The Magazine

Continental Drift

A quarantine for the Sick Men of Europe.

Jan 13, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 17 • By DAVID AIKMAN
Widget tooltip
Audio version Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

There are telling social indicators for the dependency gene: A 2005 French poll showed that 70 percent of Europeans under 30 preferred to have a job working for the state. (A recent book by a French civil servant revealed why that should come as no surprise: She describes a nepotistic work environment in which she and her colleagues put in barely five hours’ work a week and competed to see who could take the longest coffee break.) But Gregg is careful not to suggest that Americans are uniformly more virtuous workers than Europeans. He cites the case of Bell, California, where city bureaucrats were paying themselves six-figure salaries. But whereas the Bell case resulted in massive media attention, firings, and criminal charges against elected officials, the French author-whistleblower cited above was suspended from government service and served with angry lawsuits from her former bosses.  

America is becoming more like Europe in many ways, Gregg acknowledges. According to the Heritage Foundation, 70 percent of federal spending goes to welfare programs (including Medicare and Social Security). Some 67 million Americans depend on the federal government for housing, food, and student aid, yet only 57 percent of American households paid any income tax in 2013. Is the United States on the way to becoming like the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain)? While just over half of Americans pay income tax, the list of entitlements grows annually. 

Americans are more given to economic risk than Europeans, but social and economic structures here are increasingly restrictive of the economic freedom needed to provide an environment for those risks and create prosperity. Americans, Gregg argues, need to think very carefully before they sacrifice more economic liberties for the sake of economic security. The challenge for the United States is “the fight to take back America from those who sought to realize the social democratic dream over the past eighty years.” 

With every passing year, and each new EU bailout, Europeans seem to be forgetting where they came from.  In the words of Václav Klaus, “they do not understand that their current behavior undermines the very institutions that made their past success possible.” Where Europe has already gone, can America be far behind? 

David Aikman is the author, most recently, of The Mirage of Peace: Understanding the Never-Ending Conflict in the Middle East