GANGING UP

Two preeminent historians, Victor Davis Hanson and Paul Johnson, have separate pieces on the relative decline of European influence. Says Hanson:

So I expect that the European critics, the U.N. (its money, its headquarters, its muscle, and its elite support, after all, depend on Americans), and most of the Arab world will eventually gravitate to the United States. After petty squabbles over prestige and honor, they will hold their noses and “support” (nodding, but no money) what is going on in Iraq — as long as we stay firm and don’t weaken in our commitment to rebuild Iraq and continue to press on in our effort to shut down the nearby havens of terror. There is no “war against terror,” remember — only a “war against those states that aid and abet those who employ the method of terror.”

Conventional wisdom here and abroad assures that Americans must seek to reclaim friendships now recklessly endangered. Yet despite the undeniable need for the United States to be humble and forgiving, I reckon the real rub may lie in the opposite direction, as they seek us out rather than vice versa.

Adds Johnson,

These are all symptoms of a painful disease, a continental depression born of the realization that EU prosperity is a house built upon sand. While the American economy is picking up, the EU’s remains in stagnation, bordering on recession. The 35-hour workweek is splendid, provided you have a job. But what of the growing millions who are out of work and whose social security payments are now threatened with reduction or cut-off dates? Unemployment, already high, is rising in France and Germany.

In virtually every industry there are plans to shrink the work force. People have become too expensive, especially in France and Germany, where social security payments cost an employer almost as much as wages. In a desperate attempt to get its economy moving, France is set to cut income taxes, though this will raise its deficit to a level strictly forbidden by the rules governing the common European currency (the euro). France thus risks having enormous fines levied against it or, more likely, a collapse in confidence in the euro.

The truth is that the EU has been living beyond its means, and its bills are coming due. The biggest bill of all–the cost of generous state pensions, which in most EU countries are underfunded–is looming. It’s true that most advanced countries are having difficulties meeting pensions because people are living longer and work forces are expanding more slowly (or not at all). Britain is running into a pension crisis. Most of those who banked on a healthy private pension for their old age are going to be disappointed, partly because returns on investments are so low and partly because the Labour finance minister, Gordon Brown, has been raiding the till by abolishing tax-free pension dividends. This is the issue that will lose Tony Blair the next election, as the pain of Labour’s “pension raid” is felt. But at least Britain has a properly funded public pension plan. And the British economy is moving forward, perhaps not as fast as America’s, but at a healthy and accelerating rate.

The omens for continental Europe, however, are sinister. The entire plan for perpetual improvement upon which the EU depends is based on continuous economic expansion. There is no provision for stagnation. As we see in Japan, once stagnation sets in, it can last many years. Americans should count their blessings, above all the supreme blessing of having an economy that is run by businessmen not bureaucrats, or that–under wise governance–runs itself.

FILED UNDER: World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anthony C says:

    I’m afraid I agree – not so much on VDH (who responded with a very nice and very well reasoned email when I contected him to criticise one of his articles – nice bloke) who is a genuinely very talented Classicist – even if you don’t like his political output – but on Paul Johnson. VDH is a talented Classicist who has taken on a side job as a hack. Johnson’s a hack who has taken to writing history books – history books which are generally vehicles for his political views. I suspect a lot of his past isn’t too well known in America – he used to be very, very left wing and now he’s very, very, VERY right wing. I suspect he finds his biggest audience in America these days; largely because he’s pissed on his chips in the UK. The very fact that he can blithely assert that Labour will lose the next general election on the basis of pensions is an indication of just how out of touch with with the reality in the UK he is (either due to relocation to America or because he’s locked himself in his own little ideological ivory tower with no windows).

    The broader points with regard to the articles seem to be to have strong kernels of truth in them – but I can’t sit by and listen to Paul Johnson described as a “preeminent historian” without choking on my cup of tea.

  2. Anthony C says:

    Hang on, I’ve just realised, I DON’T agree. JadeGold’s got it wrong when she says VDH is just a hack whereas Paul Johnson is an actual historian. It’s the other way round – VDH is an historian (a very good historian when it comes to Ancient Greece) and Paul Johnson is a (very) right wing hack.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Anthony,

    See the following on Johnson:

    http://www.time.com/time/time100/johnson_chat.html

    http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/pubaffairs/newsletter/03081/boo.html

    http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/pjohnson.html

    There’s little doubt of his pre-eminence. The last link explains why he is less well regarded in the UK than here: he does double duty as a columnist over there and his journalistic writing is apparantly often quite radical. His books, though, at least the couple I’ve read, are quite good.