The hidden cost of Europe's "free stuff"

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They're loony, jingoistic, and gun-obsessed- God love the crazy bastards!

Roman Holiday


The venerable Captain went on a holiday to Europe late last year and- to his complete and total lack of surprise- discovered that his European cousins pay a rather steep price for their much-vaunted cradle-to-grave welfare states:
I visited Switzerland, Italy and a bit of France. But in sampling those three countries (not to mention practically scouring all of Switzerland and Italy) I can say with reasonable confidence in at least those three countries standards of living are overstated. Of course in the Eastern European Empire of Roosh things may be different, and northern Europe I left untouched, but I believe even the regional differences aside there are some European wide structural differences that not only puts it at a disadvantage compared to the US, but costs its people a lower standard of living
The first and most painfully obvious reason was the cost of food. I know food does not account for anywhere near a significant percentage of GDP, but since it stimulates one of the five senses and is kind of a "necessity," I was shocked how expensive the food was
In Switzerland a Big Mac (just the burger, not the meal) on average cost $12. If it cost cheaper somewhere else, I was unaware of it, but I was HONORED to pay "only" $8.50 for a Burger King Big Whopper. Even that was a "deal" because twice I paid over $120 for dinner for four. Admittedly once was in Montreaux (and [sic] expensive resort town on Lake Geneva), but it was certainly overpriced. [Didact: Also the place that inspired quite possibly THE GREATEST ROCK RIFF OF ALL TIME.]
Second, and related, was the quality of food. 
I don't know what idiotic 16 year old suburbanite American girl came up with the lie to make her trip to Europe more exotic than it was, but the food absolutely sucks. The two times I paid $120+ for dinner the food was on par with gas station food, and not even good gas station food. Mac and Cheese, a panini sandwich so toasted you'd lose a filling, and with a stingy thin slice of "prosciutto" (which I believe is Italian for "one atom-thick slick of pork"). And I think my girlfriend had the leaf sandwhich [sic] with three-eye-droplets of Diet Coke. If you factor in the quality and quantity of food, Europe probably costs quadruple what it does in the US. 
Third, gas. [Didact: This is a rather endearing and very amusing Americanism that, in the rest of the world, means "petrol".]
Yes, I know gas is more expensive in Europe. Yes, I am also aware "well, but tuition and health care are free there!" That does me no good. Unless you're old or in college, these offsetting social programs don't benefit the majority of people who have to endure it. But it is not the mere nominal costs of gas that lowers the standards of living as much as it is when you combine it with the fact 1960's highways were built on the towns' 500AD European infrastructure. So not only do you get to pay more in gas, you get to use more as you meander through indirect highways and clogged city streets that were designed for cattle. 
Fourth, housing. 
Unless new construction, the vast majority of housing in Europe is inferior to the US. This is not an insult to the European peoples or their carpenters as much as it is a result of the majority of their housing being before the US even existed. A "nice house" is jammed right next to others with roof spines sagging and shared yards. Every castle I saw looked like a home-owner's fixit nightmare. And the prices are so high you never own your home as much as just pay the interest on the mortgage. Simply because the US is/was less densely populated and the majority of its housing stock built with updated technologies, the quality of housing (and thus your living/dwelling experience) is much nicer. 
Finally, the hotels. 
I was very much looking forward to finding a quiet, hidden Italian village where I promised myself and girlfriend we would "sit and do nothing." I just wanted to find a nice hotel next to the ocean and get drunk on vino. 
Never happened. 
Not just because to drive from one town to another in Italy will make you so stressed out and weary you can't enjoy a wine, but because the hotels are really not that nice and neither is the wine.
[On the subject of wine, I'll simply say this from the perspective of a hopeless wino: don't bother with most European vintages, with the exceptions of certain very specific Alsatian spatlese Rieslings. I view most French wines as useful for either toilet solvent or cooking agents. Go Australian. I don't trust South African wines, the South American ones can be pretty dicey, and the American ones are too acidic for my liking. Interestingly enough, Israel produces some truly great wines, especially Shiraz/Syrah, that won't gouge your wallet.]

My snarky thoughts on booze and viticulture aside, the Captain's comments are generally bang-on. The reality of living in Europe is that things here are far more expensive than they are in the US, once you factor in all of the hidden costs that people never pay attention to because of all the "free stuff" they think they're getting.

The Europeans firmly believe that they are entitled to and deserve cash and prizes simply by virtue of being alive. This belief runs throughout their "social compact"; it's embedded within European cultural DNA- well, west of Poland, anyway. Like most Asian cultures, Western Europeans subscribe to the philosophy that each of us is our brother's keeper, which is not in itself a bad thing- but unlike Asians, who until fairly recently took that burden upon themselves to uphold without resorting to government redistribution, the Europeans don't actually want to have to get their own hands dirty in taking care of their people. They'd rather have their governments do it instead.

Here in Europe, people think that it is only right and natural that health care, education, and pensions should all be provided by government. There isn't even any debate about it.

The Brits, who are rather conservative relative to their Continental neighbours, will defend their beloved NHS to the hilt, no matter how much evidence you throw at them that it leads to worse outcomes and lower survival rates than even the absurdly Byzantine government-controlled cartel that is America's system.

The Frogs are, of course, a gone case. Even the New York Times, a former newspaper that is now basically a shill for the worst instincts of runaway government, has been caught admitting from time to time that all is not well in the country that American liberals admire so much. The French nation is dying on its feet, thanks to a welfare state that encourages sloth and discourages assimilation, hard work, and private enterprise.

And the Germans, who are often lumped in with the Scandinavians as part of "northern Europe"- that subset of European states that have managed through various means to engineer robust economic growth to fund their generous welfare states- are struggling to realise the European dream of fully funded entitlements that will last beyond the next few generations.

The reality of Europe is that the entire European way of life is built on foundations of sand. Their much-vaunted welfare systems will not survive much longer, if current trends hold.

In my opinion, there are three major factors to blame for this.

"The Americans Will Save Us!"

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... Pretty much, except they left out the Goblins
First, as the good Captain correctly points out, the Europeans don't have to worry about their national defence policies. Military service is compulsory in a number of European nations, but that simply leaves most of those nations with an army of conscripts- large numbers of low-quality soldiers who know that they're just there to do their time before getting on with their lives.

During the Cold War, the only real deterrent to the awesome military power and crushing quantitative advantage of the Warsaw Pact was the qualitative and technological superiority of the American military. One can argue all day about how important NATO was in providing a counterbalance, but the reality is that NATO itself was led and funded mostly by the United States. The exact balance has varied through time, but there can be no question that the USA funds far more of NATO's expenditures than any other nation. Almost no European nation, other than the UK, spends anything like 2% of its GDP on defence.

Bread and Circuses... and Taxes

thinking about Universal Basic Income in the run-up to the European ...
Yeah, THAT'll work...
Second, taxes are much, much higher here in Europe than they are in the US- and the tax burden falls on a much broader proportion of the population. America is the odd man out when it comes to taxes these days: the burden of real taxation falls upon less than half of the tax-paying public, with the richest paying an absurdly disproportionate share of taxes. Basically, the government hates rich people- this is hardly news- but also needs them very badly. (It's a very weird co-dependent, mutually abusive sort of relationship.)

In Sweden or Germany or France, by contrast, the burden of taxation falls on everyone- in other words, the government abuses everybody without prejudice. I leave it to the reader to decide which kind of government-driven abuse they prefer- it's like having to choose between a colonoscopy and a rectal feeding- but it's difficult to argue with the facts, or the outcomes.

As a result of much higher taxation on incomes, wages, and profits- both for individuals and corporations- the cost of living in Europe tends to be higher than it is in the US, and the quality of that living tends to be lower.

Obviously this is subject to a very great many caveats and assumptions- for one, the exact nature of the comparison depends very heavily on where you live. It is generally cheaper to live in the US than in Switzerland, and it is definitely cheaper to live in the US than in the UK (I know this all too well), but the same is not true of living in the US versus living in Germany.

Live Free or Die

of Economic Freedom , Sweden has measurably advanced economic freedom ...
Depressing, ain't it?
The third, and most important, factor is the degree of economic freedom present between various countries. Europe has long had a reputation of being unfriendly toward business, while the US has had a reputation, until quite recently, of being a great place to start a business.

These reputations are not entirely accurate or deserved, and their veracity depends very much on exactly which bit of Europe you're talking about; the Scandis, for instance, may well be damn-near Communist in terms of taxation and income redistribution, but they're also very easy countries in which to do business and become an entrepreneur.

As the chart above shows, the US is slipping badly behind (no thanks to more than 20 years of progressive idiocy expressed through the policies of both the Republicrats and the Demoblicans) in terms of economic freedom. The US is now economically less free than it was 20 years ago under a Democrat; in my reckoning it is less free today than it has been since 1988.

Economic freedom is a simple but profound concept. It means that a free man has the ability to produce and innovate as and how he pleases. In an environment where government intervention is limited and a free market determines what succeeds and what fails, the end result almost always is lower prices and higher quality delivered to the end user. For every exception to this general principle, there are hundreds if not thousands of other examples that validate it; it is as close to a law of nature as we'll ever get.

A country that is not economically free will eventually die. It will die because its people will have nothing left to live for. In totally planned and centrally administered economies, everyone lives in mostly equal misery except for those who do the planning; in merely socialist economies, the misery is postponed and passed down to future generations, while current generations eat the seed-corn that their children and grandchildren would have used to sow their own crops.

The Captain saw this reality when he was in Europe (I have no idea if he's still here, but if he is- Cap, stop by London sometime, I'll buy you a pint). I see it every day during my time in exile stint working abroad here.

And if you are American, I tell you now- pay heed to the lessons of your European brethren and WAKE THE F*CK UP.

100mph Into a Wall

Debt and Taxes. Great combination...
I know I keep saying this, but I do it because it bears repeating: you Americans have no goddamn clue how good you have it. And unless you leave America and visit other countries to see what life is like outside of the USA, you never will.

I've been all over the world. I've lived in Asia and Europe. I've visited the Middle East. I've been Down Under. I tell you now that, until fairly recently- like, 2008 or thereabouts- nothing came close to matching the dynamism and the drive that defined America.

In the last 10 years I've seen America trying very hard indeed to become more like Europe. Given that I've lived in Europe, and I'm watching Europe go from bad to worse right now, I really do have to wonder at the sanity and sense of Americans who want more European-style health care, more European-style taxation, and more European-style social welfare.

It doesn't work. Europe is dying. As Bill Whittle once said, if you give people everything they need to live, it turns out that they don't seem to want to live at all.



The trends for both Europe and the US are very ominous. Europe is practically dying on its feet. Birth rates are well below replacement in most Western European nations- and, even worse, in most of the former Communist Eastern European bloc too. In less than 50 years, much of Europe as we know it today will simply have ceased to exist.

This is what will happen to the US if it insists on going full-blown socialist. It's already getting there- the country that I came to as a guest in 2006 is basically dead and gone, the sense of optimism and self-reliance that I came to think of as the defining characteristic of the American people being replaced with a defeated, petulant, "where's my guvmint?!" attitude of complacency and sullenness.

To get an idea of what America would look like if it went fully European, just look at the Captain's description of what he saw on his holiday: overpriced food, overpriced goods and services, overrated hospitality, and draconian laws that seek to regulate every single aspect of daily life.

Or, you could just take a look at Canada. Specifically, take a look at Quebec. They're so French, the Frogs don't understand them.

In fact, that's exactly what Steven Crowder did about 5 years back, when he took a trip up to the Great Frozen North to visit the Canoeheads. Here's what he found:



Let me conclude with a plea from a libertarian who loves the idea and the ideal of the United States of America, to Americans who still remember what it means to be free.

Don't let yourselves become like the Europeans. They're dying out, they're collapsing under the weight of their own internal contradictions, and they're struggling to deal with the Long War and terrible price demanded by the Crusade that is sure to come.

Don't give up your freedoms. Your Bill of Rights is not negotiable- not one part, not ever, under any circumstances.

Don't ever let the government tell you that you "deserve" to be taken care of. You deserve nothing of the sort. You get what you earn, and nothing else.

Otherwise, you're going to discover very quickly that "free" turns out to be pretty damned expensive.

Comments

  1. Oh free is expensive but 4 in 10 young people of peak (well near, the survey starts at 15 ends at 29) young people in Europe are underemployed and far more don't earn enough to afford a basic life for themselves and any kids.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/165935/nearly-half-younger-southern-europeans-underemployed.aspx

    This is not a product of lack of free markets or of excess tax but of automation and trade policy. The trade policy can be dealt with if we understand that production surplus is a zero sum game . As for automation. and computers, this is trickier, work sharing and early retirement and all that are already there and its pretty clear aren't working.

    Now yes conceded in early Industrial era tax cuts could increase employment and demand for labor could grow. Now ? so many jobs can be outsourced and where that is not allowed,, simply automation is the killer app

    Material limits suggest that up to a point, less wages and cheaper labor while they might create more jobs, won't increase prosperity and having tons of jobs at say 1 euro a day is pointless since global material demand alone means 1 euro cannot be much wealth and it won't generate enough surplus to sustain society

    This really leaves one option, wealth redistribution. well alright we could simply accept social carrying has been reached and allow populations to decline peacefully. To do that you'd expel foreigners, lock down the borders and let the population age out.

    Don't know how long we want to keep that up though, 1.5 forever is no solution.

    And note with the above figures, counting on a religious revival to create moar babeees isn't going to work. What little success Russia has had in this area combined religion with a lot of wealth redistribution. Its still below replacement though And the US far more religious than Europe has roughly its population rates except among low IQ/low impulse control sorts.

    So what's the solution?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's worth remembering that the reason Russia's population is set to shrink by half by 2050 is due to the tremendous damage that Communism did to women's fertility. Abortions and sterlisations of women- whether voluntary or otherwise- were far higher in the old USSR than in any Western country at the time, and this destroyed Russian fertility for decades to come. They may never really recover from it- neither will most of the former Eastern bloc.

      As for the religious right in the US- they are definitely outbreeding the secular types.

      While autarky is far from an ideal solution, the only approach that seems to make any kind of sense, that balances the requirements of economic freedom with the realities of human nature and the facts of religious fertility, is to shut off all immigration, dramatically reduce the size of government, institute a universal tariff on foreign trade, and remove all barriers to Christian and Jewish proselytisation. (It goes without saying that Islam should be banned from the West.)

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  2. There are two elephants in the room you have ignored.
    1) Money. 97% of the money supply is created as interest charging debt by a cartel of unnacountable commericial banks owned by a tiny class of super wealthy (there was an article in New Scientist tracked back all ownership of major corporates and banks to just half a dozen or so). The interest element is never created, which creates a mathematical inevitability funnelling wealth from the many to the few. It doesn't have to be this way, in 1844 commercial banks were prohibited from printing paper money for the exact same reason (spiralling debt), the same can be done for electronic money.
    2) Land. Certainly in both the UK and in Spain vast swathes - as in the majority of - the land is STILL owned by a deeply entrenched rent-seeking aristocracy and later nouveau-rich speculators (they get EU subsidy for doing nothing with it, too). It is the absurdly high price of land that makes housing so unaffordable in the UK.

    Until these two basic economic essentials are reformed, the masses are screwed.

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