Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Europe: Still Not Dead


One of those perennial canards that I've cast aspersion on a few times here is the ever-impending "Death of Europe". According to this dreary storyline, Old Europe is just about ready to succumb to her supposed 'welfare state', or 'demographic suicide', or 'cultural decline'. This impending continental crackup doesn't much impress me because it's been impending for over two centuries now. One of the great themes of nineteenth century European writing was the Death of Western Civilization, and in the early twentieth century, a writer as difficult as Oswald Spengler became an unlikely bestseller by giving Europe the bad news that the end was near. In the decades after World War II, Europe was on the brink of death more often than Pearl White in The Perils of Pauline.

Similarly, when I went to France over the summer, I was impressed by the relatively high standard of living for a continent in its last days. There do seem to be some problems with integrating ethnic minorities, particularly the children of immigrants, into the mainstream of social life. Oddly enough, for a country that complains so often about it, the United States is much better at integrating newcomers into the social fabric than... well, France, at least. The Paris banlieue is a lot like what the South Africans used to call 'Sowetos'. But will that really mean the death of Europe? And isn't that a cultural problem more than a 'demographic' one, unless of course you believe that culture is genetic?

At any rate, the economies of Europe are certainly not at death's door. In fact, the 24 European stock markets have just topped the U.S. stock market for the first time since World War I. The Financial Times article makes this sound like bad news for the U.S., which sounds fairly mercantilist to me- isn't economic growth of any sort ultimately good news for all trading nations in free-trade capitalism? I don't really believe in the impending 'Death of America' either. But, the real point here, for me, is that the EU, which was also supposed to be the final nail in the coffin of Europe (does anyone remember when we were told to cash in our euros as soon as possible because they would soon be worthless?), has been anything but. So, save your bouquets, at least for the time being.

4 comments:

The Pagan Temple said...

Actually, France has recently begun a policy of offering tax breaks per child, the more children a couple has, the more tax breaks they get. This was instituted in order to reverse the declining birth rate in the face of longer life spans. So evidently it is perceived as a potential long term problem, at least in France

Rufus said...

Right, but I'm saying that they're wrong about the problem. They see demographics as a sort of de facto problem- immigrants are a problem in themselves. What I'm saying is that there's immigration and then there's immigration. Even people in the US who worry about 'the immigration problem' would likely agree that my friend Juan- whose family came over legally from Peru back in the early 70s, and worked their way up from nothing, and now live in the suburbs and own a carpet dealership and are very much mainstream Americans- is not part of the problem. But that's very different from what you have in France, where people came over legally from the former colonies back when France wanted them for cheap labor, and were given citizenship, moved into walled ghettos 30 minutes outside of the cities, socially isolated, and then eventually refused any sort of employment. You now have second and third generations who have grown up in the banlieue with almost no job opportunities whatsoever. So when you go there, what you see isn't "the clash of civilizations" so much as the typical problems that you get with teenagers that have no opportunities and nothing to do. In other words, the answer isn't to outbreed the immigrants, it's to mainstream them through the same sort of give-and-take that was used to mainstream immigrants in American history- i.e. you do these things that we want you to, and we'll give you these opportunities in return. In France, it's more like 'You do these things that we want you to, and piss off!'

Maybe the problem isn't even cultural so much as economic. I noticed that the "crisis of immigration" became a crisis in this country right around the same time that magazines like the Economist were saying that upward mobility has ground to a halt in America. Maybe the problem is that the pie is getting smaller and smaller and cut up into less pieces and the people on the bottom of the heap are fighting each other for the crumbs. In other words, maybe it's the same old story.

The Pagan Temple said...

I wasn't referring to the immigrant problem, though that is a secondary consideration. The problem mainly is there aren't enough younger people being born to move into the work force to support the entitlements that are afforded an older generation that is increasingly longer lived and healthier. I

It's called in some corners "rate of replacement" and typically should be at least a two to one ratio, and that really isn't enough. If the average child per copuple is, say, 1.4, which sounds about right for France and most European countries, it's not even reaching the one-to-one ratio.

The European economy simply can't sustain itself at that rate, without a lot of cut-backs in entitlements and other social services. Or, they can do what France is trying, offering tax breaks per child and other incentives in the hopes of spurring population growth.

Where the immigrant problem comes into play, for now, is the fact that most of the ones that do work are working at common labor type jobs that don't pay that well, therefore aren't adding sufficiently to the tax base.

Then, you have those that aren't working, but instead are themselves a further drain on the social services of most European economies. So yes, that adds to the problem.

The social and cultural problems are relatively minimal as of now, but at the rate of reproduction evidenced in most immigrant communities, this could definitely be a long term problem if it isn't sufficiently addressed.

But you are looking at more like from thirty to fifty years down the road before that really manifests, which of course by then you have what some insist will amount to "Eurabia".

So yes, that is a long term problem, but the major short term problem is like I said the drain on the European economy, which will be headed toward collapse at some period, without either an increase in the European birth rate to add to the work force and tax base, or by severe cuts in social services or entitlements.

Rufus said...

See, I can't speak with much expertise about long-term economic issues. I will ask my father-in-law, who studies economics for a living, about this stuff when we go for Easter dinner. But, for myself, I can just say that it sounds interesting.