Beware The Sick Man Of Europe

by Janet Albrechtsen From:The Australian

NOWADAYS, the word “social” is used in a plethora of phrases as an artificial sweetener, like the stuff you drop into your coffee to mask the otherwise bitter taste you are trying to mask.

Most recently, “social inclusion” has become a sweet-sounding cover for setting up a new layer of bureaucracy where the Social Inclusion Board ponders, at great leisure and even greater taxpayer expense, the meaning of social inclusion.

There is “social justice”, a term used by those who don’t like the rule of law and use “justice” to mean whatever they, as our self-appointed moral guardians, want.

Those who detest the profit motive as grubby talk about “corporate social responsibility” and a social licence to operate. Once again, the parameters of acceptable conduct are set by self-appointed morality wardens.

You have to hand it to the progressive Left. They know how to use language to hide what amounts to a grab for power. Invariably, these phrases are used to con the masses into believing that their interests are best served by handing over moral judgments about their welfare to a small elite.

Austrian economist FA Hayek was on to the fraud when he wrote in The Fatal Conceit: “Social is a weasel word that has acquired the power to empty the nouns it qualifies of their meanings.”

On this front, the mother of all cons is social democracy. When socialism was exposed as an abject failure, people on the Left trimmed their ambitions to something called social democracy.

Here again, the word “social” is used to drain the true meaning of the adjacent word, in this case democracy. It’s a ruse because the underlying philosophy of the social democratic project is still the centralisation of power, rather than individual freedom. True, over the past 30 years, even some social democrats have embraced the free market. Nowhere is this more true than in Australia where at least some sections of the ALP have been forced to recognise that capitalism, though far from perfect, sure beats the clumsy, interfering hand of big government.

In Europe, however, learning this lesson has been hindered by a cultural snobbery that treats anything beyond its borders as somehow beneath the European way of life. The devotion to free markets and small government in the US was, for decades, routinely scorned. With their continental sophistication, the Europeans knew a better way of living. It was called social democracy — code for high-taxing, big-spending governments that believed in the power of the state over the power of the individual. Rigid labour laws meant people worked less, earned more and retired early because the state mandated a certain lifestyle.

Never mind that employers lost the flexibility to run a competitive business or that employees might want something different. The welfare state ballooned. Work entitlements blew out. And the state kept borrowing to maintain the population in the manner to which the people had grown accustomed.

One man who has been blowing the whistle on the economic stupidity, political duplicity and cultural devastation wrought by the European way is young British politician and journalist Dan Hannan. Elected as the conservative member of the European Parliament for southeast England in 1999, Hannan became an overnight sensation when he delivered a piercing attack on the then British prime minister Gordon Brown for his government’s response to the global financial crisis. “The truth, Prime Minister, is that you have run out of our money. The country as a whole is now in negative equity. Every British child is born owing around pound stg. 20,000. Servicing the interest on that debt is going to cost more than educating the child.. . . You are the devalued Prime Minister of a devalued government.”

And on it went, surely the longest three minutes of Brown’s prime ministership. Before he arrived in Australia this week, Hannan continued his searing attack on the utopian and duplicitous agenda of social democrats in Britain and Europe. He told The Australian: “Social democracy always ends up being less democratic than pure democracy, because it shifts power from elected representatives to unelected functionaries. As the bureaucracies grow and multiply, they come to have far more influence over people’s lives than any democratic assembly.

“For decades, European governments have been spending more, taxing more and borrowing more. It was good while it lasted, but the money has run out: our treasuries are empty, our credit exhausted. Now comes the correction: a real decline in living standards for most people, which will be deeply unpleasant.”

Hannan is right. The results of the social democracy project in Europe are in. These days, it’s hard to pick the sick man of Europe. Back in the 1970s, The Wall Street Journal declared: “Goodbye Great Britain, it was nice knowing you.” A decade ago, headlines derided Germany as the “sick man of Europe”. Then France, the country where the state famously fixed the price of a baguette, looked very ill. More recently, the PIGS — Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain — succumbed to the European disease of high spending, high taxes and high debt. History now shows the sick man of Europe is no single country. Neither can the illness be limited to an economic condition. The sick man of Europe is Europe and its pursuit of social democracy.

Europe is on its knees, not just economically but also politically and culturally. Even centre-right political parties in Europe are not what we would describe as the parties of fiscal responsibility devoted to reducing the size of the state. They merely tinker with the machinery of social democracy, promising a few cuts but never succeeding at doing much at all. The problem for European politicians is how to convince people about the need for fundamental change when voters have been bribed for a lifetime with taxpayer-funded perks and privileges funded by debt in the pursuit of sweet-sounding social democracy.

Hannan, author of The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter of Warning to America, has been busy telling Americans not to go where Europe has gone. In Australia this week, he is offering the same sage advice. “Don’t go there, my friends. You won’t like it, I promise you!”

It’s a timely lesson for Australia. So next time someone peddles a project that includes the word “social”, check what the word is trying to hide.

janeta@bigpond.net.au