rate. I come from a family of nine children, and two of my aunts had seven children each and another four. Other than Mormon families those days are over I'm afraid.
The blessings of parenthood?
I find it funny in an odd sort of way, that he notes the decline of the rural areas. Here on FR we find many discussing the purchase and return to the land, unafraid of the hardwork it entails to live even partially off the land. And in many ways looking forward to overcoming the challenges. But that is us conservatives and we have our own answer to, "What is life for?" Our answer is not found in the secular world.
Government can't be noble. Government can't give meaning to your life or your work. Those things can only be given meaning from one place; the secular world has finally reached the generations that are deprived of the most vital gift.
What Steyn is really describing is the loss of Godly wisdom. James 1:5
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