Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Some Americans are beginning to get it

By and large, American attitude to the European project has varied from "not all that interested" through "you guys need to get your act together" whenever some American interest was hit to "great idea this unification if only it could be done the right way". I exaggerate but only a little though I do have a number of friends on the other side of the Pond who long ago grasped that the European Union was a very bad idea, ought never to have happened but now that it has, ought to be got rid of and Britain ought to take her rightful place within the Anglosphere (temporarily on hold under the Obama presidency).

The times, however, they are a'changin' and, not surprisingly, it is the Wall Street Journal that is the first to wake up. It appears that the old idea, much promoted by that newspaper of an integrated European market never really had much traction, according to Bret Stephens, though despite this sudden ability to see the light, he still thinks that Western Europe's rise and fall is somehow equivalent to the European Union's rise and fall.
When the history of the rise and fall of postwar Western Europe is someday written, it will come in three volumes. Title them "Hard Facts," "Convenient Fictions" and—the volume still being written—"Fraud."
Not so, but far from it, Mr Stephens. To answer your own question, what will come after "Europe" will be Europe without quotation marks. You know, the one that has been around for some time and has produced quite a few good ideas as well as a large number of bad ones.

Still, we must take what we can and Mr Stephens is right in his main arguments:
There was, for starters, the convenient fiction that if you just added up the GDP of the European Union's expanding list of member states, you had an economy whose size exceeded that of the United States. Didn't this make "Europe" an economic superpower? There was the convenient fiction that Europe didn't need robust military capabilities when it could exert global influence through diplomacy and soft power. There was the convenient fiction that Europeans shared identical values and could thus be subject to uniform regulations governing crime and punishment. There was the convenient fiction that Continentals weren't lagging in productivity but were simply making an enlightened choice of leisure over labor.

And there was, finally, the whopping fiction that Europe had its own "model," distinct and superior to the American one, that immunized it from broader international currents: globalization, Islamism, demography. Europeans love their holidays and thought they were entitled to a long holiday from history as well.

All this did wonders, for a while, to mask European failures and puff up European pride. But there is always a danger in substituting grandiosity for achievement, mistaking pronouncements for facts, or, more generally, believing in your own nonsense.
And then, he says, came outright fraud. Well, not exactly. The outright fraud was there from the very beginning. Indeed, the fictions he lists, which some of us have been writing about for more years that we care to admit to, are inherently impossible without fraud.

Nevertheless, this is quite a big step forward in our fight to make the truth known in the United States. Now, all we need is an understanding of it in Britain.


  1. Some good points, but the comment about Europeans loving their holidays sounds like sour grapes from an American who is probably lucky to get two weeks' holiday a year. The idea that no country can be successful unless all workers have their noses to the grindstone for 18 hours a day and never take more than a couple of days off at a time is equally fictional, and plays into the hands of the super rich who view ordinary workers as serfs. This is like saying that our children would be much cleverer and better educated if they spent more time in school, which is another classic quantity over quality fallacy.

  2. I don't agree entirely, Anne. Quantity does not trump quality but taking quite as much time off as some countries do eats into quality. The trouble is that the argument is about quality of life and that, apparently, requires lots of holidays. But that quality of life cannot be sustained without hard work and a good deal less holidaying, as European countries are beginning to find out. As a matter of historic accuracy, countries that are consistently successful have fewer holidays.

  3. Some random thoughts.

    1. Anecdotally although Americans have fewer paid holidays I understand it is not uncommon to take unpaid time off. This is in the IT industry so may not be true of all sectors

    2. In the long term I question how America can remain an Anglophone country, in the sense we understand that to mean. Random link from the Internet.


    You have to love the title "Minority Babies Almost the Majority". The long and short of it is that in the coming decades the proportion of the population who feel they have historical ties to the Anglophone World will shrink, and eventually become a minority.

  4. PJ O'Rourke supported the Constitution (or the Lisbon Treaty, I forget which).

  5. Ian, the problem with those arguments about who is and who is not Anglophone is that they are meaningless. At any given time in American history minority babies en masse nearly outnumbered majority ones, whatever that might mean. It is a country of immigrants. But the minorities speak different languages and, in order to become American or take part in American life they will have to learn English or stay out of it. A lot of the Hispanic immigrants choose not to learn English, not to become Anglophone and they get nowhere. Crap jobs. That's it.

  6. Great piece Helen. I was working in the Foreign Exchange markets when the EURO was introduced. At that time there were many in the markets that did not believe the EURO would work. I was very glad that Britain maintained the GBP. I for one did not think that each nation could have seperate fiscal and monetary systems with only one currency. It made no sense back when there was the Drachma and the Lira those governments could devalue their currencies as well as adjust fiscal policies for their countires. It was only a matter of time before the wheels came off the bus on the EU and the EURO.