From the American Enterprise Institute: “It’s what makes America, America.”
The Pilot, a South Pines, N.C. newspaper, recently featured a review of Samuel Gregg’s Becoming Europe by Don Delauter. He says:
This is a scholarly work in which the author presents a review of the historical path which led relentlessly to the social and economic cultures of modern day Western Europe. He discusses how America diverged from the European course in important ways which until recently fostered the free enterprise Americans have enjoyed.
However, the future of this phenomenal record of achievement is at risk. Gregg believes that “Europe is the canary in the coal mine” for America.
Gregg notes that America joined the welfare state community somewhat late. The New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society from the Johnson administration were the giant leaps forward. With few interruptions America has maintained a course toward becoming a deficit-spending welfare state, in short, “becoming Europe.”
Gregg concludes that “it would be a grave error for America to go down the European economic path, and not simply because it would result in less economic prosperity. The moral and political cost, in terms of reduced freedom, is simply not worth it.”
The review ends with this sobering thought: “A very worthwhile read, but it may be too late.”
With the expansion of economic freedom and the resulting material prosperity, we’ve reached an unprecedented position of personal reflection and vocation-seeking. This is a welcome development, to be sure, but as I’ve written recently, it also has its risks. Unless we continue to seek God first and neighbor second, such reflection can quickly descend into self-absorbed and unproductive naval-gazing.
Thus far, I’ve limited my discussion to the ways in which privilege and prosperity can impact our views about work outside of the home, but we needn’t forget the side effects that modernity might foster in an area that often consumes the rest of our daily lives: the family.
Just as most of our ancestors had few choices about where they glorified God in business (toiling for the feudal landowner), they also had few choices when it came to raising families (who they married, how many children they had, etc.). Whether due to lack of contraception, more practical material/financial concerns, or any number of other factors, for most families, children were simply a given.
Today, much like in our approaches to job-seeking, child-bearing has come to involve a significant degree of choice, and the overriding choice of the day seems definitive. As Jonathan Last points out in his book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, birthrates in the Western world are in a free fall, with more and more adults opting for fewer and fewer kids, if any at all. Last offers plenty of nuances as to why this is happening, pointing to a “complex constellation of factors, operating independently, with both foreseeable and unintended consequences.” But on the whole, he concludes that “there is something about modernity itself that tends toward fewer children.” (more…)
“While president, Calvin Coolidge warned Americans that if it was the federal government that came to their mind when they thought of ‘the government,’ it would prove costly,” writes Ray Nothstine in this week’s Acton Commentary. But as Nothstine points out, everywhere we turn the federal government is increasingly visible and intrusive. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reflects on President Obama’s State of the Union address last night, and flags the “reality-denial” that is expressed by “a few token references to free enterprise and rewarding individual initiative (to reassure us we’re still living in America instead of just another declining European social democracy).” More:
Judging from the president’s remarks, you’d never guess we just had a negative quarter of economic growth; or that the unemployment rate just ticked up again; or that millions of Americans have simply given up looking for work; or that Obamacare is (as predicted) already driving up the health-care costs that the president claimed are falling (just ask those businesses busy shifting thousands of employees into part-time positions in order to cap their exploding health-care costs); or that . . . again, I fear I am belaboring the point.
What’s the plan from the White House?
… we hear the president tell us, yet again, that we need to pump more money into universities and colleges. Never mind the higher-education bubble, which is going to implode sooner than most people think. We’re also told that we need to develop high-speed rail. One wonders if anyone has asked people in the People’s Republic of California how that’s working out. Then there is the apparently endless promise of green energy, which, despite the billions of taxpayer dollars poured into it, hasn’t actually created that many jobs at all. In addition to all this, we are now informed we must raise the minimum wage. Never mind all the evidence underscoring just how much damage minimum-wage laws do to the job prospects of the poor and many young people, not to mention newly arrived immigrants who just want a chance to start working.
Read “Rhetoric versus Reality” by Samuel Gregg on NRO.
And pick up a copy of Gregg’s new book Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future here.
Thanks to RealClearPolicy for linking.
As I noted last week, my review of Nicholas Eberstadt’s Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic appears in the current issue of The City, a fine publication produced by Houston Baptist University.
Eberstadt provides an important service in bringing home the fiscal realities of the spending crisis facing the American government. But Yuval Levin’s brief reply was, for me, the high point of the book, as it emphasized the indispensability of the so-called “third sector” in social analysis. Eberstadt’s case is helpful for drawing sharp lines, but it’s also worth taking a step back to appreciate the real complexity of the situation.
This is in part why I find any dichotomous breakdown of the situation, whether it pits “makers” against “takers” or the proletariat against the bourgeosie, to be insufficient.
When you have a fuller picture of society than is provided through merely political lenses, it becomes far more difficult to determine who is really a maker and who is really a taker. Or as Joseph Sunde puts it in his review,
The moment we disregard the value in varying social and institutional relationships—beginning with a holistic disregard of the distinct responsibilities of the government vs. the business vs. the school vs. the church vs. the father vs. the daughter vs. the grandmother—is the moment we should expect to see “dependency” become warped toward a one-sided “entitlement archipelago” that serves the self, and little else.
As for the complexity of modern society, Herman Bavinck describes things this way, in a manner that helpfully complicates any simple oppositional narrative:
Current society displays in every respect the greatest inequality and the richest diversity, far greater inequality and diversity than its opponents usually imagine. For they divide society actually into only two classes: the filthy rich and the dirt poor, the superpowerful and the powerless, the abusers and the abused, tyrants and slaves. But the real society, the society that lives and breathes, does not look at all like that; the diversity is far greater, so great that no one can form a complete picture of it. The filthy rich constitute a very small minority, and of these people, membership along a continuum proceeds down to the bottom not by a big leap but rather in terms of a gradual slope in various degrees and in various stages.
For more on these matters, I highlight Bavinck’s insight and the phenomenon of natural diversity, particularly in economic terms, in a recent paper, “The Moral Challenges of Economic Equality and Diversity.”
In the Washington Times, Nile Gardiner praises Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future, the new book by Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg. Gardiner, the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation and a Washington-based foreign affairs analyst for The Telegraph, says Becoming Europe “should be on the desk of every member of the House and Senate who cares about the future of America as a prosperous and free nation.” Gardiner recommends the book for its “rich detail describing the economic and social ‘Europeanization’ of America, from the rise of vast welfare systems to growing skepticism of the merits of the free-enterprise system.” Excerpt from the review:
“Becoming Europe” is a meticulously researched and well-argued thesis that lays out what is at stake for the world’s superpower, as it faces a stark choice between European-style decline or a return to the original vision of America’s Founding Fathers, as well as the classical liberal teachings of Alexis de Tocqueville, Friedrich von Hayek and Adam Smith. Mr. Gregg, who is director of research at the Acton Institute, paints a grim picture of the direction America is taking but, nevertheless, conveys a positive message to his readers. Mr. Gregg argues that while America is indeed on the path to the European model, it can still turn back and avoid the fate that Europe looks doomed to suffer. In many respects, this is an optimistic book based upon faith in America’s ability to renew itself through rediscovering the principles of economic liberty.
I agree with Mr. Gregg’s assessment. As Gallup polling consistently shows, America is still at its core a conservative nation, one that cherishes the foundations of individual liberty. The fire of freedom still burns brighter on this side of the Atlantic than it does in the Old World, where the suffocating supranationalism of the European Union marches on, with the EU heading toward ever-greater political and economic centralization. The European nightmare can be avoided here, however, only if America’s leaders, at both a national and state level, are willing to stand up for economic freedom and reject the destructive ideology of big government. Washington is already on the path to Brussels, Paris and Athens, but it still has an opportunity to reverse course and avoid the road to economic ruin.
Read Nile Gardiner’s full review of Becoming Europe in the Washington Times.
Every year Black Friday marks the official beginning of two modern American traditions: Christmas shopping and criticizing Walmart.
Critics on both the left and the right have found a common enemy in Walmart. Those on the left hate the company because it isn’t unionized while conservatives complain because it undercuts mom-and-pop retailers. Some researchers even claim that people are prone to gain weight after a Walmart Supercenter opens nearby.
I suspect if the researchers were to conduct a follow-up study they’d also find that there is about a 99 percent chance you will not be starving to death if you live near a Walmart store. But we live in a strange period in history when the idea of affordable food is considered a lamentable condition.
Walmart’s very business model—maintain a large and innovative supply chain that keeps prices low—offends the sensibility of those who think that prices should be raised in order to pay employees a higher wage. The idea that the higher cost should be passed on to consumers is typically made by those who would never actually shop at Walmart. A prime example is The American Prospect‘s Harold Meyerson:
Walmart replaced General Motors as America’s largest private-sector employer. Instead of paying its workers enough to buy new cars, Walmart paid its workers so little they had to shop at discount stores like Walmart.
The reason why Walmart employees—and others on the lower end of the income scale—shop at the stores is because they are, by necessity, price conscience shopper. Meyerson and other elites that spend only about 3.5 percent of their income on food at home can afford to shop at Whole Foods. But households in the bottom quintile, which spend 26 percent of their income on food, are eager to keep food prices as low as possible. (During this holiday season Walmart employees receive an additional 10 percent off most food items.) If Walmart didn’t exist they the company’s employees wouldn’t have higher paying jobs; they’d just be paying more for food and consumer goods.
Growing up in a family that lived below the poverty line, I can appreciate the value of inexpensive food. That is one of the primary reasons I appreciate the company—and the reason I think other conservatives should appreciate it too. There is admittedly a lot to dislike about the company, but as former low-income rural resident I think there are a number of reasons why conservatives should be more supportive of Walmart (and similar poverty-alleviating corporations).
Writing on The Corner over at National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg points to the election and, refreshingly, tells us that, “I’m not one of those who, in recent days, have seemed inclined to indulge their inner curmudgeon, apparently convinced that it’s more or less game-over for America and we’re doomed to Euro-serfdom.”
Gregg, author of the soon-to-be-released and available for pre-order Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future (Encounter Books, January 2013), explains why there are, still, important differences between Eurotopia and the United States. For one thing:
… the strength and persistence of private entrepreneurship continues to substantially differentiate America’s economic culture from that of Europe. America remains ahead — and, in some areas, continues to pull ahead — of most of Europe when it comes to private innovation. As noted in a World Bank report earlier this year, the elements that fuel innovation, such as ease in obtaining patents and availability of venture capital, continue (at least for now) to be far stronger in America than in most of Europe.
The same report specified that it is young firms driving innovative growth in America. Among America’s leading innovators in the Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard, more than half were created after 1975. They include firms such as eBay, Microsoft, Cisco, Amgen, Oracle, Google, and of course Apple. By contrast, only one in five leading innovators in Europe is young. In America, young firms make up an incredible 35 percent of total research and development done by leading innovators. Their European counterparts account for a mere 7 percent in the old continent. That’s great news for America and a major headache for Europe over the long term.
Read “Are We all Europeans Now?” by Samuel Gregg on NRO.
As noted already at the PowerBlog today, Sam Gregg has a fine piece on the complex relationship between law and morality, or constitutions and culture, over at Public Discourse.
As a follow-up (read the piece first), I’d like to point to an interesting aspect of James Buchanan’s advocacy of a balanced-budget amendment. As Gregg notes, Buchanan is an example of someone who thought that “America’s constitution required amending to bestow genuine independence upon a monetary authority,” or advocated for the “constitutionalization” of money. A related effort would be Buchanan’s efforts in support of a balanced-budget amendment to the American Constitution, as explored by James Alvey in his piece, “James M. Buchanan on the Ethics of Public Debt and Default.”