Thursday, June 2, 2005

Not So Shorter David Brooks

To paraphrase Karl Marx, a specter is haunting Europe…The specter of sweeping generalizations by American columnistas.

Brooks’s doozy today is a cautionary tale about how overarching liberal ideas such as “generous welfare measures, ample labor protections, highly progressive tax rates, single-payer health care systems, zoning restrictions to limit big retailers, and cradle-to-grave middle-class subsidies supporting everything from child care to pension security” are dragging down Western European nations who cannot sustain such outrageous benefits for people who are obviously too lazy or too French to support them. That’s why they are unable to come up with a unanimous consensus on the EU constitution and why they don’t trust their politicians. And this is a lesson for you latte-sipping, brie-eating Volvo drivers here.

Over the last few decades, American liberals have lauded the German model or the Swedish model or the European model. But these models are not flexible enough for the modern world. They encourage people to cling fiercely to entitlements their nation cannot afford. And far from breeding a confident, progressive outlook, they breed a reactionary fear of the future that comes in left- and right-wing varieties – a defensiveness, a tendency to lash out ferociously at anybody who proposes fundamental reform or at any group, like immigrants, that alters the fabric of life.

Gee, you think that might be it? Wow. I had no idea. I thought that a small cluster of twenty-five nations with a land mass not a whole hell of a lot larger than the Louisiana Purchase, each with their own unique form of government ranging from republics to constitutional monarchies, not a common language between them, and until five years ago strict import/export regulations and different currencies, might have a few other things to get in the way of unbridled progress. Oh, and did I mention that in the last century Europe endured the brunt of two world wars that virtually leveled the continent, plus the reintegration of the former Soviet bloc nations, few of whom had the capability to make their own bread?

Mr. Brooks blithely warns us that the European model is a cautionary tale for America:

This is the chief problem with the welfare state, which has nothing to do with the success or efficiency of any individual program. The liberal project of the postwar era has bred a stultifying conservatism, a fear of dynamic flexibility, a greater concern for guarding what exists than for creating what doesn’t.

Funny how that model was established largely with the guidance of post-war American corporate stewardship at the height of the patronizing Republican imperialism in the Eisenhower administration; anything to stanch the flow of Communism. Now that we haven’t got them to kick around anymore, we might as well blame the liberals for turning us into anti-progressive stuffy conservatives. Got that?