David Rieff describes Europe’s fabled system of social welfare.
Question: Is the EU better equipped to confront the crisis?Rieff: There’re 2 problems with the EU. The first is that they… that the welfare state that they’ve created is not one that can be supported in a region of declining population. In effect, there’re not enough young people to support all these old people in the style to which the welfare state accustoms them. That’s the first problem. The second problem is there’re a series, obviously, of countries that were late… you know, that these countries, particularly in the East in the former… [warsofacq] block who, you know, very quickly got in debt. And they’re going to have to be bailed out by the rich countries of Western Europe. And that’s going to create tremendous stresses on the system. The equivalent in… After all, in Europe, of the sub-prime crisis here in the United States, is this incredible indebtedness of countries like the 3 Baltic republics like Hungary, like, never mind, Bulgarian, and Romania. And at the same time, the exhaustion of a certain financial ability of Europe and, in effect, to bribe people to its, you know, geo-economic and geo-cultural and geo-political way of thinking by subsidies. That’s how Ireland and Portugal and Spain were brought in to a different kind of cultural matrix in Europe. That’s not possible. There’s just not that much money around. I know, I think, the crisis in Europe is very, very severe and I don’t… you know, I don’t think the answer is at all… obvious is to how to get out of it. At the same time, Europeans expect a certain level of social safety net and it’s going to be a problem to cut that. You know, I’m not sure that I… The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill but I think… Sometimes, I think the notion of many American liberals that somehow Europe is this paradise that… if only we could be more like them, it would all be so much better. That, I think, is… There’s a fair bit of wishful thinking that… Not because I don’t prefer the European welfare state system to the American ‘self-keepers’ system but because I’m not sure Europe can afford it.