The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller

              Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi exits a booth as he votes in a polling station in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. Italy votes in a watershed parliamentary election Sunday and Monday that could shape the future of one of Europe

California, Illinois and New York ‘have more-or-less become European,’ argues author

States like California, Illinois and New York already “have more-or-less become European,” argues Samuel Gregg, author of the new book, ”Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future.”

“At its core, to ‘become like Europe’ is to prioritize the realization of economic security through government intervention over virtually all other considerations,” Gregg, who is director of research at the Acton Institute for the study of religion and liberty, told The Daily Caller in an email.  ”That includes competing economic concerns such as fiscal solvency, but also particular values such as human freedom and human flourishing.”

“If you think about the criteria I just identified,” he went on to say, “it’s obvious that parts of America — states like California, Illinois, and New York — have more-or-less become European. Likewise, the fact that most federal government expenditures are overwhelmingly on welfare programs replicates the situation prevailing throughout Western Europe. Then there is the unwillingness on the part of many Americans to accept that we cannot go on this way. It is one thing to have problems. But it’s quite another to refuse to acknowledge them.”

But what’s so wrong with becoming like Europe? It’s not quite North Korea, right?

Gregg, who earned a doctorate in moral philosophy at Oxford, admits that while Europe has “much to like … it’s becoming harder and harder to be a free person in Europe.”

He says he doesn’t mean that there is a sudden “re-emergence of the type of socialist regimes that controlled half of Europe for 50 years,” but rather “a near-obsession on the part of most European politicians … with equality in the sense of trying to eliminate difference, including just and natural distinctions.”

“Most European governments have ‘Ministers for Equality’ or ‘Equality Commissions,’ many of which are staffed by people who seem intent upon gutting European civilization in the name of whatever happens to be the latest politically-correct fashion,” he argued.

Another “major problem” with Europe, Gregg explained, “is the acceleration throughout Western Europe of a phenomenon which Alexis de Tocqueville made famous in ‘Democracy in America’: soft despotism.”

“Millions of Europeans seem content to give up so much of their liberty to the political class, just so long as the state gives them perpetual economic security,” he said.

Read the full interview with Gregg below about his new book, what he believes makes America unique and which politicians he believes best understand and convey the message he propounds in his book:

Why did you write the book?

Around 2009, many Americans started using words such “Europeanization” to express their concerns about what seemed to be happening to America, both politically and economically. That’s somewhat different to words like “socialization.” “Europeanization” implied an awareness that something else is going on — something that goes beyond economic policy and even politics. And that “something” was deeper cultural changes that had significant implications for economic life in America. But while many people were using the phrase, I couldn’t find any writings that, first, explained in depth what Europeanization might mean, and, second, whether it actually was manifesting itself in America. Hence, I decided to try and spell this all out, but to do it in a relatively accessible way.

What does it mean to become like Europe?

At  its core, to “become like Europe” is to prioritize the realization of economic security through government intervention over virtually all other considerations. That includes competing economic concerns such as fiscal solvency, but also particular values such as human freedom and human flourishing.

In institutional and policy-terms, becoming European translates into large welfare states, extensive labor market regulation, high taxation, increasing public debt, while trying to keep some features of the market economy. But it also means a severe diminishment in risk-taking, demographic-decline, weak levels of entrepreneurship, falling productivity, high unemployment, and diminishing respect for property-rights. Another element of economic Europeanization is the growth of a political-bureaucratic class — both on the left and the right — that, for all the endless chatter about democracy in Europe, has proved very successful at making sure that it remains in control. The other factor in the mix is that large numbers of interest groups and citizens allow themselves to be co-opted into these arrangements, so that they can be relied upon to resist any meaningful shift away from these essentially social democratic arrangements.

In what ways do you think the U.S. has become like Europe?

If you think about the criteria I just identified, it’s obvious that parts of America — states like California, Illinois, and New York — have more-or-less become European. Likewise, the fact that most federal government expenditures are overwhelmingly on welfare programs replicates the situation prevailing throughout Western Europe. Then there is the unwillingness on the part of many Americans to accept that we cannot go on this way. It is one thing to have problems. But it’s quite another to refuse to acknowledge them.

What’s so bad about becoming like Europe? It’s not that bad of a place. It’s not like becoming like North Korea, right?

I lived and studied in Europe for several years. So I can report that there is much to like! But even leaving aside many European nations’ apparent willingness to settle for long-term economic stagnation, I would argue that it’s becoming harder and harder to be a free person in Europe. By that, I don’t mean a re-emergence of the type of socialist regimes that controlled half of Europe for 50 years. Rather I have in mind two things.

The first is a near-obsession on the part of most European politicians (including many “conservatives”, British Prime Minister Cameron being Exhibit A) with equality in the sense of trying to eliminate difference, including just and natural distinctions. Most European governments have “Ministers for Equality” or “Equality Commissions,” many of which are staffed by people who seem intent upon gutting European civilization in the name of whatever happens to be the latest politically-correct fashion. The second major problem is the acceleration throughout Western Europe of a phenomenon which Alexis de Tocqueville made famous in “Democracy in America”: soft despotism. Millions of Europeans seem content to give up so much of their liberty to the political class, just so long as the state gives them perpetual economic security.