By BRET STEPHENS, WSJ
'The real lesson from Europe," wrote Paul Krugman in January 2010, "is actually the opposite of what conservatives claim: Europe is an economic success, and that success shows that social democracy works." Here are some postcards from the social democracy that works.
• In Britain, 239 patients died of malnutrition in the country's public hospitals in 2007, according to a charity called Age U.K. And at any given time, a quarter-million Britons have been made to wait 18 weeks or longer for medical treatment. This follows a decade in which funding for the National Health Service doubled.
• In France, the incidence of violent crimes rose by nearly 15% between 2002 and 2008, according to statistics provided by Eurostat. In Italy violent crime was up 38%. In the EU as a whole, the rate rose by 6% despite declines in robbery and murder.
• As of June 2011, Eurostat reports that the unemployment rate in the euro zone was 9.9%. For the under-25s, it was 20.3%. In Spain, youth unemployment stands at 45.7%, which tops even the Greek rate of 38.5%. Then there's this remarkable detail: Among Europeans aged 18-34, no fewer than 46%—51 million people in all—live with their parents.
• In 2009, 37.4% of European children were born outside of marriage. That's more than twice the 1990 rate of 17.4%. The number of children per woman for the EU is 1.56, catastrophically below the replacement rate of 2.1. Roughly half of all Europeans belong in the "dependency" category on account of their youth or old age. Just 64% of the working-age population actually works.
I could go on in this vein for pages, but you get the point. Europe is not a happy place and hasn't been for nearly a generation. It's about to get much worse.
This isn't simply because Europe's economic crisis is still in its infancy, although it is. The tab for bailing out Greece, Portugal and Ireland alone—which together account for about 5% of euro-zone GDP—already runs to hundreds of billions of euros, with no resolution in sight. By contrast, Italy's GDP is more than seven times as large as Greece's. Italy is too big to fail—and too big to save. If the so-called PIIGS wind up leaving the euro zone (or if Germany beats them to it by returning to a Deutsche mark), the dislocations will take years to sort through.
Even then, Europe will still have to address the more profound challenges of economic growth, demography and entitlement reform. But in order for it to do so it must have a clear idea of the nature of the challenges it faces. It doesn't. It also requires political resources to overcome the beneficiaries—labor unions, pensioners, university students, farmers, Brussels technocrats and so on—of the current system. That's not going to happen.
Politics, for starters, prevents it. Whenever a supposed "neo-liberal" comes to power—whether it's Nicolas Sarkozy or Silvio Berlusconi or Angela Merkel—they typically wind up doing no more than tinkering around the edges of regulatory or tax reform. That's because they are stymied by coalition compromises at home, or by European compromises in Brussels, or by some deeper failure of will and character.
Margaret Thatcher was the exception to this rule. But in both Britain and Europe she has had neither equals nor heirs.
Demography also prevents reform. The median age in the EU is 40.6 years. (In the U.S. it's 36.9). Older populations typically resist change, demand the benefits they've been taxed all their working lives for—and vote. The demographic balance is only going to tip further in their favor, and it will change only when younger Europeans decide that children, plural, are worth having. What that will take, only a faith in future prosperity—and in God—can provide. Outside of its growing Muslim population, Europe has neither.
Finally, there is ideology. For the past four decades, "Europeanism" has been an amalgam of Keynesian economics, bureaucratic centralization, and welfarism, corporate and social. Even now, the ideology remains unshaken by events. Though there is plenty of talk about getting spending under control and balancing budgets (typically by way of tax increases), nobody in Europe is proposing a serious growth agenda. At the beginning of the Greek crisis I asked a visiting official from Athens what his ideas were for growth: He suggested olive tree plantations and wind farms. He might as well have thrown a Sicilian Expedition into the mix.
For the U.S., none of this is yet in our cards: That's guaranteed by the tea party that so many Europeans (and Paul Krugman) find so vulgar. But it's worth noting what the fruits of social democracy—a world in which, as Kipling once wrote, "all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins"—really are. And in the wake of the U.K. riots, the rest of his prophecy also bears repeating:
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!