At Public Discourse, Acton’s Research Director Samuel Gregg examines why many European governments are so hesitant to engage in much needed but painful economic reforms – especially reforms that involve diminishing the size of expansive welfare states. The causes are many, but in “Fatal Attraction: Democracy and the Welfare State,” Gregg zeroes in on a potentially damaging linkage between democratic systems of government and the growth of large welfare states that seek to provide economic security to ever increasing numbers of people. Substantive economic reform becomes extremely difficulty in these circumstances. Gregg writes:

No doubt, this reflects a disinclination of many European politicians—on the left and right—to concede that the post-war European effort to use the state to provide as much economic security as possible has encountered an immovable obstacle in the form of economic reality. Yet it is arguable—albeit highly politically incorrect to suggest—that it also reflects the workings of a potentially deadly nexus between democracy (or a certain culture of democracy) and the welfare state.

One justification for democracy is that it provides us with ways of aligning government policies with the citizenry’s requirements and of holding governments accountable when their decisions do not accord with the majority’s wishes. But what happens when some citizens begin viewing these mechanisms as a means for encouraging elected officials to use the state to provide them with whatever they want, such as apparently limitless economic security? And what happens when many elected officials believe it is their responsibility to provide the demanded security, or, more cynically, regard welfare programs as a useful tool to create constituencies that can be relied upon to vote for them?

Read more of “Fatal Attraction: Democracy and the Welfare State” on Public Discourse.

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, June 18, 2010
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Because of the crush of Acton University blogging activity, I’ll be posting mostly links today. Watch for a wrap up in the days ahead.

Also, Jordan Ballor’s fine Acton Commentary “Unity or Unanimity at Reformed Council?” was published yesterday in the Detroit News under the headline “Ballor: Church activists shouldn’t adopt separation as doctrine.”

Blogging AU:

— Grzegorz (Greg) Lewicki explains what we mean by, “Get lost from my porch, or I’ll break your neck right now.”

— Jackson Egan offers “Acton University: A Student’s First Impressions of the Acton Institute.” He follows up with “The World is Not Changed by Good Intentions.”

— Adam Thompson unpacks “Hijacked Solidarity.”

— Dr. Charles Self meets “leaders and thinkers from Anglican, Baptist, Congregational, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic and non-denominational traditions” in his Day 2 post.

— Marcos Hilding Ohlsson is “Hablando de libertad y Religión.”

— Amy Hall reflects on “Wealth and the Bible.”

— Joshua Brown digs deeper into the “Notion of Liberty.”

— Brett Kunkle asks: “Can You Change Parenthood With No Consequences?”

— Along the same lines, Erin Kunkle explains why “Children Need Dads, Societies Need Dads.”

— Gerry Breshears indulges his “curiosity bump” at AU.

— Armando Regil Velasco looks at “Populism in Latin America.”

— Jeffrey Tucker wonders: “Why Do We Keep Singing this Music?”

— Patrick Russo does not overlook the “empty spaces” in the Scottish Enlightenment.

— Day Two from Kaetana Leontjeva: “Acton – tęsinys.”

“Immaculée Ilibagiza puts everything in perspective” for Stephen Heiner.

— Kristy Kieda offers an appreciation of “Immaculée” and looks at aid to the developing world in “The Moral Hazard of Charitable Giving.”

— Robby Moeller talks about the friendship he has forged with Acton’s Jim Healy and takes a humorous look at Rev. Sirico on Fox News engaging with the producers of “What Would Jesus Buy?”

— Juan Callejas is back with “Personas sobre Datos.”

— Lenny McCallister has “A Thought on Christian Anthropology and Saving America.” What’s more, Lenny experiences an “Immaculée” moment, and has good things to say about “Dr. [Jennifer Roback] Morse’s analysis” on the breakdown of families and its impact on economic systems.

— Chris Armstrong announces that “Emergent is dead, and the leftovers have gone to the Christian Left, neo-Anabaptism, and neo-Puritanism.” He digs into Catholic Social Teaching and find the foundations of the free and virtuous society.

— Eric Teetsel looks at “Family Matters.”

— Elise Hilton quotes Rudy Carrasco and Jennifer Roback Morse and has better luck with the lemon drop martini.

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, June 17, 2010
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More great coverage of Acton University. Also check out our Flickr and Twitter (hashtag: #ActonU) feeds in the sidebar.

— Carl Sanders, chair of Bible and Theology, at Washington Bible College/Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, Md., has posts up at Insomniac Memos and 100 Days, 100 Books: A Reader’s Journal. He reviews the foundational lectures:

Our final afternoon session was a wide-ranging question section with the panel of presenters from the day. Unlike many such sections, I felt the questions were of high quality and the answers helpful. Topics addressed ranged from the proper definition of nominalism, the distinction between what is moral & evil (i.e., how do we decide when to legislate morality), the notion of just prices (vs. market prices) and a reevaluation of Rousseau (perhaps…). Interesting stuff.

Dr. Charlie Self takes us through “24 Hours at Acton.”

My personal motto is “Think deeply and act decisively.” Acton is proof that deep thinking and decisive action are connected and crucial to the future of our planet. It is refreshing to hear intellectual giants affirm that government exists to protect God-given rights, not bestow them. It is exciting to see compassionate leaders dedicated to helping the poor affirm that free markets are the most empowering way forward, not bureaucrat-controlled enterprises. Economics is more than tax policy – it is the delightful art and science of creating wealth, serving human need and expressing our calling to create, discover and manage the wonders of the world.

— Adam Thompson, the Catholic Teacher Man, reflects on the Wednesday evening talk by Immaculée Ilibagiza.

The critical moment in the dark night of Ms. Ilibagiza’s soul occurred when all seemed lost as a search party full of bloodlust ransacked the preacher’s home looking for any “cockroaches” and “snakes” to exterminate. In an episode that can only be accounted for by divine intervention, the mob inexplicably abandoned their efforts on the threshold of the bathroom. Ms. Ilibagiza remarked that her faith in God was restored and her life changed in that epiphanic moment. She determined to spread the message of the Good News in an apostolate of gratitude and forgiveness, which she conveyed through her bestselling memoir, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. She later returned to Rwanda where she visited her family’s murderer in prison and forgave him.

— Jeffrey Tucker at the Mises Economics Blog on “Revisiting that Rwanda Slaughter”:

As Rothbard has noted, the whole conflict between the two groups stems from the absurdity of colonial borders forcing these two groups to live under one state in which domination of one by the other is an inevitable. What I had not realized until tonight is the extent to which the Hutu government had actually promoted and even ordered the mass death of the Tutsis, in radio broadcasts following the death of the Hutu president. In other words, the genocide had been legally condoned and promoted.

— Kaetana Leontjeva, an attendee from Vilnius, Lithuania, blogs the Acton universiteto programa.

Mieli skaitytojai, artimiausiomis dienomis norėčiau pasidalinti įspūdžiais iš Acton universiteto programos, kurioje šiuo metu dalyvauju. Acton institute Grand Rapids mieste Mičigano valstijoje, JAV vykstanti programa trunka kiek mažiau nei savaitę, tačiau šis trumpas laikas žada būti labai turiningu. Šiandien vyksta “pamatiniai” kursai pirmąkart dalyvaujantiems, o nuo rytojaus lankysiu pasirinktus kursus (kiekvienos sesijos metu galima rinktis net iš 6 skirtingų kursų).

— Stephen Heiner, gives us the Confessions of a Conference Junkie: My first day at Acton University:

Acton delivers what I’ve come to expect at “these sorts of things,” and some extra items:
1. A truly diverse crowd. There are attendees from 6 different countries, including what appear to be at least a dozen priests and even more seminarians. We have Catholic priests, Orthodox priests, and every shade of Protestant minister. It is overwhelmingly male (I’d guess 70/30), but the women who are here are quite attractive (not that a single guy notices such things).
2. A dazzling array of lectures. While I endured the “foundational series” of lectures with the rest of my Acton freshmen colleagues, tomorrow starts the courses that we hand-picked ourselves. Here are a few of them …

— Armando Regil Velasco, from El Instituto de Pensamiento Estratégico Ágora A.C. (IPEA) in Mexico, has “Thoughts on Human Dignity from Acton University”:

I am delighted and inspired to share some thoughts on human dignity. Robert Sirico, President and Co-Founder of the Acton Institute has been a great source of inspiration since I met him in 2006. Every time I listen to him, I feel thankful to know that there are extraordinary persons that dedicate their lives to be intellectual pilgrims and to give testimony of what really matters.

— Erin Kunkle at the Please Convince Me blog reflects on Governance without Government:

Today, society seems to have turned from caring about “persons”—your extended family, friends, neighbors—to caring for “people” in general. When you merely care about “people,” you may want help for those in your community that need it but you are removed from any responsibility or obligation and simply expect the government or someone other entity to provide help. As I reflected on this, I thought of the disappearance of the Good Samaritan in society. News stories tell of someone getting hurt or victimized but instead of individuals stepping in to help, they walk by expecting someone else to take care of it. Father Sirico argued this would never have happened in the 1950’s and 1960’s …

— At the Stand to Reason blog, Brett Kunkle wants to know: “Are You a Greedy Capitalist?”

The basis of capitalism is not selfish greed but rather, appropriate self-interest. This distinction is vital to grasp. Self-interest is not wrong. Do you desire food and shelter? Do you wish to take care of your loved ones? I hope so. Are these greedy desires? Of course not. They represent a proper self-interest. Self-interest is simply looking out for one’s interests. Indeed, Jesus endorses self-interest. How does He tell us we ought to love others? As we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

— Juan Callejas from Guatemala offers “Reflexiones sobre la Dignidad Humana” at Discusión Inteligente:

La antropología socialista asume que la persona humana es producto de la casualidad evolutiva y biológica de la naturaleza, y cómo tal, está destinada a la vida terrenal como principio y fin de su existencia. Esta antropología también coloca al hombre como medio para el servicio de la nebulosa entidad del “Estado” o la “Sociedad”. La reducción de la persona humana como mera pieza de la máquina estatal le roba su dignidad porque le despoja de la posibilidad de escoger, del motor creativo y del sentido trascendente que tenemos todos tanto de manera física a través de la familia, cómo de lo que físicamente creamos, como también de nuestra trascendencia espiritual.

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, June 17, 2010
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Ryan T. Anderson, editor of Public Discourse, weighs in on BP’s blowout in the Gulf of Mexico:

What we’re seeing is an animus directed toward modern technology and industry, an unmodulated suspicion of the private sector’s motives, an unexamined belief that markets have failed, all coupled with an uncritical (and nearly unthinking) faith that, in the final analysis, only government and extensive regulation will save us from ourselves and protect Mother Nature.

But the history of environmental progress tells a different story. And the lessons of this story ought not to be obscured by this tragic event. First, governmental attempts to protect the environment often have been inefficient, ineffective, and even counterproductive. Second, economic growth—and the affordable energy and market economies that allows for such growth—is largely responsible for the environmental gains we have witnessed over the past decades. And third, property rights and the market itself—not the supposedly angelic intentions and intelligence of government officials—best protect the environment.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and perhaps the best-known governmental misstep—still in full force—when it comes to environmental policy is the Endangered Species Act. Signed into law in 1973, the act was meant to protect species on the verge of extinction as “a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation.” The law has had some good effects, but in certain respects the remedy was worse than the disease. Instead of bringing economic growth and development into harmony with concern for and conservation of endangered species, the act gave some an economic incentive to kill and destroy the habitats of the very animals it sought to protect.

“Shoot, shovel, and shut-up” best captures the attitude of some ranchers, farmers, harvesters, and other land-owners who stand to lose all access to their land should an endangered animal be discovered on it. If an endangered species is discovered on private property, governmental officials can tell the owners what they may and may not do with the land—imposing criminal sanctions if they fail to comply. This can greatly decrease the value of the land, but the government does not offer any economic recompense.

As a result, land-owners know that if they spot an endangered animal they should get rid of their problem by getting rid of the animal before the government finds out—“shoot, shovel, and shut-up.” This same logic also provides the incentive for land-owners to manage their properties in such a way (by clearing undergrowth, limiting the size of forests, etc.) so as to prevent them from providing habitat for endangered species.

Imagine how many more endangered species would be discovered and protected if there were an economic incentive to doing so. What if conservation groups paid land-owners to purchase the properties where these species were discovered? Barring that, what if the government compensated land-owners, thus implementing a policy that makes sense by providing the proper economic incentives. No one suggests getting rid of the Endangered Species Act, only reforming it to make use of market-based solutions.

Read “The Gulf Oil Spill and Eco-nomics” on Public Discourse.

This week’s Acton Commentary from Jordan Ballor:

Unity or Unanimity at Reformed Council?

By Jordan Ballor

Global Christianity comes to Grand Rapids, Mich., this weekend in the form of the Uniting General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). Thousands of delegates, exhibitors, and volunteers will gather on the campus of Calvin College to mark the union of two Reformed ecumenical groups, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC). This new global ecumenical body will include 227 denominations in 108 nations worldwide, with over 80 million Christians of broadly Reformed, Congregational, and Presbyterian membership.

But the proceedings over the next two weeks will go far beyond mere celebration and praise at the joining of these various groups. The future course of the newly formed WCRC will be set at this first council, and all signs point to an institution defined by a narrow set of advocacy items rather than a Gospel-oriented vision. As WARC president Clifton Kirkpatrick has said, “A true test of the value of our impending union will be how it enhances and strengthens our commitment to economic and ecological justice.”

The basis for the WCRC’s exploration of justice is a document called the Accra Confession, named for the last general council of WARC, held in Accra, Ghana in 2004, which produced the text in response to a perceived crisis of the Christian faith. In the words of the Accra Confession, the crisis calls for “a decision of faith commitment,” specifically focused on condemning “the development of neoliberal economic globalization.” At the core of this “faith commitment” is a perspective that views the developing world as victimized at the hands of a vast conspiratorial network of developed nations, multinational corporations, and global financial institutions. The primary villain in this “neoliberal empire” is the United States, cast as the leader of “the coming together of economic, cultural, political and military power that constitutes a system of domination led by powerful nations to protect and defend their own interests.”

The South African economist Stan du Plessis has criticized the Accra Confession for this perspective, one that in his view “substitutes a narrow ideology for a critical understanding of modern economies.” And so the problem with the Accra Confession is not just that it takes sides on questions of economic prudence and policy, although this is something that institutional churches should always be wary of. As the great Princeton ethicist Paul Ramsey wrote in 1967, “The specific solution of urgent problems is the work of political prudence and worldly wisdom. In this there is room for legitimate disagreement among Christians and among other people as well in the public domain–which disagreement ought to be welcomed and not led one way toward specific conclusions.”

The compounding problem with the Accra Confession is that it takes the wrong side, the side that embraces an essentially neo-Marxist narrative of Third World alienation and victimization, and seeks “justice” in the form of retribution against First World villains. Far from promoting the kind of unity that is at the core of ecumenical efforts, this kind of rhetorical and ideological confessionalism drives apart those who ought to be joining together. It pits the rich against the poor, north against south, east against west, inserting the divisive language of economic class into the definition of the Christian church.

Wholesale rejection of globalization should not be made into an article of the Christian faith. But this is precisely what the Accra Confession does. And if the World Communion of Reformed Churches adopts the Accra Confession or its underlying economic worldview in the coming weeks, it will be undermining its own stated commitment to “unite Christians for common witness and service to the world.”

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
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Acton University 2010 is underway. This year, 450 students and faculty from 55 countries are gathered in Grand Rapids for a deep dive into the “free and virtuous society.” Attendees this year include seminarians and college students — groups that have studied at Acton conferences for two decades now — but also presidents of colleges, corporate executives, Christian missionaries, entrepreneurs, physicians, lawyers, business leaders, retired people and a few high school students.

Acton also welcomes 44 Protestant seminary professors who are here thanks to the Kern Foundation and our Hansen Fellows, 25 Catholic High School Teachers who are here courtesy of the Hansen Foundation. New this year is the Juan de Mariana Fellowship program, which has allowed us to enroll 30 international participants. More than a third of attendees are returning alumni who come back to take advantage of the expanding curriculum.

We have nearly 60 bloggers represented, and daily broadcasts from AU by Kresta in the Afternoon. (Listen live from 4-6 p.m.)This is a true ecumenical gathering with people from all denominations and several faiths. Catholics and Protestants are represented in roughly equal numbers.

We’ll be doing a running update of coverage by those here at AU. And check out our Flickr stream from AU in the widget in the sidebar:


Mere Orthodoxy
sends a new voice, Rebecca Elizabeth, to AU. She covers Rev. Robert Sirico’s opening night talk in “The Kickoff to Acton University 2010.”

Amy K. Hall at Stand to Reason covers AU’s opening night, and asks the right questions: “Our week will be focused on applying the Christian worldview to the field of economics. How do we create a just society? How do we best help the poor? How have other worldviews influenced current economic ideas, and what are/will be the consequences?”

Last week Acton research fellow Jonathan Witt treated the topic of Tolkien and the free society at the June “Acton on Tap.” I was reminded of this theme when I finished reading C. S. Lewis’ novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Ed. note: The lack of a serial, or so-called Oxford, comma in that title bothers me.) to my son last night. There’s a beautiful passage towards the end that illustrates what Lewis thought good government looks like:

These two Kings and two Queens governed Narnia well, and long and happy was their reign. At first much of their time was spent in seeking out the remnants of the White Witch’s army and destroying them, and indeed for a long time there would be news of evil things lurking in the wilder parts of the forest—a haunting here and a killing there, a glimpse of a werewolf one month and a rumor of a hag the next. But in the end all that foul brood was stamped out. And they made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down, and liberated young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.

This kind of vision is why I’m really at heart a monarchist (even if only of a divine sort).

I’ve long argued that school choice is the quintessential bipartisan cause, with boundless potential to transform American primary and secondary education. Yet, for various reasons (all of them bad), it has failed to live up to that potential—its significant successes in various places notwithstanding.

One more anecdote to file away on this matter comes from Rich Lowry at NRO: the travails of Eva Moskowitz in New York City.

Favorite quote:

It’s amazing what you can accomplish, she says, when you design your schools “around teaching and learning and don’t think of yourself as an employment program for grown-ups.”


Lee Edwards calls William F. Buckley Jr. “The St. Paul of the conservative movement.” No other 20th century figure made such a vast contribution to the intellectual force of political conservatism. He paved the way for the likes of Ronald Reagan and all of those political children of Reagan who credit the former president for bringing them into politics. He achieved what no other had done and that was his ability to bring traditional conservatives, libertarians, and anti-communists together under the same umbrella. Late in life, when asked why he continued working so hard despite fame and wealth, a surprised Buckley said, “My Father taught me that I owe it to my country. It’s how I pay my debt.”

Lee Edwards offers an excellent story of Buckley’s founding and overseeing of the modern conservative crusade in William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement. Edwards traces the roots of those who influenced Buckley, from libertarian author Albert Jay Nock, conservative political scientist Willmoore Kendall, the anti-communist Whittaker Chambers, and political theorist James Burnham. Buckley fused together these right of center factions that were often feuding with each other more than with their common foes, the statists. Kendall, Burnham, and Chambers were all closely associated with National Review, launched by Buckley in 1955. Russell Kirk was also an essential conservative voice in the mix who agreed to become a contributor to the magazine. Buckley purged Ayn Rand and her anti-Christian and morally bankrupt philosophy of Objectivism from mainstream conservatism. He dismissed anti-semitism from the movement by dismissing it from his publication. The conservative historian George Nash simply said, “Much of the history of American conservatism after 1955 is the history of the individuals associated with the magazine William F. Buckley Jr. founded.”

A significant aspect of this book, and one that has received more attention since the death of Buckley, was his magnanimous personality and financial generosity. It is estimated that since he was paid a nominal salary by National Review, he diverted $10 million to the magazine because he forwarded speaking fees, lecture fees and other fees to National Review’s coffers. He waived his speaking fee for the Acton Institute in 1992 because according to Edwards, “He was taken with the idea of an organization dedicated to explaining the relationship between-free market capitalism and Christian morality.” Edwards offers other points of generosity:

He once visited a young man in a Texas hospital recovering from wounds in Vietnam. The soldier’s doctors had told him he would never see again. Buckley paid for his flight to New York City, where after an eye examination by one of the world’s leading eye surgeons and three operations, the young veteran’s eyesight was restored.

Buckley’s wit, sunny personality, and charm was infectious. Edwards tells a story about how Buckley was wildly cheered by Harvard students at a debate because of his biting wit and intellectual prowess. It became apparent that Buckley was cut from a far different mold than the stereotypical angry or dour faced conservative.

The weight of his commitments to National Review, Firing Line, his column and book writing, lecture schedule, and assisting other conservative organizations was staggering. He even found time to run for mayor of New York City in 1965. Buckley wanted to raise national awareness of conservative and libertarian ideas and when asked what he would do if he won he famously quipped, “Demand a recount.” He called for welfare reform in the campaign, saying recipients should work for assistance, outlining the ideas future Republican lawmakers would embrace in their own calls for reform. He supported free enterprise zones in ethnic minority neighborhoods long before Jack Kemp would popularize the idea. Buckley shocked many pundits with a respectable showing in the race, garnering support from many ethnic, Catholic Democrats and middle class Republicans. These, of course, were the same groups Ronald Reagan would later tap into in his presidential campaigns.

Buckley’s Roman Catholic faith was intricately tied to his conservative views. He believed in human liberty but understood that liberty itself could not lead to an earthly utopia. He penned a meditative account of his Catholic faith in Nearer, My God. Edwards reminds us his anti-communist views stemmed “not just because it was tyranny but also because it was heresy.” When he was asked by Playboy Magazine what he wanted as an epitaph, he replied, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

Buckley’s friendship with Ronald Reagan was deep and abiding, even among the occasional political disagreements. Both men shared a passion for not merely containing communism but defeating it. Buckley called Lech Walesa, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, and Andrei Sakharov the great heroes of the 1980s and they had earned their place in “freedom’s House of Lords.” But the political leader was Ronald Reagan, with his strategic vision. Reagan too praised Buckley saying at the 30th anniversary celebration of National Review:

You and I remember a time of the forest primeval, a time when nightmare and danger reigned and only the knights of darkness prevailed; when conservatives seemed without a champion in the critical battle of style and content. And then, suddenly riding up through the mists, came our clipboard-bearing Galahad: ready to take on any challengers in the critical battle of point and counterpoint. And, with grace and humor and passion, to raise a standard to which patriots and lovers of freedom could repair.

No less praising is the truth Edwards articulates when he says Buckley, who was born into wealth, could have simply been a playboy of the Western world. But Buckley ferociously served and sacrificed in order to raise up the conservative cause and place it into the mainstream of American politics. He uplifted the intellectual debate of conservatives and the country, and always asked probing questions of the direction of the movement, most recently questioning the continued conflict in Iraq before his death. But never a quitter his last public comment on the war was “stick it out,” despite his skepticism of nation building in the Middle East, which he called “Wilsonian.”

William F. Buckley Jr. was a conservative icon. Generations of young conservatives grew up learning from him and tried to emulate his ideas and values. One of the greatest losses to conservatism with his death is the power of his ideas in times such as these. Many conservatives are reminded of this when we hear or read the anti-intellectualism and lack of critical thinking echoing from talk radio or the blogosphere. Buckley was the one who not only made conservatism respectable and mainstream, but reminded us too that it could tower over the liberals of the academy.

This week’s Acton Commentary from Research Director Samuel Gregg.

+++++++++

Europe: The Unjust Continent

By Samuel Gregg

In recent months, the European social model has been under the spotlight following Greece’s economic meltdown and the fumbling efforts of European politicians to prop up other tottering European economies. To an unprecedented extent, the post-war European model’s sustainability is being questioned. Even the New York Times has conceded something is fundamentally wrong with the model they and the American Left have been urging upon America for decades.

Western Europe’s postwar economies were shaped by an apparent concern for the economically marginalized and the desire to realize more just societies. This inspired the extensive government economic intervention, high-tax rates and generous welfare states now characterizing most contemporary European economies. After 1945, Communists and Christian Democrats alike rallied around these policies. For Marxists, it was a step toward realizing their dream. For non-Marxists, it was a way of preventing outright collectivization.

Even today, words like “solidarity” and “social justice” permeate European discussion to an extent unimaginable in the rest of the world. If you want proof, just switch on a French television or open a German newspaper. The same media regularly contrast Europe’s concern for justice with America’s economic culture. America, many Europeans will tell you, embodies terrible economic injustices in the form of “immense” wealth-disparities, “grossly inadequate” healthcare, and “savage” competition.

But while such mythologies dominate European discourse, it’s also true that Western Europe’s economic culture is characterized by a deeply unjust fracture. Modern Europe is a continent increasingly divided between what Alberto Alesina and Francesco Giavazzi called in The Future of Europe (2006) “insiders” and “outsiders”.

The “insiders” are establishment politicians of left and right, trade unions, public sector workers, politically-connected businesses, pensioners, and those (such as farmers) receiving subsidies. The “outsiders” include, among others, entrepreneurs, immigrants, and the young. Naturally the insiders do everything they can to maintain their position and marginalize outsiders’ opportunities for advancement.

So how do Europe’s insiders maintain the status quo?

(more…)