After concluding another 16 days in Europe. I am again reminded how different their form of socialism is, and yet how closely it resembles the model that Obama seeks for America. The vast majority of citizens lives in apartments, even in smaller towns and villages. Cars are tiny. Prices are higher than in the states; income is lower (The government taxes you to pay for things like “free” college, so you won’t have much to spend on antisocial things like your Wal-Mart plastic Christmas Tree or your second K-Mart plasma TV.)
Mass transit is frequent and cheap, but often crowded and occasionally unpleasant. The stifled desire to acquire something—large house, car, deposit account—is of course not quite destroyed by socialism, but rather is channeled into a sort of cynicism and anger, often leading to a hedonism of few children, late and long meals, and disco hours until the early morning. The number of Gucci like stores selling overpriced label junk like 200 Euro eye-glass frames and 1000 Euro leather bags to socialists is quite amazing.
A Party for Everything
Multiple political parties flourish, all with passionate single agenda constituents. Graffiti is not gang related, but mostly political and nonsensical. Media is divided by politics, a leftwing paper, a rightwing magazine. Unions control almost all government services. And yet class is firmly entrenched and aristocratic snobbery more pronounced. (We already see that strange symbiosis between socialism for everyone else, capitalism for a few, whether in Michelle’s clothes, the Obama’s mansion, the Kerry fortune, the Edwards compound, the Gore appurtenances, the Clinton speaking cash cow, and too many others to list).
Among upper-class Greeks, one is constantly reminded that their grandfather, their cousin, or mother-in-law was this minister once, or that writer years ago, or today a famous diplomat—anything to focus one’s attention beyond the possession of the normal flat in the normal apartment building and the normal tiny Fiat and the normal public education.
Ministries to be Milked
When I talk to well-off Italians and Greeks who have substantial homes by the sea not available to most others, one of three realities leak out: one, they have family money made decades ago by their ancestors that includes ancestral estates permissible before the period of supposed mandated equality of result. In other words, theirs got theirs and then helped make laws so no one else could.
Or, two, people simply cheat on taxes all the time. If you buy something, the offer comes to pay in cash. A Greek explained to me his government job is his official tax-paying day job; the expertise necessary for it is what he farms out at night and on weekends for cash that goes for a second home, a larger car, a vacation abroad.
Or, three, the technocrats who run these vast welfare states are not only well paid, but more importantly are able to garner cars, travel, and plush apartments as tax-free job related perks (cf. the current scandal in London). If being a “venture capitalist” is what wannabe Harvard kids in their 20s sought in the 1990s, being a bigwig Minister, with neo-classical office, state Mercedes, and official residence is the perennial European equivalent. This is a continent of Tom Daschles, who win by being exempt from the burden of government that they subject on others, and win again by having the contacts to sort out government contracts to crony-businesses.
My point? The more Europe professes to be egalitarian, the more cynical and conniving the people have become—almost as if the human craving for one’s own property and to make one one’s destiny cannot be denied by the state, but by needs will be channeled into what the state mandates as anti-social for most, but quietly a perk for a few.
Unhappy Socialist Campers
I’ve been reading a lot of commentary in Italian and Greek newspapers these last three weeks and talking to Italians, Greeks, and Turks during two long European lecture tours. Socialism surely does not make one happier, or content knowing that the resulting society is somehow more humane or caring. Instead each faction is constantly on the verge of striking against the public good. There are always the bad “them”, easy-target public enemies among the rich and aristocratic who need to give away more to the “deserving.” The bank workers are in perpetual war against the garbage cleaners who hate the social service workers who whine about the fire and police—each convinced the public must grant more largess on themselves than on like others.
Just as the government is necessary to nanny one and all—and thereby earns both the demands and resentment of the recipient for its caring—so too the United States serves the same role to Europe at large: hated and needed at the same time.
Parents Are Hated by Their Dependents
In Greece, they are being hit by a pandemic of Turkish over-flights in the Aegean, and rather cynical efforts of Turkish money-making smugglers to buy wrecked freighters and beach them with hundreds of aliens from the Middle East on the shores of Aegean—Greece being the gateway to the EU money trough for supposed “political refugees”. Illegal aliens are everywhere in Athens. The country is sort of the front lines of European utopian pretension: what sounds good in Brussels is reified in the here and now in Greece with its porous maritime borders on the Middle East.
I would assume that if there weren’t a US-led NATO, some sort of shooting war would quickly break out over immigrants, Aegean air space, or Cyprus. To suggest that privately to Greeks is to earn a grudging nod; to do so publicly is to get a fiery denunciation and yet another tutorial about the 1967 coup, and the Henry Kissinger intrigue in Cyprus, as prequel to Iraq and Bush.
Thoughts on DMV Health Care in extremis
Because I have traveled a great deal in my life, often recklessly so, alone, and to weird places in search of answers to topographical questions of the ancient Mediterranean world, and first-hand observations about battles and campaigns in out of the way places for several books— I have ended up over the last 36 years in a number of socialist hospitals: E-coli poisoning in Athens from tainted strawberries; a cut tendon on my index finger from a barbed wire fence in Sparta (with reaction to live tetanus vaccination); a severed ureter due to an impacted staghorn calculus kidney stone from dehydration of excavating at Corinth; a light case of malaria at Karnak, Egypt; an out of control, strep throat that turned into something more in Izmir, Turkey; a ruptured appendix, surgery, and peritonitis in Tripolis, Libya, and so on.
In each case, the care was terrible. A sole lonely doctor or maverick nurse in two cases saved my life, but on the average the facilities were filthy, and the employees akin to those in the government-run post office or bank. And a strange thing occurred as well: often the staff became mad at the patient: “Why did you come here with an appendix problem?”; You should have not let your strep get out of control!”; “If you don’t drink water, what do you expect!”; “See what happens when you don’t take all your quinine pills!”.
Socialism will always blame the patient (just watch when it comes here), I suppose for drawing on collective resources, and to focus on public enemies whose weight, smoking, or lifestyle (I do not smoke or drink, but exercise and am of reasonable weight) have betrayed the public ideal. (Fat people, and smokers (except our President) will soon become as hated in the socialist mind as jet skis, those in their 80s who want a bypass, Yukons, Tahoes and investment bankers.)
Europe is Europe, Because America is Not?
No, Europe should not only not be our model, but Euros know it should not be our model. A few brilliant Europeans whisper, “Of course, it is lost here, since no addict insidiously hooked on government entitlement ever gives such largess up. But you over there still have a chance.” For a few Europeans, America’s military (drawing on fewer people and less territory and GDP than the expanded EU) is the only hope for Western defense. It’s where most life-saving drugs will emerge, new technologies are birthed, and huge sophisticated markets grow for European goods. So they have a stake in not allowing us to become like them.
The Not-so-Kind Face of Socialism
One final thought: I’ve never met a beatific equality-of-result person. They are usually grim and angry warriors determined to right cosmic wrongs, eager to demonize those who ‘have too much’, convinced that the divine ends justify the demonic means.
In that regard, despite the hope and change rhetoric, when Obama went down that ‘spread the wealth’ path, I feared that we would get the Rev. Wright race talk. It is no surprise that Obama invokes the constant bogeymen who do all sorts of terrible things, among them most prominently the Orwellian Goldstein figure of George W. Bush. There are no legitimate critics, only those Obama & Co. claim are shills for the insurance industries, who unfairly attack the Canadian health system, the greedy who go to Vegas and the Super Bowl, the Neanderthal who cling to their guns, the dissidents known as Nazis, stooges, mobs, and the well-dressed who dare to become rude to the Congresspeople.
The road to socialism is not natural. It must be paved with the hard work of class envy, demonization of the successful, and obfuscation that each new massive spending program that will raise both taxes and deficits (that’s the point, after all, to create so much red ink that we must raise taxes and redefine what constitutes income) must be passed immediately, without delay, now-or-never to stave off Biblical hunger, plague, and flood.
I guess I'm more anti-France politically than anti-European, but that's because every good Anglophile hates the French. To me, this article is slightly more valid than some of the crap out there because at least the author WENT to Europe. That doesn't really excuse the stereotyping though.