There is a side stream to the main flow of economic decay that is flooding Europe, a side stream of ethical decline. It is bringing changes to how people view fundamentally moral aspects of our society – our very lives. These changes, which I have in part covered in my essay Eugenics and the Welfare State, are driven by an artificially created need to ration health care services. Under single-payer, or otherwise heavily government-dominated health care systems, people’s universal right to health care stands in sharp contrast to the heavy rationing that always plagues such systems. In order to motivate who will get access to almost inaccessible health care, and who will be left to suffer or even die, economists, medical ethicists and politicians develop systems that allow bureaucrats to prioritize among individual patients.
The result is, as I explain in my aforementioned essay, that some lives are deemed too costly to live. The moral cynicism in this budget-driven sorting process, where lives worthy of living as spared and lives unworthy of living are discarded, bears strong resemblances to certain medical practices under the Third Reich. Those practices were summarized under the label Lebensunwertes Leben, i.e., life unworthy of living; to mark this strong resemblance I use the term Haushaltsunwertes Leben (life unworthy of the budget) for the rationing-driven practice where people are selected to die or suffer in order to keep a lid on the government’s costs for health care.
Regardless of whether a government-run health care system chooses people to die for reasons of “population hygiene”, which was the motivation in the Third Reich, or to “balance the budget”, as the motivation is in the modern welfare state, the practice creates entirely new moral standards for the notion of what a life is. It is no longer sacrosanct, even by the highest ethical standards applied in our modern, government-dominated health care. In addition to the use of tax money to fund abortions, health care systems in the modern welfare state are beginning to establish euthanasia as a form of medical practice on par with traditional forms of health care treatment.
Increasingly, life is being reduced to a utility function, where the decisions regarding what utility a person may be experiencing are in the hands of tax-funded bureaucrats, not patients and their doctors. Two stories from the excellent publication Lifenews.com highlight this process of moral decay. The first one is from the Canadian newspaper the Canadian newspaper National Post, which reports:
Wim Distelmans is unusual among physicians: when one of his patients dies, it means his treatment was a success. A long-time crusader for euthanasia, which was legalized in Belgium in 2002, Dr. Distelmans has made his name delivering death.
A suggestion: physicians who perform abortions and practice euthanasia should wear black coats instead of white.
On Sept. 23, Nathan Verhelst invited his friends to an intimate farewell party. They danced and laughed, raised glasses of champagne “to life” and shed tears. A week later, the 44-year-old departed — for a university hospital in Brussels where he was given a lethal injection. Under Belgium’s euthanasia law, doctors approved Mr. Verhelst’s request because of the unbearable psychological and physical suffering he was experiencing following childhood abuse and a failed sex-change operation.
First of all, the sex-change operation was in all likelihood performed on taxpayers’ tab, which raises another question about the medical priority mechanisms at work in government-dominated health care systems. Secondly, if this man was so eager to die, why did he not simply do it himself? Why ask taxpayers to do it for him?
Third, if this story is actually true it means that the Belgian government-run health care system is ready to kill patients it fails to cure. This opens a frightening view of what may lie ahead as budgets tighten even further in Europe’s crisis-torn health care systems.
The National Post again:
His euthanasia … is just the latest death to raise questions about how Belgium’s euthanasia law is being stretched to include patients who are not terminally ill and whose suffering is primarily psychological. Mr. Verhelst’s death came less than a year after 45-year-old twin brothers, who were deaf and lived together in Putte, Belgium, were granted euthanasia after learning they had a genetic condition that would cause them to lose their eyesight. The same year, a 44-year-old anorexic Belgian woman identified as Ann G, a victim of sexual abuse by a prominent psychiatrist, was euthanized to end her mental suffering.
Or was it simply the case that it would cost the government-run Belgian health care system too much money to cure her?
[Dr. Distelmans] euthanized a despondent Godelieva De Troyer, 64, whose children learned of her death after the fact. And he acknowledges there are many more “borderline” cases that the public never hears about. To some, Dr. Distelmans has come to embody the dangers of legalized euthanasia. “What is he? Is he God or something?” Ms. De Troyer’s son, Tom Mortier, asked in a recent interview. But while he has his critics, more Belgians see the charismatic Dr. Distelmans as a hero.
And herein lies the most frightening part of all of this. This man’s deeds become morally praiseworthy in the eyes of the general public:
On one Wednesday night last month, more than 300 people turned out in Zemst, north of Brussels, to hear Dr. Distelmans talk about dying. Dressed in jeans, a polo shirt and a black sweater, he explained how to request euthanasia in a two-hour presentation peppered with jokes. One audience member, 76-year-old Simone Vleminckz, hailed Dr. Distelmans as someone who has devoted his career to ending people’s suffering. “I think he knows the pain people feel,” she said. “You see it in his face.” Polls here show broad support for euthanasia, and the number of cases has grown steadily every year, from 235 in 2003, the first full year it was legal, to 1,432 last year.
The medical professionals of Nazi Germany who euthanized people also did it because they allegedly knew the suffering of the people they killed. The question missing here is: who determines the suffering?
As the National Post continues, we learn that the dark art of euthanasia is making headway in North America:
While the Quebec government pushes forward on a euthanasia law modeled after Belgium’s — the province’s Bill 52 passed second reading last month and is now under study by a legislative committee — the current debate here in Belgium is about expanding the euthanasia law rather than restricting it. And Dr. Distelmans is on the front lines. In an interview at a clinic he runs in the Brussels suburb of Wemmel, Dr. Distelmans defended his actions and argued that Belgian euthanasia law — which some argue has opened the door to abuses — should be expanded to cover children and people suffering from dementia.
And then what? Disabilities? Depression? High BMI?
Once euthanasia is elevated to the same level as the practice of actual medicine it will expand just like other forms of medicine. Where cancer treatment has expanded from alleviating the pain to exceptional cure rates, euthanasia will expand from its current narrow practice on the outer rim of medicine to an established choice across broad segments of medicine.
What is happening in Belgium is nothing short of the reversal of medicine itself, from saving lives to taking lives.
From a moral viewpoint, the expansion of euthanasia goes hand in hand with the expansion of abortion practices. There is also a fiscal side to it: both practices can be shown to save a tax-funded health care system a lot of money over a person’s (terminated) life span. On the abortion end of this modern budget-driven death spectrum, we have this story from Australia, reported by theconversation.com:
The internet was ablaze last week with the news that health authorities in Western Australia (WA) have given approval for IVF clinics to ‘screen’ embryos to reduce the chances of a couple having a child with autism. The Reproductive Technology Council will now allow certain women undergoing IVF treatment to be selectively implanted with female embryos only. The rationale for this practice is that autism is more likely to affect males than females (approximately 4 males for every 1 female), and by selecting female embryos, the chances of this child developing autism are reduced.
Prostate cancer is more common among black men than among white men; alcohol abuse is more common among certain native peoples in North America and Aborigines in Australia than among people of European origin. Suppose a government-run, tax-funded health care system allowed the replacement of black, Native or Aboriginal embroys with white ones to reduce prostate cancer and alcoholism.
That would, for very good reasons, not go over well with most people. Yet in this case the same moral standards simply do not apply. Back to the story from theconversation.com:
The West Australian reported that: “only families at high risk of having a child with autism, such as families who already have two boys with severe autism, would be considered for embryo screening”. The reaction to this report was swift and furious, and came from all corners of the globe. Some were concerned about the science underpinning this approach, and pointed to recent evidence that autism may be under-diagnosed in females, and that the gender imbalance in autism may not be as skewed towards males as we once thought.
These critics may very well be right, and if so they make a valid point. However, there is an even more serious problem here, namely that cost-cutting bureaucrats in the Australian health care system could easily expand the practice of this embryonic treatment method – effectively a form of abortion – far beyond deselecting children that may become autistic.
As the welfare states of the industrialized world continue to deteriorate, fiscally and morally, the practice of authoritarian medicine continues to grow. As it becomes more accepted, and more prominent, its expanding shadow slowly but inevitably eradicates the differences between a life deemed unworthy of living by totalitarian ideologues, and a life deemed unworthy of living by budget-balancing bureaucrats.
One of the most interesting professors I ever had in college was an guy in the economics department. He never stuck to the textbook, probably because he was assigned to teach intermediate microeconomics – a topic that could put anyone to sleep. It was frustrating to study for his exams, but the fascinating content of his lectures always made up for it.
One of his favorite topics was on how he participated in trying to manipulate the stock price of Volvo on the Swedish stock exchange back in the ’70s. The entire thing was illegal, of course, and he ended up getting a brief vacation courtesy of the Swedish government, but that did not stop him from going back to the financial markets trying to make a buck or two.
Rumor has it he eventually did it – legally – and retired in some Spanish Mediterranean village. That was sad, because that economics department needed a colorful professor like him. Not only was he an interesting lecturer in general, but he was also an absolute anti-socialist. I doubt capitalism has ever had a more passionate supporter in academia than this man.
One of the more useful things I learned from him (intermediate microeconomics is not useful…) is that economists and others are wrong when they claim you cannot create laboratories for economic theories. The entire Soviet empire was a big, full-scale laboratory for central economic planning. This professor was right, of course, and sadly a lot of people refuse to learn the lessons from those enormous experiments. Socialism is still a major problem in our world, despite close to a century of utterly discouraging experimental results.
Or, in plain English: don’t bother a socialist with the facts from the Soviet experiment – he has already made up his mind. For this very reason, socialism is a resilient delusion.
A tragic example of this in our time is Venezuela. There, socialists led by the now-defunct Hugo Chavez have transformed a reasonably well functioning country into an unending series of social and economic tragedies. One of the most telling examples is from the country’s health care system – heavily dominated by government regulations and funding – to which we will get in a moment. First, let us get a street view of the Bolivarian brand of socialism that so many people in europe and North America admire. USA Today has the story:
Thousands of Venezuelans lined up outside the country’s equivalent of Best Buy, a chain of electronics stores known as Daka, hoping for a bargain after the socialist government forced the company to charge customers “fair” prices. President Nicolás Maduro ordered a military “occupation” of the company’s five stores as he continues the government’s crackdown on an “economic war” it says is being waged against the country, with the help of Washington.
Yes, economic war… Apparently, socialists believe that the free market is a war machine. That aside, though, this is a typical maneuver by the Venezuelan government. They have imposed price controls on a slew of markets, in the name of “fair” pricing, with the only result being shortages, rationing and Soviet-style lines of customers trying to get their hands on groceries.
There is another reason why they do this: inflation. More on that in a moment. First, let’s get back to the streets of the socialist nightmare:
Members of Venezuela’s National Guard, some of whom carried assault rifles, kept order at the stores as bargain hunters rushed to get inside. “I want a Sony plasma television for the house,” said Amanda Lisboa, 34, a business administrator, who had waited seven hours already outside one Caracas store. “It’s going to be so cheap!” Televisions were the most in-demand item in the line outside one Caracas store, though people waited more than eight hours for fridges, washing machines, sewing machines and other imported appliances.
And why are they imported? Because no one can run a serious business anymore in Venezuela.
Images circulating online as well as reports by local media appeared to show one Daka store in the country’s central city of Valencia being looted. “I have no love for this government,” said Gabriela Campo, 33, a businesswoman, hoping to take home a cut-price television and fridge. “They’re doing this for nothing but political reasons, in time for December’s elections.” Maduro faces municipal elections on Dec. 8. His popularity has dropped significantly in recent months…
As has Obama’s, which is going to have serious repercussions for the Democrats in next year’s mid-term election. But you don’t see Obama deploy the U.S. Army at Best Buys to boost his popularity numbers. Some of his supporters might want him to do that, but we are still a country where the rule of law prevails. We have not degenerated to the destructive Venezuelan levels of authoritarianism.
I could, however, imagine seeing scenes like this in Greece in the near future. Or Spain. It would probably start with supermarkets and clothes stores, but that doesn’t really matter. Once you have created economic and social chaos in a country, there is no rule of either law or common sense anymore.
And now for the inflation part of the story:
…with shortages of basic items such as chicken, milk and toilet paper as well as soaring inflation, at 54.3% over the past 12 months. Economists are expecting a devaluation soon after the election, likely leading to even higher inflation.
Five years ago Venezuela was wrestling with inflation in the 25-30 percent bracket. This is a country spinning completely out of control.
[President] Maduro … appeared on state television Friday calling for the “occupation” of the [Daka store] chain, which employs some 500 staff. “This is for the good of the nation,” Maduro said. “Leave nothing on the shelves, nothing in the warehouses … Let nothing remain in stock!” The president was accompanied on television by images of officials checking prices of 32-inch plasma televisions. Daka’s store managers, according to Maduro, have been arrested and are being held by the country’s security services.
And what is president Maduro going to do to make sure the shelves in the Daka stores are being replenished? We already know that socialism is little more than state-sanctioned looting, and we also know that you can only take other people’s money and property once. Then you have to start being productive on your own, and that is when things go really wrong for socialists. When the Soviet communists had looted the private farms, confiscated whatever the bourgeoisie had and plundered every part of the private sector, they had to start producing food for the people.
Lenin, perhaps one of the least mentally deranged in the Soviet communist leadership, allowed a partial return to private-sector farming, a nod of admission that capitalism and freedom will always trump socialism, tyranny and central economic planning.
But don’t waste any oxygen on trying to tell this story to the delusional leaders of Venezuela. Their policy of state-sanctioned looting will continue until the country is little more than a pile of rubble. USA Today again:
[Critics] are adamant that government price controls, enacted by Chávez a decade ago, are the real cause for the dire state of the economy. With such a shortage of hard currency for importers and regular citizens, dollars sell on the black market for nine times their official, government-set value. Prices, at shops such as Daka, are set according to this black market, hence the government’s crackdown. Chávez often theatrically expropriated or seized assets from more than 1,000 companies during his 14-year tenure. This, among other difficulties for foreign firms, led to a severe lack of foreign investment in the country which, according to OPEC, has the world’s largest oil reserves.
Socialists can point a gun to someone’s head and demand his money. But they don’t know how to make an honest buck.
Nor do they know how to make health care work properly. Here is a story from the Associated Press on the Venezuelan health care system:
Evelina Gonzalez was supposed to undergo cancer surgery in July following chemotherapy but wound up shuttling from hospital to hospital in search of an available operating table. On the crest of her left breast, a mocha-colored tumor doubled in size and now bulges through her white spandex tank top. Gonzalez is on a list of 31 breast cancer patients waiting to have tumors removed at one of Venezuela’s biggest medical facilities, Maracay’s Central Hospital. But like legions of the sick across the country, she’s been neglected by a health care system doctors say is collapsing after years of deterioration.
This is a state-controlled health care system, funded in large part through a government-run program. The private segments of the system are under constant pressure from the socialist government for making money – “profiteering” – on providing health care to willingly paying patients. Or, in the words of The Economist a while back:
The government says the private clinics are profiteers, trafficking in illness, and the president keeps threatening to nationalise them all. Let’s hope he doesn’t, because public hospitals are in a much worse state, despite official claims that giant strides have been made in recent years.
The Associated Press again:
Doctors at the hospital sent home 300 cancer patients last month when supply shortages and overtaxed equipment made it impossible for them to perform non-emergency surgeries. Driving the crisis in health care are the same forces that have left Venezuelans scrambling to find toilet paper, milk and automobile parts. Economists blame government mismanagement and currency controls set by the late President Hugo Chavez for inflation pushing 50 percent annually.
Let’s sum up that list:
1. Overtaxed medical equipment. Please note, American readers, that Obamacare includes a tax on medical equipment.
2. Price controls. In a feeble attempt to put out the inflation fire they themselves have started, the Venezuelan government has created a system of price dictates. The only tangible effect is that supply stops at what the dictated price motivates sellers to bring to the market. You don’t even need to take intermediate microeconomics to figure this one out…
3. Currency manipulation. The Venezuelan government is fixing its currency’s exchange rate in order to sell a lot of state-produced oil from state-seized oil wells. The currency fixing, however, forces them to use a monetary method called currency sterilization, which – to make a long story short – floods the domestic economy with money. If at the same time you regulate free markets to the point where they stop functioning; if you create massive government entitlements for work-free income; then you have a recipe for high inflation.
As the Associated Press story explains, part of the acute problem in health care is related to the government’s currency manipulation:
The government controls the dollars needed to buy medical supplies and has simply not made enough available. “I feel like I’ve been abandoned,” Gonzalez, 37, tells a bright-eyed hospital psychologist trying to boost her morale. Her right eye is swollen by glaucoma diagnosed two years ago but left untreated when she had trouble getting an appointment. Doctors not allied with the government say many patients began dying from easily treatable illnesses when Venezuela’s downward economic slide accelerated after Chavez’s death from cancer in March. Doctors say it’s impossible to know how many have died, and the government doesn’t keep such numbers, just as it hasn’t published health statistics since 2010.
Typical socialist tactic. When things turn for the worse under their regime, they hide the facts and double down on their destructive policies.
Almost everything needed to mend and heal is in critically short supply: needles, syringes and paraffin used in biopsies to diagnose cancer; drugs to treat it; operating room equipment; X-ray film and imaging paper; blood and the reagents needed so it can be used for transfusions. Last month, the government suspended organ donations and transplants. At least 70 percent of radiotherapy machines, precisely what Gonzalez will need once her tumor is removed, are now inoperable in a country with 19,000 cancer patients – meaning fewer than 5,000 can be treated, said Dr. Douglas Natera, president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation.
Instead of fixing the problem, the socialist government ignores it. Why? Because otherwise they would have to admit that socialism is not working. And what is more important for a politician than to pretend that his socialist policies are working? Certainly not people’s lives, right…?
And now for the finale:
The country’s 1999 constitution guarantees free universal health care to Venezuelans, who sit on the world’s largest proven oil reserves. President Nicolas Maduro’s government insists it’s complying. Yet of the country’s 100 fully functioning public hospitals, nine in 10 have just 7 percent of the supplies they need … Venezuela’s 400 private hospitals and clinics are overburdened and strapped for supplies, 95 percent of which must be imported, said Dr. Carlos Rosales, president of the association that represents them. The private system has just 8,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 hospital beds but treats 53 percent of the country’s patients, including the 10 million public employees with health insurance.
Let’s repeat that number:
The private system has just 8,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 hospital beds but treats 53 percent of the country’s patients
What does that tell you about government efficiency?
But wait – it gets even better as the AP story continues (with emphasis added):
Rosales said insurers, many state-owned, are four to six months behind in payments and it is nearly impossible to meet payrolls and pay suppliers. Worse, government price caps set in July for common procedures are impossible to meet, Rosales said. For example, dialysis treatment was set at 200 bolivars ($30 at the official exchange rate and less than $4 on the black market) for a procedure that costs 5,000 bolivars to administer. … At Maracay’s 433-bed Central Hospital, mattresses are missing, broken windows go unrepaired and the cafeteria has been closed for a year. Paint peels off walls and rusty pipes lie exposed. In the halls, patients on intravenous drips lie recovering on gurneys. “We have some antibiotics but they aren’t usually appropriate for what you are specifically treating,” said Dr. Gabriela Gutierrez, the surgeon caring for Gonzalez. There is no anesthesia for elective surgery.
But who cares? After all, Venezuela is a socialist country, and that’s what matters, isn’t it??
Medical students quietly showed AP journalists around to avoid alerting government supporters, who bar reporters from recording images in public hospitals. Broken anesthesia machines and battered stainless-steel instrument tables, some held together with tape, filled one of five idled operating rooms. Foul odors and water from leaky pipes continue to seep into the rooms, doctors said.
But wait there’s more!
In August, cancer patients protested at the eight-month mark since the hospital’s two radiotherapy machines broke down. The machines remain out of order. Half the public health system’s doctors quit under Chavez, and half of those moved abroad, Natera said. Now, support staff is leaving, too, victim of a wage crunch as wages across the economy fail to keep up with inflation. At the Caracas blood bank, Lopez said 62 nurses have quit so far this year along with half the lab staff. … Dengue fever … is making a worrisome comeback. The number of women dying in childbirth has also risen, to 69 per 100,000 in 2010 from 51 in 1998.
Let’s blame it all on Bush.
Seriously – how many of these stories do we need before socialists will wake up from their delusion and stop ignoring facts, experience and the horrors created by their warped ideology?
The European mockery of U.S. politics continues. The latest contribution comes from two talking heads at Der Spiegel – a magazine I thought would hold itself to higher standards than this. Sadly, I was wrong. In a piece that reeks of ignorance and demagoguery, Sebastian Fischer and Mark Pitzke, current and former U.S. correspondent for Der Spiegel, embark on a journey that is more revealing of the German political culture they hold dear than any insights into American politics and society. Here is how they start:
The United States has temporarily avoided federal default. As the Republicans lick their wounds, the Democrats are triumphant.
Well, not exactly. The Democrats are increasingly worried about the implementation of Obamacare, with costs of health insurance going up dramatically for most Americans. The roll-out has been an abysmal failure and there is no improvement in sight. By the time the primary elections start in the lead-up to the 2014 midterm elections, there is going to be a whole new crop of candidates out there to challenge the incumbents who voted for, or otherwise have endorsed, Obamacare.
Long-term, the funding fight that just ended could turn out to be a home run for the Republicans, just as the debacle with Hillarycare prepared the ground for Republicans to take Congress in 1994.
Back to Fischer and Pitzke:
But no one should be happy, because the debacle has exposed just how broken the American political system truly is. The president kept things short, speaking for only three minutes on Wednesday night to praise the debt compromise reached by Congress. After he finished, a reporter called after him: “Mr. President, will this happen again in a couple of months?” Barack Obama, who was on his way out the door, turned and answered sharply, “No.”
First of all, the funding fight actually shows how strong the American democracy is. Our political scene allows disputes, differences in opinion and analysis, and diverging ideologies to fight for the approval of their voters. By encouraging intellectual pluralism the U.S. democracy usually takes the American society in a healthier direction than Europe. Or, as I put it in an article on free debate and prosperity earlier this month:
There is a prevailing idea in Europe, again with the exception of Britain and to some degree Denmark, that politics is about bringing everyone to the consensus table. The construction of the EU has reinforced the institutional structures that favor consensus over a free, vigorous debate. Where American politicians can end a debate on a note of disagreement, Europeans often get nervous over the lack of consensus and agreement. I am not going to speculate as to where Europe got its consensus extremism from, though the parliamentary system itself may have been biased in favor of compromise and consensus rather than principled disagreement. But what really matters is that a political system that favors compromise and consensus gradually erodes, and eventually eliminates, principled debate. As part of the convergence toward a compromise the European parliamentary system implicitly establishes a value norm that then becomes the attractor point for all future political discourse.
The pursuit of consensus puts the European parliamentary system on autopilot in one direction, and one direction only. As the current economic crisis demonstrates, this can have disastrous effects, both for outer-rim states like Greece and for core euro-zone economies like France.
Where dissent is viewed as a bump in the road to consensus, democracy ultimately loses its meaning.
Furthermore, and actually as a result of Europe’s consensus extremism, the debt problems are worse in the EU than they are here in the United States, a fact that Der Spiegel carefully evades talking about. But even more worrisome is that the lack of dissent in Europe’s political discourse is about to put the entire continent on a very dangerous path to heavy restrictions on free speech.
However, none of this is of any consequence to Fischer and Pitzke as they continue to mock the most vigorous democracy in the industrialized world:
With his re-election in 2012, Obama thought he could break the Republican “fever.” Instead, the conservatives paralyzed the government and risked a federal default just so they could stop Obama’s signature project: health care reform. And this despite the fact that “Obamacare” had been approved by a majority of both houses of Congress, was upheld by the US Supreme Court, and was endorsed by the American people in the voting booths
Well… Obama lost ten million votes in 2012 compared to 2008. He also lost two states that he won in ’08. Republicans increased their hold on state legislatures. There are now more Republican governors than ever in recent history. That is hardly an endorsement of Obamacare. And the fact that the law has been upheld as constitutional has nothing to do with whether or not it is good for the American health care system. On the contrary, being constitutional is an absolute minimum requirement for any law to even be considered by Congress.
Does Der Spiegel really believe that ignorance is bliss among its reporters? Fischer and Pitzke again:
[The] political crisis has turned out to be a systemic crisis. America’s 237-year-old democracy is approaching its limits. Its political architecture was not designed for long-lasting blockades and extortion, the likes of which have been enthusiastically practiced by Tea Party supporters for almost the last four years. The US’s founding fathers proposed a system of checks and balances, not checks and boycotts.
These two German gentlemen are apparently very poorly educated on the history of American politics… Our constitutional republic has survived far worse things than this. It has survived presidential impeachments, it has functioned during wars and deep economic crises. That is a sign of tremendous strength, not a democracy at its limits.
Or do Fischer and Pitzke suggest that we here in America should follow the German tradition of replacing democracy with a strong leader when times get tough?
In hardly any other western democracy are the minority’s parliamentary rights as strongly pronounced as they are in the US, where a single senator can delay legislation, deny realities, and leverage the system. In Germany, the government is built from a majority in parliament. In America, the president and his allies in Congress have to organize majorities for each new law. But for a long time Obama has hardly been able to find any — not for immigration reform, or new gun control laws, or even for the budget, as the world’s largest economy has been making do with emergency spending measures since 2009.
More than 400,000 Americans died as a result of the German preference for majority rule.
Scarcely 50 right-wing populists, led by Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz, have been pushing their once proud Republican party into a kamikaze course. Why are the other Republicans letting them do this? They are afraid of radical challengers within their own party in their local districts. Meanwhile, the Democrats hardly pose a threat, because over the past several years the borders of the congressional districts have been manipulated in such a way that they almost always clearly go Republican or Democratic.
How predictable. When nothing else works, you throw in the standard argument against our constitutional republic – congressional redistricting. Again, Fischer and Pitzke are sadly uneducated. The redistricting process is extremely closely monitored, and “manipulation” is almost impossible. There are experienced legislators involved; there are lawyers involved; courts; journalists; political scientists and demographers…
But never mind all that. Let’s do things the German way. Let’s not care about the fact that people move, that the economic and social geography changes; let’s not worry about how representative our elected officials are. All we should do is create a party system where people vote for parties, not candidates, and where conservatives and social democrats rule together as if there were no differences between them.
Which, in Germany, there aren’t. Back when Adenauer was around, Germany got off on a good start with a federal constitution that promised true democracy and political vitality. Then the Germans decided they wanted a welfare state instead, and all of a sudden their country was run from the top down, with Bonn – now Berlin – running an increasing part of the budgets in states and cities. With more and more entitlement programs, funded and mandated by the federal government, lower German governments gradually changed from being true representations of their voters’ will to what is now little more than federal spending agencies.
Is that the kind of democracy that Fischer and Pizke want?
As a result, America loses the representative nature of its representative democracy. In the congressional elections in 2012, Democrats won 1.17 million more votes than Republicans, but Republicans got 33 more seats in the House of Representatives. Changes in majority rarely exist anymore.
Oh, dear… In 1994 Republicans took both chambers in Congress, under a Democrat president. In 2000 the senate was split evenly, the House in Republican hands and the president a Republican. In 2006 Democrats won both chambers under a Republican president. In 2008 they held on to Congress and the president was a Democrat. In 2010 Republicans re-took the House under a Democrat president.
No changes in majority?? I am frankly disappointed in Der Spiegel for publishing something so pathetic.
During the recent debt ceiling fight, Tea Party hotheads called their colleagues who were willing to talk with Democrats the “surrender caucus.” Anybody who would vote for a compromise “would virtually guarantee a primary challenger,” Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp threatened on Tuesday.
Here we go again. Our two German friends go ballistic over the fact that there are – OMG – differences in opinion, values, ideology woven into the American political landscape. But let’s not kick them around too much. After all, in their own backyard, consensus is king, and who are they to risk their careers by promoting dissent in Germany? As is glaringly obvious from the emerging coalition in Berlin between conservatives and social democrats, the German democracy is cleansing itself of differences in opinion. One people, one majority, one chancellor.
Adding to this is the almost unlimited flow of campaign contributions, which finance the increasingly brutal mudslinging during congressional elections every two years. Behind those donations are often radical groups or interested billionaires, such as the brothers David and Charles Koch, who have financed the Tea Party and are thought to have helped plan and direct the most recent crisis.
Why don’t Fischer and Pitzke mention George Soros and the billions he has been pouring into American politics for the past 15 years?
And then, inevitably, these two German clowns sink to the mud-and-gutter level of demagoguery:
At the same time, the US is undergoing huge demographic shifts, which were recently evident in Obama’s re-election. The old “white majority” is slowly shrinking into a minority. One of the consequences has been the rise of the Tea Party, which is loudly pushing back against change, Obama and the government itself. Tea Party protagonists such as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin beguile their followers with folksy language they can understand and proudly hold up ignorance and stupidity as badges of honor in their battle against the “elite” and their intellect.
I have spoken at Tea Party events. I know many people who are involved in that movement. Fischer and Pitzke would be shocked to see how many regular, middle-class people there are in this movement. Some of those who became active early on are now elected officials at the state and local level. One of them is state representative Lynn Hutchings, a black woman with a long, honorable military career behind her. Never having been in politics before, she decided after Obama’s election that it was time for her to do what she could to fight for the values that she holds dear.
I’d like to see Fischer and Pitzke come to a meeting with representative Hutchings and tell her that she is holding up “ignorance and stupidity as badges of honor”.
The truth is that Germans in general, and German political elitists in particular, are culturally and economically programmed against political dissent. Everywhere a welfare state shapes people’s lives, intellectual conformity follows in its footsteps. One reason for this is that the political machinery, as I explained earlier, aligns itself along a path of consensus to preserve the welfare state; anyone who opposes it is thrown out of the political parties because any opposition to entitlements means losing the voters who depend on them. And since, in Germany as well as everywhere else in the EU, half or more of all citizens critically need entitlements to make ends meet, the welfare state effectively becomes the dictator of consensus in the parliamentary system.
Another reason why political dissent makes Germans uncomfortable is that they have not learned to separate person from opinion. This is a symptom of a society with truncated individuals – another effect of the welfare state. A society where government provides lots of goodies to people is also a society where government standardizes the life of the individual. In order to get the most out of what the welfare state provides, people need to conform their lives to the entitlements. This means doing things government condones, and not doing things government (often implicitly) discourages. With everyone conforming to the welfare state’s template life, individualism becomes uncomfortable. The more the welfare state shapes people’s lives, the more uncomfortable people become with individualism.
Those who stick their neck out and break the ranks become unwelcome reminders of what life could really be like. As a result, society develops cultural codes and behavioral patterns where individualism is punished. Conformity and consensus win the day.
We certainly have our problems and challenges here in America. We are still in a very modest recovery from a long, tough recession. But at least we are making economic progress. Germany, on the other hand, is going the same way as the rest of the EU: back into the dungeons of depression, stagnation and industrial poverty.
In five years time, the U.S. economy will be churning on forward. Germany, on the other hand, will be in the midst of a transformation into an economic wasteland. The transformation will be spearheaded by a government thoroughly clean of political dissent.
Back in February I asked if Europe can stop rising nationalism within its borders. I concluded:
Europe in general is so deeply entrenched in the defense of big government that its leaders have a very weak gut reaction to authoritarianism. This is especially true on the socialist flank, but it applies almost as strongly to nationalism.
Right after World War II the countries of Western Europe started building and expanding welfare states. Originally they followed slightly different paths, with Scandinavia going for the full-blown socialism-light model while Germany and Britain kept their welfare states more in line with what has often been classified as “social conservatism”. Over time, though, the differences between the various welfare states have been blurred and almost vanished. Today, Europe is little more than one big mess of income redistribution, decaying socialized health care, destructive entitlement dependency and widespread hopelessness.
Life under this slowly declining welfare state is not much different than life under the late-stage Communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe. Europeans can still vote for nominally dissenting parties for their legislatures, but the most important pillar of parliamentary democracy – freedom of speech – is slowly withering away. The immediate motive for reining in free speech is to expand tolerance, but in reality the purpose is to thwart debates about the increasingly devastating effects of austerity and attempts at preserving the welfare state.
When 20 percent or more of the young are unemployed in 20 member states, and when entitlement dependency has created large areas in Europe’s big cities, filled with pacified immigrants, crime and religious extremism, it is not far-fetched to see what explosive forces are at work. But instead of breaking a vicious, downward spiral of industrial poverty, despair, crime, social disintegration and surging political radicalism, Europe’s political leaders double down on their path to the economic wasteland. Instead of opening up an honest, informed debate about where Europe is actually heading, they create new, draconian restrictions on freedom of speech.
The reaction from regular Europeans is going to be as predictable as the idiotic commitment of the Eurocracy to an ever expanding, ever more authoritarian “democratic” government. As the political elite of the EU and the member states continue to grow the super-state; as they continue to centralize power to Brussels and put more and more invasive measures in place to rein in the lives of Europe’s already heavily regulated citizens; an ever growing number of those citizens will look for simple-solution delivering political movements.
As the political elite blurs the distinction between democracy and totalitarianism, the ability of democracy to resist totalitarianism will rapidly become weaker. This was my conclusion in February of this year, and I continue to stand by that conclusion.
I have received a few rather snotty comments on this matter. I have only one thing to say to the simple-minded “enlightened” political elitists behind those comments: Never bark at the big dog. The big dog is always right. From the Christian Science Monitor:
Extreme, neo-fascist groups in Spain are preparing for a show of force during this weekend’s nationalist holiday, and Spanish authorities are keeping a close eye on the situation. But experts worry that the real fascist concern in Spain is not from small extremist groups, but rather from growing public displays of fascist sympathies by a small part of the conservative government’s constituency – and even among elected officials.
With the exception of Greece, Spain is the country in Europe that has suffered the worst as a result of the economic crisis. Their overall unemployment rate is nearing Greek levels and their youth unemployment is only a few ticks behind Greece. Middle-class Spaniards have become food scavengers to survive, wages are falling for those who still have jobs, the crisis is still deepening, austerity policies have driven up taxes to a point that inflation in this unemployment-ridden country is actually on the rise, home-owning Spanish families default in droves on their mortgages, and the overall economic, social and political situation is becoming downright explosive.
Is there any wonder that wealthier provinces are considering secession as a last-resort attempt at preserving whatever they can of their prosperity?
The sensible response to this would, of course, be that the national government abandons the current path of trying to save the welfare state in the midst of an ever deeper economic crisis. But that notion is not even on the political radar screen in Europe – let alone in Spain. Instead, the only alternative to the current policies that seem to have any legs is apparently Franco fascism.
Spain was ruled by a fascist dictator for 40 years. There are still millions of Spaniards who remember Franco, just as there are millions upon millions of East Europeans who remember the bad old days of the Soviet era. When parliamentary democracy fails to deliver a prosperous future, people are more inclined to consider alternatives even if those alternatives are loaded with totalitarianism. When unemployment among the young exceeds 50 percent, selective memories of a bygone era become dangerous challengers on the contemporary political scene.
So far, the radical fascist and Nazi groups in Spain are not within reach of the influence that Golden Dawn has achieved. But that could easily change – and change quickly. Christian Science Monitor again:
An alliance of radical right groups – including violent neo-Nazi ones – have mobilized to travel from around the country to Barcelona to protest Catalonian nationalism on the October 12 ”Día de la Hispanidad,” or “Hispanic Day,” holiday. Authorities said Thursday they plan to prevent violent groups from entering Catalonia. The holiday march is held annually, and is normally small and peaceful. But the nationalist undertones of Hispanic Day – which originally commemorated Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the American continent until was renamed in 1958 by the fascist regime of General Francisco Franco – make it a flashpoint. Five groups – including violent neo-Nazi cells and a political party that the Supreme Court is considering banning – in July formed a common platform called “Spain on the March.”
And you thought the welfare state would build a bulwark against totalitarianism? Precisely the opposite is true. The welfare state is the inevitable pathway to totalitarianism.
The weekend march is not an isolated incident. As Catalonian plans to hold a referendum on independence move forward, the extreme right has re-energized, even if it remains small compared to the resurgent movements in Greece, France, and elsewhere. Last month, a dozen radicals forced their way into a library where Catalonians were commemorating their own national day, injuring several people and tearing down Catalonian symbols. Police arrested them in the aftermath.
And we are not talking some fringe group here:
Police estimate there are about 10,000 members involved in violent extreme right groups. They lost political representation in parliament in 1982, seven years after Franco died. But they didn’t disappear. They melded into the now governing PP. The concern is not so much over the very small group of violent groups, which authorities constantly monitor. These are mostly contained, experts agree. The real problem is in from those within the government’s ruling party that sympathize ideologically – even if they condemn the use of violence.
The “trains-ran-on-time” myth about fascism has never quite died in Europe. And again, today’s democratically elected leaders in Europe are lending a hand to those who have kept that myth alive. The Eurocracy and their errand runners in national parliaments are carving away at parliamentary democracy, little by little. First they shoved austerity down the throats of Greek, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and French voters; when voters protested, the political elite appointed their own leaders in place of elected ones to govern austerity-ridden countries. And now the same elite is putting barb wire around free speech. The Monitor again:
The political heirs of Franco merged with the PP [now governing Spain], which is ideologically a center-right party. And amid the eurocrisis, they could gain more political clout that could be significantly more dangerous than the violent groups, experts warn. The government has been criticized by the opposition, regional governments, and human rights groups for condoning fascist public support among its own followers – which even if small in number, were unheard of until recently – even if violent groups are suppressed. Such criticism arose again on Thursday, when PP legislators voted down a motion like that in the Catalonian parliament to criminalize public support for fascism, Franco, and the Nazis.
As abhorrent as fascism is, have speech bans elsewhere in Europe killed that ideology? Obviously not. Such speech bans seriously under-estimate the citizenry. The only thing they do is put on full display the arrogance of the political elite, including their bizarre belief that every aspect of society can be politically engineered.
You would think that seven long decades of Soviet Communism would be evidence enough. You would think that by now they had learned to attack the underlying reasons why people turn to radical, totalitarian ideologies. But while the political and cultural elite in Europe is quick to explain away radical Islamism with social and economic factors, they still believe that a simple speech ban can keep people from turning to other versions of oppression.
Evidently, Europe’s biggest deficit is in political adulthood.
But there is more. The story in the Christian Science Monitor gives chilling examples of a Franco resurgence in Spain, of proportions that should send a chill down the spine of every freedom-minded individual on the Iberian peninsula – and elsewhere. Click here and read it all. It is well worth your time.
I don’t often agree with President Obama – in fact, I almost never agree with him – but he has gotten one thing right: America’s future foreign policy, military and economic interests are not primarily trans-Atlantic, but trans-Pacific. Asia’s economies are still on the rise, even though China is wrestling with an inflation problem slowing its growth. But compared to Europe, Asia is a miracle of economic health and a promising outlook on the future.
When contrasted against Asia – from South Korea to China to India – Europe comes across as more and more of a museum over the 20th century: big, manufacturing corporations protected from local competition by costly labor-market regulations, governments desperately trying to preserve whatever they can of their welfare states and generations growing up to a void of opportunities, overshadowed by perpetual unemployment.
Speaking of unemployment, no other economic phenomenon is as long-term destructive as youth unemployment. It shatters hopes and aspirations, it depresses ambitions and robs generation after generation of the ability to start a life, build their own prosperity and even feed themselves. In place of a bright outlook on the future, youth unemployment gives the young despair, depression and cynicism.
Youth unemployment discards our children already before they have set their foot in the world of self determination. As a direct consequence, over time it destroys the interest among our children to inherit our society. The consequences of that are formidable. As a first glance at what this means, consider the latest numbers on unemployment among Europe’s young:
When young people are disenfranchised in the numbers shown here, it should come as no surprise that many of them will turn their backs on society. The very social and economic institutions they have been brought up to like and appreciate have, in their minds, let them down and thrown them on the macroeconomic garbage pile. What reason do they have to be loyal to a society that does not provide them with opportunities to build their own lives?
There are fiscal and monetary policy solutions to this problem. Doing away with unemployment is not hard - all it takes is some solid knowledge of macroeconomics, some fiscal fortitude and a healthy dose of disrespect for political conventionalism. But as things are now in Europe, conventionalism is the biggest enemy the young face today. Political conventions that say “defend the welfare state” get in the way of healthy economic policies that otherwise would pave the way for massive job creation.
But even more serious is the proliferating notion among Europe’s political leaders that there should not even be a debate over policy solutions. A clear witness of this is in the dictatorial fashion by which the leaders of the EU spearheaded the austerity assault on troubled member states. There was never a debate about the virtues and vices of austerity, never any questions about the soundness of crushing the welfare state in Greece while preventing the private sector from providing alternative solutions. There has been no discussion about why it would be a good idea to scale back, massively, poverty relief in depression-ridden countries like Greece and Spain, while at the same time cracking down on private organizations trying to fill the void left by an increasingly austere government.
In Spain, the depression has turned young professionals into food scavengers. In Greece, the neo-Nazis have challenged government by setting up poverty-relief systems and food distribution networks. This has raised their voter support to where they are now the third biggest party in Greece.
If the Eurocrats in Brussels had invited to a vigorous debate about austerity, both its economic and social consequences, and if they had solicited alternative strategies, then anti-democratic organizations such as neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece would not be where they are today. But instead of realizing how utterly dangerous their monotheistic approach is, the Eurocracy reinforces its campaign to eradicate debate. The latest addition to their toolbox is the new, European “tolerance” campaign which I reported on two weeks ago. Superficially it is aimed at going after expressions of extremist political views, but in reality it serves as yet another tool to stifle policy debate in general.
In view of Europe’s steadily rising youth unemployment, this is exceptionally serious. When one in five young European is left idle, at least these young men and women must be granted a chance to voice their criticism of existing social and economic structures, of political conventions that they see favoring others than themselves. And even though the aforementioned “tolerance” campaign is not explicitly aimed at stifling debate in general, it seriously narrows down the spectrum of what debate is permissible and what is deemed intolerant and therefore banned, either de facto by social stigmata or de jure by new speech-stifling legislation.
Where free speech is thrown out, prosperity will exit as well. It will take a long time for Europe’s political leaders to realize this. In the meantime, let’s listen to what Dispatch International has to say about the “tolerance” campaign:
Powerful organizations specializing in humanism and paid by the EU have embarked on a new offensive to standardize national legislation. … professional human rights activists … mean business when they demand a ban on, e.g., criticism of feminism.
You may wonder what this has to do with solving the problem of youth unemployment. Directly, there is no connection. But there is an indirect one that we will get to in a moment. For now, back to Dispatch, which reports that the new “tolerance” directive from the EU includes a proposed ban on forms of speech that are deemed to be “anti-feminist”:
[Anti-feminism] must be banned and combated according to “A European framework national statute for the promotion of tolerance – submitted with a view to being enacted by the legislatures of European states”. This document has been circulating in the EU’s paper-lined labyrinths and will probably be approved by a majority in the European Parliament. The statute – intended to be imposed as law in the member states – proposes “concrete action to combat intolerance, in particular with a view to eliminating racism, colour bias, ethnic discrimination, religious intolerance, totalitarian ideologies, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-feminism and homophobia”.
First, the usual disclaimer. As a libertarian I am opposed to any statist ideology, from American liberalism through European social liberalism to social democracy. I am a staunch defender of individual freedom for all humans, regardless of whether they are Australian Aboriginies, Shaolin monks in China or struggling farmers in Siberia. I don’t care about a person’s skin color, ethnic background, religious affiliation or gender identity – so long as they are willing to respect their fellow citizens on the same terms, we can all live in peace and pursue our individual goals in life.
This means, of course, that I am vehemently opposed to racist and totalitarian ideologies, such as Nazism, Communism and Islamism. I abhorred Apartheid in South Africa and I pray for the freedom of the people in North Korea. And I am thoroughly disturbed by the fact that Nazis hold democratically elected seats in a parliament in Europe for the first time since the 1930s.
That said, I do not believe that you fight any of this by stifling free speech. People are not drawn to totalitarian ideologies for random reasons; young men and women do not line up behind movements like Golden Dawn or the British National Party because they were born to hate. They do so because at some point they have drawn the conclusion that society as they were told it worked, does not offer them a path to the future. Somewhere along the line they have been discouraged in their efforts to believe in democracy, and instead turned to its very antithesis.
As a result, young men and women in Europe become radicalized. They turn their backs on the society they were supposed to inherit. For a while, the radicalization process was contained by the welfare state, as swaths of young Europeans went from school to dependency on tax-funded entitlements. But as the welfare state bled taxpayers dry, and budget deficits ran rampant across Europe, the last-resort solution for young Europeans to feed themselves began dissipating. Austerity destroyed the firewall that kept people from severing their moral ties to parliamentary democracy.
The result? A growing political movement across Europe that despises democracy, rejects liberty and fights for a ”Great Europe” united under a fascist banner. So far they are fringe movements, but that will very likely change – and change soon. The “tolerance” campaign by the EU is going to exacerbate the radicalization of Europe’s voters, especially the young. The same government that has let the young down; the same society that has deprived them of economic opportunity; is now going to try to regulate their speech.
Instead of engaging and including those who are being marginalized, the Eurocracy is trying to rally its member-state governments behind yet another measure that will disenfranchise even more people. And just to drive home the point of how serious this “tolerance” directive is, Dispatch International reports:
Governments must take concrete steps to prosecute persons who “make defamatory comments … in public and aimed against a group … or members thereof – with a view to inciting to violence, slandering the group, holding it to ridicule or subjecting it to false charges”.
In my analysis of this “tolerance” directive I noted, with reference to the “holding to ridicule” part:
The prevailing interpretation seems to be that it is now going to be illegal in Europe to poke fun at someone. While seemingly harmless, the true meaning of this is that the Europeans are going to outlaw satire as a means to criticize in politics. Perhaps one should expect hostility toward political satire from the members of the European Commission. It is hard to find a group of human beings who take themselves more seriously than the EU Commissioners. That aside, the intention behind the ambition to make “group libel” charges available against humorists is to turn the table on freedom of speech. By adding such serious infringements as are suggested here, the European Commission effectively changes the default settings on freedom of speech: if this does become the law of the land in the EU it will shift the balance between what is permitted and what is banned so that the permitted forms of speech are now enumerated.
In short: this directive could lead to a situation where speech that is not explicitly allowed is banned by default.
This is nothing short of an authoritarian straitjacket on the free exchange of ideas in Europe. It will most certainly drive more people into the arms of totalitarian movements – after all, if a government that is supposed to be democratic can put this kind of draconian restrictions on a basic individual freedom, then how big is really the difference between democracy and totalitarianism? If legislators elected by the people can severely rein in the liberty of that same people, then why should people endorse the process that elected those lawmakers?
But it does not stop there. This new “tolerance” directive will have repercussions for the debate over how to solve the problem with youth unemployment. How do you make the argument that Europe needs less government and must do away with its welfare state when at the same time the government you are criticizing could label you intolerant for doing so? Far fetched? Not at all. The only thing government has to do is make the case that your policies of reducing the size of the welfare state would hurt certain minorities. If, say, a majority of African immigrants in France live on welfare, and you advocate the elimination of tax-funded welfare, then under this new “tolerance” directive you could be charged with intolerant speech.
Even more obvious is the link between Europe’s irresponsible immigration policies and the high youth unemployment rates across the EU. Many people make the arithmetically based argument that when immigration adds to the labor supply in times of high unemployment, then unemployment will rise, not fall. Since this argument ties immigration to unemployment, it would be banned as intolerant speech under this new “tolerance” directive.
Absurd? Absolutely not. Keep in mind that the EU does not have anything like the U.S. First Amendment in its constitution. There is, simply, no constitutional protection of your right to free speech in Europe. Nor does Europe have the open court system that we have in the United States. Therefore, infringements on freedom like this directive can pass unchallenged.
Europe’s arrogant political leadership is digging the grave of democracy. As they dig, they shorten the distance from Brussels in 2013 to Unter den Linden in 1933.
Europe is sinking into a dark age of industrial poverty. The current crisis has already destroyed the lives, jobs, prosperity and future of millions upon millions of families, from the Aegean Sea to the Atlantic shore. Slowly but without mercy, an economic wasteland is crawling north, from devastated middle-class neighborhoods of Athens; it seeps through Spanish back streets where young, unemployed professionals scavenge for food after restaurants close. The economic wasteland conquers government-funded hospitals, sending patients home without proper treatment; it pushes young men and women out of work and into the arms of an ever stingier welfare state.
Despite massive protests, the Eurocrats in charge of the European Union and the European Central Bank have teamed up with the IMF to force state after state in the EU into accepting destructive austerity policies. The purpose behind those policies is not to restore economic growth and full employment, but to save the welfare state and make it fit within a tighter tax base.
In order to get there, the Eurocrats and national leaders have teamed up. In every way possible without abolishing parliamentary democracy, they have dictated to voters and taxpayers that their protests against austerity do not count. The Eurocrats have even appointed prime ministers in EU member states, blatantly disrespecting Europe’s deeply rooted system of parliamentary democracy.
The heavy hand of Brussels has created a sense of abnormality in Europe. Under its shadow, the economic wasteland is moving north into France and may soon threaten the economic epicenter of the European Union. The French socialist government is nearing budget panic while fiscal dictates from the Eurocracy to all economically “troubled” EU states supersede the normal operations of democratic government. In more and more ways, the super-state structure also known as the European Union is suppressing the voice and expression of the people to push its own agendas deeper and deeper into the lives of private citizens.
Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, often mentions that 75 percent of all the laws that apply to Britain are made in Brussels. If this applies across the board, in all EU member states, then parliamentary democracy is already under siege in Europe. Austerity dictates from the Eurocracy increase the pressure on the representative state to a point where not much of it is left.
At this point, when freedom and democracy are becoming scarcities, the Eurocracy invents yet another way of suppressing half-a-billion Europeans. In a grossly misguided, recklessly ambitious document on “tolerance”, the European Commission – de facto the government of the EU – wants to invade people’s everyday lives with a new level of speech dictates. Even more serious is the fact that the Commission wants to disguise its new, Orwellian-on-steroids ambition in the shiny wrapping paper of promoting “tolerance”.
The terrifying new report, aiming to severely restrict speech and debate in European society bears the ominous title “A European Framework National Statute for the Promotion of Tolerance”. It pushes government speech regulation to an entirely new level in two ways: by regulating “group libel” and by enforcing a terrifyingly invasive definition of tolerance. Let’s start with “group libel”:
“Group libel” means: defamatory comments made in public and aimed against a group … with a view to inciting to violence, slandering the group, holding it to ridicule or subjecting it to false charges. Explanatory Notes: (i) This definition covers “blood libels” and anti-Semitic slurs, as well as allegations that, e.g., “gypsies are thieves” or “Moslems are terrorists”. (ii) It must be understood that the “group libel” may appear to be aimed at members of the group in a different time (another historical era) or place (beyond the borders of the State).
The highlighted part has caught the attention of many bloggers. The prevailing interpretation seems to be that it is now going to be illegal in Europe to poke fun at someone. While seemingly harmless, the true meaning of this is that the Europeans are going to outlaw satire as a means to criticize in politics.
Perhaps one should expect hostility toward political satire from the members of the European Commission. It is hard to find a group of human beings who take themselves more seriously than the EU Commissioners.
That aside, the intention behind the ambition to make “group libel” charges available against humorists is to turn the table on freedom of speech. By adding such serious infringements as are suggested here, the European Commission effectively changes the default settings on freedom of speech: if this does become the law of the land in the EU it will shift the balance between what is permitted and what is banned so that the permitted forms of speech are now enumerated.
Granted, this “tolerance” proclamation is limited to speech about ethnic groups and other constructed collectives of people in our society. Therefore, it could be said to have only limited influence on the freedom of speech in Europe. However, the point is not the actual application – in this case to ethnically different groups – but the ambition of the infringement. By adding humor to a long list of stigmatized – and illegal – form of expression, the EU Commission sets a precedent for de facto blanket-banning of speech forms in other areas as well.
Going back to the “tolerance” report we find that the proposed legislation also wants to…
condemn all manifestations of intolerance based on bias, bigotry and prejudice [and take] concrete action to combat intolerance, in particular with a view to eliminating racism, colour bias, ethnic discrimination, religious intolerance, totalitarian ideologies, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-feminism and homophobia.
An obvious question how the EU Commission believes it is going to enforce the anti-Semitism part without entering the mosques where radical islamism is preached.
But beyond that, the addition of anti-feminism is yet another paradigm shifter, and a serious new incursion into the freedom of speech. Feminism is neither a religion nor an ethnic or racial belonging. Feminism is a political ideology, and by criminalizing its criticism the European Union leadership opens for speech infringements against critics of other ideologies. An example: the support for the welfare state is widespread among Europe’s leading politicians, as is the misguided idea that the welfare state somehow is good for people. It is not at all far fetched to assume similar restrictions on speech regarding the welfare state as are now being proposed against “anti-feminism”.
Now for the second part of the Commission’s attack on free speech:
Tolerance does not mean that a group can segregate itself from society as a whole, repudiating the need to interface with other groups.
This sentence, which reveals the practical meaning of “tolerance”, is a horrifying statement to what the Eurocrats have in mind. In today’s European cities there are ghettos, poor neighborhoods, middle-class neighborhoods and wealthy neighborhoods. Just like here in America, people who work hard to put money aside and buy themselves a better home can migrate up the neighborhood ladder. They can put their kids in better schools, lower the risk of being crime victims and overall enjoy a better quality of life.
There is an ethnic parallel to the economic stratification – used descriptively – of Europe’s cities. The ghettos are typically dominated by non-European immigrants while the share of ethnic Europeans rises as you move toward the top of the neighborhood ladder. While some people may pay attention to this when looking for a home, the decision where to live is for most people a predominantly economic one. A home is the biggest economic commitment most families make, in Europe as well as in North America. Therefore, it is simply wrong to add a racial or ethnic dimension to the housing market; it comes with the presumption that ethnic Europeans who move to more affluent neighborhoods do so based on ethnic preferences, not economic considerations.
In its “tolerance” proclamation, the European Commission now wants to define the clustering of an ethnic group in one neighborhood as “intolerance”. Based, again, on the presumption that people’s housing decisions are racially motivated and not driven by economic variables, the Commission then makes clear that all Europeans have a “need to interface with other groups.” The wording of this is a thinly disguised dictate that Europeans have an obligation “to interface with other groups”, which of course gives a whole new meaning to their definition of “tolerance”: instead of simply being respectful of other people, the European Commission wants people to be tolerant by residing in neighborhoods with a different ethnic majority.
But even worse, if this “tolerance” proclamation became the law of the land in Europe – as is the Commission’s intention – government would have the legal authority to force people to move where their own ethnicity is in minority.
This could play out in two ways: either well-to-do ethnic Europeans are forced to move to ghettos dominated by non-European immigrants, or non-European immigrants are given heavy subsidies on taxpayers’ tab to be able to buy a house in an affluent “white” neighborhood.
It goes without saying that hard-working immigrants in Europe can make their way into an affluent neighborhood on their own, just like everybody else. Again, the decision on where to live is an economic one more than anything else. But according to this “tolerance” decree, a poor immigrant in an immigrant-dominated neighborhood cannot remain segregated, and since he or she lacks the means to buy a house in an affluent neighborhood someone is going to have to buy the house for her.
This opens up an entirely new dimension to “public housing”. But far more than that, it brings life in the European Union a few steps closer to the east side of the Berlin Wall. One generation after the Wall came down and people from Sachsen to Sakhalin were liberated, the EU Commission is suggesting new policies that in many ways revive the old Communist dictatorships.
They are not there yet, but the speed toward open intolerance is far too fast for comfort.
Nobody in his right mind wants Nazis to have a say in how a country is governed. Despite all its flaws and failures, the (Western) European parliamentary system has been good at keeping Nazis out of legislative influence over the past six or so decades. However, thanks to the current, depression-style economic crisis popular faith in the parliamentary system has suffered, especially in very hard-hit southern European countries. In Greece, of course, this led to the rise of the Golden Dawn Nazi party, and 2012 marked the first year since the Third Reich when Nazis once again set their feet in the halls of a European parliament.
For a while, Golden Dawn showed some restraint and did not overtly behave like Nazis. There have been scattered reports of them harassing illegal immigrants and engaging in confrontations with Communists. But it has been hard to distinguish the two groups since European Communists – who by the way have held parliamentary representation in almost every Western European country since World War II – themselves are prone to extra-parliamentary, violent behavior.
Needless to say, none of this excuses any violence committed by any member of the Golden Dawn, especially if it is in the name of his party’s ideology. But this does not seem to concern the Greek Nazis, whose penchant for street-level violence seems to be growing stronger. The EU Observer reports:
Greek officials are considering banning the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party after a member is said to have fatally stabbed a prominent left-wing musician at an anti-fascist rally in Athens. Greek public order minister Nikos Dendias told reporters in Athens on Wednesday (18 September) that the government would table emergency legislation seeking to outlaw the group, reports the Guardian. … Dozens of Golden Dawn members chased the 34-year old musician, Pavlos Fyssas, and his friends, from a cafe late on Tuesday evening. Fyssas was then stabbed in the chest, sparking anti-Golden Party demonstrations throughout Athens the next day. Witnesses of the attack said it appeared to be premeditated because the killer suddenly emerged from a vehicle during the assault.
This would essentially mean that Golden Dawn would have to meet the equivalent of American RICO standards, namely that the organization itself can only exist if its members commit crimes on a continuous bases. If that is so, then it makes sense to outlaw Golden Dawn. However, that is unlikely to stop the violence, especially since there is widespread problem in Greece with politically motivated violence from socialist groups, exemplified by the deadly firebombing of the Marfin Bank in 2010 and the Athens Mall bombing in January of this year. None of the leftist groups that carry out terror attacks on almost a regular basis in Greece is, after all, legal.
Furthermore, it is fair to question what Golden Dawn activists and voters will do if their party is abandoned. Evidently, their ideas, beliefs and ambitions have been solidified to such a degree that they can form a presence both in the Greek parliament and in Greek society overall. The EU Observer again:
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and socialist Pasok party leader Evangelos Venizelos are said to have convened a special meeting to discuss how to strip the party of its influence and voter appeal … the leaders want the government to adopt a two-pronged approach using criminal law to help dismantle the group and techniques to efface its popular “anti-system” image among supporters. … The party, which saw members voted into the parliament in June, has been known to use violence and intimidation against those critical of its views. Last week, a group of 50-or-so Golden Dawn activists also used iron bars to beat up Communist party campaigners putting up posters in the Greek capital.
According to the EU Observer, Golden Dawn is the third largest party in Greece now (they came in fifth in the June 2012 election). This is ostensibly based on opinion polls, and if this is indeed true, the Greek government has a formidable task on its hands. Furthermore, Golden Dawn seems to have strong support among the ranks of the military and the police, and although there are allegations that the party has infiltrated the police, that may very well have happened with the tacit approval from the top of the police hierarchy.
Any action by the legitimately elected prime minister and his cabinet against the Golden Dawn would be morally right, given the party’s ideology and proneness to violence, but it would only make sense if they took similar actions against leftist groups whose long streak of political terrorism dwarfs what Golden Dawn has done thus far. If the issue is politically motivated violence to promote a totalitarian ideology – a worthy reason to act – then it has to be consistent across the board. Otherwise the Greek parliamentary democracy is in grave danger.
That said, the clock might have run out on Greek democracy anyway. If Golden Dawn indeed enjoys strong support among military and police, it is not inconceivable that they may bet on seizing power on a wave of anti-EU, anti-austerity sentiments. That would be disastrous, especially if the result would be a Nazi-leaning dictatorship. But as with the perennial economic crisis in Greece, which has carved away one quarter of the nation’s GDP and put its prosperity beyond rescue, it is entirely possible that the train to save Greece’s democracy has already left the station.
I pray to God I’m wrong. The Greek people has suffered enough already. But if I am right, then may this modern Greek tragedy be an alarming wake-up call for leaders of all welfare states: when the current economic crisis reaches the Greek boiling point, you must choose between the welfare state and democracy. You cannot have both.
There is a disturbing wave of political radicalism sweeping across Europe. From aggressive socialists in Portugal to Nazis in Greece to huh-profile nationalists in Hungary, political movements who want to radically change their countries are on the march. The energy feeding them is at least to some degree the economic crisis, but according to Adam Michnik there are other factors at work as well, at least in Eastern Europe.
For those who don’t remember Adam Michnik, he was a leading dissident in Poland during the bad old Cold War days. Today he is the editor-in-chief of a major Polish newspaper. Few people know better how to take the political temperature on Eastern Europe. The excellent magazine Der Spiegel recently did an interview with him:
SPIEGEL: Mr. Michnik, for more than six weeks now, thousands of people have taken to the streets in Bulgaria to demonstrate against their country’s rotten political system. More than 20 years after Eastern Europe’s democratic awakening, political conflicts are still characterized by turf wars and hatred. Why?
Michnik: We lack a political culture, a culture of compromise. We in Poland, as well as the Hungarians, have never learned this sort of thing. Although there is a strong desire for freedom in the countries of Eastern Europe, there is no democratic tradition, so that the risk of anarchy and chaos continues to exist. Demagoguery and populism are rampant. We are the illegitimate children, the bastards of communism. It shaped our mentality.
Mr. Michnik is missing one point here, namely the economic crisis in Europe. After the Wall fell and brought an end to Communism, there was genuine hope all across Europe for a better, more prosperous and peaceful future. The transition from totalitarianism and industrial poverty to freedom and prosperity was difficult for most Eastern European countries, but both East Germany and Czechoslovakia came out of it with relatively strong economies and a stable platform for future political stability. (The split of Czechoslovakia into two countries was among the most peaceful major political events in modern history.)
Other countries struggled, like Poland and Hungary, but eventually landed on their feet. The real trouble has always been in Bulgaria and Romania, which seem to be part of an entirely different political culture than people up north.
The economic crisis has not been kind to Eastern Europe. Youth unemployment is a good example: in 2012 it was 34 percent in Slovakia, 28.1 percent in Bulgaria and Hungary, 26.5 percent in Poland, 22.7 percent in Romania and 19.5 percent in the Czech Republic. Just like in Weatern European countries with runaway youth unemployment, these numbers will inevitably have strongly negative influence on social and political stability.
Back to the interview:
SPIEGEL: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who is very radical in his approach to the press and the opposition, is not without his admirers in Eastern Europe. The same holds true in your country with conservative nationalist opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Is the authoritarian brand of politician characteristic of the East?
Michnik: We still have politicians who strive for a different type of country: Kaczynski as well as Orbán in Hungary. They want a gradual coup. If Orbán stayed in power in Hungary or if Kaczynski were to win an election in our country, it would be dangerous. Both men have an authoritarian idea of government; democracy is merely a façade.
Two minor notes. First, parliamentary democracy is not sufficient. It must rest on a constitutional bedrock that protects economic and individual freedom against assaults from statists of all kinds. Parliamentary democracy without a constitutional foundation is a ship adrift on the high sea.
Secondly, as mentioned earlier the rest of Europe has its own radical parties. The political culture that Mr. Michnik is concerned about in Eastern Europe has a strong presence in the rest of the European Union. In fact, the methods with which the EU leadership has treated countries in deep economic trouble is in itself a de facto endorsement of authoritarian political thought.
With these notes in mind it is easier to understand why the reunification of Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall has failed to establish a lasting political culture of classical, European liberalism.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Michnik elaborates on the role of the economic crisis:
SPIEGEL: Orbán says that a “centralist majority democracy” is needed so that clear decisions can be made, by decree, if necessary. Otherwise, he says, dangers like the economic crisis cannot be averted.
Michnik: Hitler said the same thing when he issued special decrees and emergency regulations. It’s the road to hell. To be honest, Hungary is the country where I would have least expected this to happen, but it was the first to cut a hole into the Iron Curtain. In Romania and Bulgaria, perhaps, but not in Hungary. What is happening there now stems from a disappointment in the Social Democrats, who were in power before and drove the country into economic ruin. Fortunately, Poland quickly implemented the most important reforms needed to make the transition to a market economy at the beginning of the 1990s. It was different in Hungary. That’s why the population is now disappointed and is calling everything into question, even the things it once dreamed of achieving.
This is a good general analysis. The Hungarian economy is not exactly on steroids. If the forecasts for 2013 and 2014 come in as expected its average annual GDP growth rate for 2009-2014 will be 1.27 percent, adjusted for inflation. That is even worse than crisis-ridden Italy, and the comparison is not without merit: on December 14 last year I asked if Hungary would be next in line for a political escalation of its economic crisis. Its government had just declared that its “fiscal consolidation” program was ended, i.e., the end of its own little austerity program.
Mr. Michnik then moves on to a broader point about the place of authoritarian thinking in European politics:
SPIEGEL: Do people suddenly no longer care that someone is removing judges or editors-in-chief who are not toeing the party line? Have they forgotten what it was like under the communists?
Michnik: A part of society in our countries would still prefer an authoritarian regime today. These are people with the mentality of Homo sovieticus. But they also exist in France — just think of Le Pen — and even in Finland and Sweden. … British historian Norman Davies called this form of democracy a “government of cannibals.” Democratic elections are held, but then the victorious party devours the losers. The gradual coup consists in getting rid of or taking over democratic institutions. These people believe that they are the only ones in possession of the truth. At some point … the system is based, once again, on a monologue of power. The democratic institutions in the West are more deeply embedded in the West than in Eastern Europe. Democracy can defend itself there. Everything is still fragile in our countries, even two decades after the end of communism.
Yes, but only to a certain extent, and we are seeing the limitations of that extent in southern Europe today.
There was a saying all the way into the ’70s that “at least under Mussolini the trains ran on time”. The meaning was that not all was bad under the fascist regime in Italy. It would be wrong, of course, to weigh incursions into, or terminations of, people’s freedoms because they got something else in return – as Thomas Jefferson put it, people two trade freedom for peace will eventually have neither. Unfortunately, this is not the line of thought that guides the majority of voters. Their immediate concern is typically what their bottom line will look like at the end of the month. They trust “others” to take care of the bigger issues, such as the protection of freedom and national security.
You don’t have to look very far back in history to realize how easily ill-intended politicians can exploit the average voter’s normal-life mentality. Sadly, as Mr. Michnik explains, it is happening again in Europe.
SPIEGEL: Nationalism is flourishing once again under authoritarian, right-wing leaders, such as Kaczynski and Orbán. How can this be happening in a united Europe?
Michnik: In times of great turmoil, such as we are experiencing today, people search for something to cling to. In Hungary, it’s the Trianon complex. No Hungarian has forgotten that, under the Treaty of Trianon, two-thirds of the kingdom had to be handed over to neighboring countries after World War I, and that many Hungarians now live across those borders. Orbán uses this instrument to his advantage.
SPIEGEL: He preaches a new “Hungarianism.”
Michnik: Back in 1990, I wrote that nationalism is the last stage of communism: a system of thought that gives simple but wrong answers to complex questions. Nationalism is practically the natural ideology of authoritarian regimes.
Mr. Michnik is too quick to dismiss nationalism. His concerns regarding the future of freedom and democracy are valid, but the cause is not purely, perhaps not even primarily, that nationalism is in itself authoritarian. It can take authoritarian forms, but it can also help protect a country against authoritarianism.
More on that later. Click here to read the entire Der Spiegel interview.
The Nazi principle for whose life is worth spending medical resources on, and who shall die, was called lebensunwertes leben – a life unworthy of living. Based on a reprehensible contempt for weakness the Nazi practitioners of medicine sorted out everyone and anyone they considered to have a certain level of disability, handicap or ailment that would lead them toward what the Nazis considered an “imperfect” life.
In 21st century welfare states the principle of “life unworthy of living” has been replaced with what in German would be called haushaltsunwertes leben, or a life unworthy of spending money on. Because of the notorious fiscal shortcomings of the modern-day welfare state the practitioners of medicine make choices on a daily basis of whose life is worth spending money on, and who shall be left to die.
Many people think that the criteria that guide the sentencing of some people to die in a welfare-state, single-payer health care system are vastly different, and ethically superior, to the principles that guided health care in Nazi Germany. But as my essay Eugenics and the Welfare State demonstrates, the standards that guide today’s single-payer health care exhibit frightening levels of cynicism not unlike the standards used by physicians and health care bureaucrats in Nazi Germany.
There is ample evidence from Europe’s single-payer systems that reprehensible ethical practices are widespread across the welfare states of the Old World. Now that the fiscally obese welfare states in Europe are suffering from varying degrees of budgetary problems, exacerbated by austerity, and Europe’s economies are struggling to avoid negative growth rates, it is not surprising that the practice of deeply immoral haushaltsunwertes leben is spreading. From the British newspaper Daily Express:
More than eight patients are dying needlessly every day due to a “silent scandal” of NHS hospital blunders, the Health Secretary warned today. Additionally, 1,370 a day suffer harm unnecessarily, while the NHS also recorded 326 “never events” – incidents so unacceptable that they should never happen – in just 12 months.
All these incidents are the result of tight budgets for Britain’s NHS hospitals. The NHS is notorious for producing budget-restrained health care, with disastrous results. Eight patients dying each day out of careless practice of medicine (pun intended…) is unjustifiable, and outright horrifying when you take into account that the people suffering – and dying – have no choice but to trust the tax-funded, government-run National Health Service.
That said, we should also acknowledge that there are tiers in Hell. In my book Remaking America: Welcome to the Dark Side of the Welfare State I report that eight patients also die every day in Sweden’s health care system for similar reasons as in Britain. The difference is that Britain’s population is seven times larger than Sweden’s, making the death rate in the Swedish system almost look genocidal by comparison.
This does not take away any of the immorality of how the British government lures people into a death trap with the NHS. By insisting on maintaining the tax-paid system they effectively block people from private alternatives, forcing them to pay first for the tax-funded system and then leaving them to use their net-tax money to look for health care in the residual private market. Most people cannot afford to pay twice for health care, so they have to put their lives in the hands of government.
Which, as the Daily Telegraph reports, is not necessarily a good idea:
Jeremy Hunt sensationally said the UK has become “so numbed to the inevitability of patient harm that we accept the unacceptable.” In a damning speech, the Health Secretary called for a change in culture that means errors and injuries from care are constantly revealed and reduced. Speaking to University College Hospitals in London, Mr Hunt said the levels of harm in British hospitals are “simply unacceptable”. Mr Hunt said he will bring back the more traditional practice of writing the names of the responsible doctor and nurse above every bed so patients and families know “where the buck stops.”
Like that would make a difference. All that would happen is that conscientious doctors will leave the NHS. Budget-based confinements strictly limit the resources they have available per patient: time to evaluate, to properly follow up on treatment and to safeguard against medical errors. They often have no other choice but to ration health care and put people’s lives at risk. If they are going to be held up as solely responsible for mistakes that lead to a patient’s death, they should also be given full authority to request all the resources needed to save that patient’s life in the first place. Which of course is not going to happen.
Interestingly, the idea of tying a doctor’s name directly to the death of a patient with a treatable condition coincides with the following revelation by Telegraph:
“That grim fatalism about the statistics has blunted the anger that we should feel about every single individual we let down, anger that should be the fuel of an uncompromising determination to put things right.” His comments come after revelations yesterday that the health watchdog’s cover-up over a failure to investigate a series of deaths stretched all the way to the top of the organisation. The Care Quality Commission’s former chief executive, Cynthia Bower, was present during a discussion of the deletion of an internal review which criticised the regulator’s inspections of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, where a number of mothers and babies died, according to an independent review.
When things don’t go as the politicians and tax-paid bureaucrats want them to, do you think their first instinct is to protect the lives of the patients or their own careers? Exactly. Since they work in a monopoly that sets its own rules – government makes its own laws, especially in Britain which does not have a written constitution – bureaucracies like this supposedly impartial watchdog can basically do whatever they want to protect themselves and people higher up in the government hierarchy.
“In the wake of Mid Staffs, Morecambe Bay and many other shocking lapses in care, we must ask ourselves whether we, along with other countries, have become so numbed to the inevitability of patient harm that we accept the unacceptable,” Mr Hunt said. Mr Hunt stressed that the Care Quality Commission must follow “due process” in determining what sanctions can be imposed, but said he would back the regulator “absolutely to the hilt” if it chose to take action against individuals, including some who have left the organisation. The Health Secretary described the CQC’s suppression of a report into its handling of a cluster of maternity deaths at a Cumbria hospital as “utterly shocking” and said that the way the regulator was set up in 2009 had been “a big mistake”.
It does not matter how they reform their tax-funded, government-run watchdog. So long as it is working for the same people who run and fund the NHS – namely the government – there will be no meaningful reforms to the system. So long as government maintains a funding monopoly, its needs to make regular downsizing adjustments to the budget will take precedence.
A private system does not suffer from all these problems. It operates on direct lines of accountability with its customers, i.e., the patients; it is subject to competition and therefore always at risk of losing patients if it mistreats them. But privatization is not on the agenda in Britain. It is more important for the country’s leading politicians to maintain a dysfunctional, dangerous government health care system than to protect patients from harm, even death. This is obviously an ideological choice and as such a demonstration that politicians in a modern, European welfare state are willing to risk the lives of their citizens in order to drive home an ideological point.
In other words, ideology supersedes the respect for a person’s life. Life itself becomes conditional upon the successful implementation of a certain ideology. The instrument for putting the ideology to work is the health care budget; when the budget does not deliver as intended – when people die for lack of proper care – the ideology is elevated above suspicion. Patients become instruments, not end goals, for the budget-restrained distribution of health care.
When an ideology turns people into instruments, up to the point where people’s lives are at risk, then that ideology is no different than Naziism. Fiscal eugenics – killing patients in the name of the budget – is no more compassionate than the kind of eugenics that the Nazis practiced, where people were killed because government decided their lives were unworthy of living.
Yesterday’s short piece centered in on a quote from a meeting with the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies. The quote, relayed to us by the EU Commission, de facto the executive office of the EU. Here is what the Commission said:
The G20 summit in Washington (2008) aimed to ensure that no institution, product or market was left unregulated at EU and international levels. The EU Regulation on Credit Rating Agencies (Regulation 1060/2009), in force since December 2010, was part of Europe’s response to these commitments. The Regulation was amended in May 2011 to adapt it to the creation of the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) which has been attributed all supervisory powers over credit rating agencies since July 2011.
The highlighted part is the dynamite in this. According to the EU Commission, the leaders of the 20 largest economies in the world made a decision back in 2008 to not leave any institution, product or market unregulated.
Does this sound too technical? Does the language they use may you yawn? No? Good, because this is one of the most important revelations of government power intentions over our economy that we have seen in a long time.
It is bad enough when one government says it wants to regulate every corner of the economy within its jurisdiction. But here we have a coalition of governments, the 20 biggest ones in terms of the size of their economy, conspiring to regulate every aspect of our economic lives.
Here is what they are after. An institution is a non-personal economic agent, plain and simple. There is a myriad of different institutions in the economy, from small mom-and-pop stores to multinational giants like Microsoft, Apple, Siemens, Wal-Mart, IKEA, Ford and Toyota. But the concept also spans across the financial industry, covering banks and credit rating agencies. By wanting to regulate these “institutions”, government wants to effectively decide how they go about their business, including what contracts they sign with, e.g., their employees.
In addition, the regulation of a business involves who owns it and where it is supposed to pay its taxes.
Next comes the product. Business exists to produce things and make good money. By vowing to regulate every product that businesses put out, the G20 governments have given themselves the right to tell businesses what their products can and cannot do. This includes seemingly harmless things like requiring a car to not pollute more than a certain amount per mile driven. But it also includes regulations of more intellectual products – such as the credit rating reports produced by credit rating agencies.
More on that in a moment.
Market regulations delve into price setting, product advertising, accountability rules for sellers, in some cases the ability of buyers to finance their purchase – in other words most of what goes on between buyers and sellers in a supposedly free market.
I am not suggesting that this is exactly what the G20 meeting in 2008 decided on. My point is simply that government regulatory incursions can penetrate our economic lives in all these aspects, thus essentially dictating what we can buy, when, how and from whom.
But what is really scary about this is that governments around the world have formed a regulatory coalition where every one of those countries will impose regulations on all these parts of our economic lives. The free market will only exist at government’s mercy. Economic freedom will be severely crippled.
Among the most troubling regulatory initiatives is the attack on credit rating agencies. As I mentioned yesterday, the EU is now launching a campaign and a legislative initiative to curtail the activities of businesses that rate, among other things, the credit status of government. By giving itself the right to regulate those businesses and their products, the G20 governments – and now the entire European Union – seize power to dictate how credit rating agencies can rate – you got it – government.
The true meaning of this regulatory assault on credit rating agencies is that governments want to be able to gag them. It is not more complicated than that. Governments in Europe have taken a bad beating by how credit rating agencies have downgraded them; the U.S. government has suffered two credit downgrades but has not yet paid a tangible price for it. But for small European welfare states the downgrades have translated into significantly higher borrowing costs. The governments of those welfare states are not too happy about that, but instead of fixing their economies – instead of getting rid of their welfare states and putting economic freedom first – they go after the little boy who pointed out that the emperor indeed is naked.
This assault on the free speech of the free market is troubling, to say the least. If all the G20 governments do what the EU is now doing and put tight regulatory leashes on credit agencies, it will have serious implications for the very basics of our financial markets. In plain English: if governments gag credit rating agencies and prevent them from speaking freely about the credit risks that come with treasury bonds, then how are you going to be able to tell whether or not your money is in jeopardy if you buy a certain country’s t-bonds?
Instead of fixing their ailing economies, the governments of the world’s most troubled welfare states are trying to force people to speak well of them.
But regulating credit agencies is not the only way they do this. There is more. A lot more; for a hint, check out this article on Basel III. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series.