Old And In The Way
In April of this year, I was asked by the State Department to give a presentation on American culture at a large conference of European academics, government officials, and businessmen held in Warsaw, Poland. The event was sponsored by a major German foundation, and there were hundreds of Germans and Poles in attendance, plus smaller numbers of Brits, Scandinavians, Dutch, and other Europeans. There were barons and sirs and Danish executresses in microskirts and fey Frenchmen and Italian journalists sucking cigarettes as if a firing squad awaited--the whole panoply of Eurocharacters, set among the old buildings, gray skies, jammed streets, creaky plumbing, odd haircuts, high expenses, and cramped horizons that characterize so much of Europe today.
To my knowledge I was the only American participating. This was an occasion for Europeans--Germans especially--to talk frankly to other Europeans. The panel on which I spoke was chaired by Reiner Pommerin, a professor at the University of Dresden, colonel in the German air force reserves, and advisor to the German Ministry of Defense. My fellow speakers included Germany's former ambassador to the U.K., the current German ambassador to Poland, a DaimlerChrysler managing director, and a professor from Britain. We were to focus on transatlantic relations.
Throughout the two days, Pommerin set the tone with an aggressively antagonistic attitude toward all things American. "Thank God we had the 11th of September," he declared--for this showed the U.S. how it feels to be humbled. Herr professor-colonel went on to suggest that Americans often feel nostalgic for the "good old days of slavery in the nineteenth century." He told ludicrous stories about seeing empty bottles and litter piled "one meter deep" along roadsides in America, illustrating our environmental slovenliness. He insisted the seemingly mighty U.S. military was now a hollow force, all flash and no substance.
Picking up on this, another panelist stated with authority that most Microsoft products, and indeed most American technologies generally, are junk, and have come to dominate world commerce solely through manipulative trade and advertising. These McProducts will be dashed, he suggested, once Europe gets its high-tech sector (which was sound asleep last I checked) in gear with superior European engineering. A short while later, a British professor pronounced doom on yet another of our industries, insisting gravely that America is going to be wholly uncompetitive in the biological sciences because "hardly any U.S. college students accept the reality of evolution," and science teaching in the U.S. "blinds students with dogmatism." No mention of American kids showing up at school barefoot in patched overalls, though I was ready for that.
Much of this would have made me laugh out loud, except that the vehemence and envy and certitude with which it was pronounced gave the proceedings an extremely ugly texture. Plus, these were European movers and shakers, not a bunch of pastry chefs. So it wasn't ignorance I was hearing. It was animus, jealousy, and willful spite.
With this experience under my belt, I wasn't the slightest bit surprised when the German elections this fall turned to high-stakes Yankee-bashing. First, Germany told the U.S. it wouldn't supply evidence against Zacarias Moussaoui (the "missing" September 11 hijacker) because he might get the death penalty. Then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder loudly vowed to obstruct further U.S. anti-terror efforts in the Middle East, for instance by pulling Germany's useful chemical-weapons-detecting vehicles out of Kuwait.
An "adventure" is how Schröder characterized President Bush's plans. This within a year of the snuffing out of 3,000 American lives in a single day by Middle Eastern radicals, and within weeks of when we would learn that North Korea has developed a nuclear bomb, while Saddam Hussein, killer of one million people, many of them with chemical weapons, could be just a few months or years from having one of his own. Schröder's fervor was such that he announced Germany would resist any plan to disarm Iraq even if the U.N. fully sanctioned the effort.
Riding this anti-American hobby-horse with all his might, Schröder shot forward in German popularity. (After he saw the dividends Schröder reaped by dumping on the U.S., the chancellor's election opponent echoed a similar line, promising he would "never" let Americans use German bases for Middle Eastern raids.) In the end, despite being highly unpopular for his economic failures, Schröder scrambled back into Germany's top office--by planting his feet firmly on Uncle Sam's face.
Apparently one of those shining men who thinks he should be able to trade in a wife of 40 for two of age 20, Schröder is currently on his fourth marriage, so he is obviously not a man known for his loyalty. What's important in this case is not his personal perfidy, though, but rather his confirmation that European politicians can now rack up public opinion points by practicing anti-Americanism.
During his first trip to Europe in 2001, President Bush was hectored and attacked repeatedly by activists and politicians. When in the spring of 2002 the President visited Berlin, tens of thousands of Germans gave him the cold shoulder in more than 25 large anti-U.S. demonstrations. The mayor of Berlin announced he would leave town during the visit of America's leader.
The European press labeled our President a "murderer" for allowing the execution of Timothy McVeigh. Euro politicians and reporters have taken to casually calling Americans "toxic," "thugs," "imperialists," and "gangsters." In 2001, Europeans conspired to get the U.S. removed from the U.N. Human Rights Commission, offering our seat instead to Sudan and Libya, those paragons of liberty. European politicians have recently attacked and undercut the U.S. on North Korea, on the Middle East, over the Afghan war, about prisoners at Guantanamo, at multiple environmental conclaves, regarding the International Criminal Court, in scores of trade battles, on missile defense, and at other occasions too numerous to count. Schröder simply fanned this flame to revive his faltering campaign.
And it is by no means just the Germans who are exhibiting hostility toward the U.S. Even Britain, our supposed "special partner" in Europe, has gotten thoroughly swept up in the resentment game. I happened to be in London on America's Independence Day this year, and opened the English newspapers to find headlines like this one in the Daily Mirror--"Mourn on the Fourth of July: The USA is now the world's leading rogue state."
Chelsea Clinton, currently pursuing a master's degree at Oxford, and hardly a rabid flag-waver, wrote an article shortly after September 11 complaining that "Every day I encounter some sort of anti-American feeling. Sometimes it's from other students, sometimes it's from a newspaper columnist, sometimes it's from 'peace' demonstrators." Despite Tony Blair's sturdiness, more Britons say in the latest polls that they disapprove of America's war on terror than approve it. Today, 53 percent of the British name Europe as their closest ally, compared to a third who choose the U.S. Two decades ago, that was reversed.
When New York City Democrat Ed Koch appeared on a BBC television program at the one-year anniversary of the Twin Towers attacks, he was called a simple-minded buffoon for defending the U.S. Here is a representative response from the BBC Web site: "The fact is that one of the reasons why the U.S. got bombed on September 11th was as a result of the U.S.'s heavy-handed and misguided approach in its foreign policy--which has created a lot of anger worldwide." The Londoner who wrote that has much company across her continent: In a study by the Pew Research Center two months after the attacks, fully 66 percent of a group of European elites stated that Europeans believe it is "good for the U.S. to feel vulnerable."
This simple reality needs to be faced squarely by Americans: In a great variety of areas--foreign policy, demography, religion, economics--Americans and Europeans are growing apart. While the September 11 attacks deepened American sobriety, patriotic feeling, and national resolution, in Europe they merely created one more flashpoint for division. European elites, already worried they won't be able to keep up with America over the next generation, are now approaching panic as the U.S. coalesces, during its September 11 recovery, into an even steelier and more determined colossus.
Some Europeans complain that the U.S. is more and more heading off on its own without them. They are right. America's psychic link with Europe, I suggest, is fading extremely rapidly. Keep in mind that there are currently 32 million people living in the U.S. who were born abroad, and very few of these new Americans are from Europe. For two generations now, the new blood flowing into the U.S. has come primarily from Asia, Central and South America, the Near East, and the Caribbean. America is becoming a cosmic nation, comprised of all peoples, rather than just an offshoot of Europe.
Since the end of the Cold War Americans have felt much less intertwined with Europeans, and at least as interested in China, Mexico, India, and the Middle East as we are in Europe. We recognize that those are the relationships which will grow in importance, while Europe will slowly fade in the rear-view mirror, its greatest accomplishments behind it.
For everyday, non-political Americans, Europe is simply not a preoccupation one way or the other. It is Canada with castles, as one acquaintance puts it--a nice place, but hardly the furnace where our future will be forged. Given our fundamental belief that each person and nation should be free to solve their own problems, average Americans are perfectly content to have Europeans go their own way. If the Euros think welfare statism and E.U. regulation is their ticket to prosperity, they're welcome to try. If they believe they're safer without a ballistic missile shield than with one, we say Godspeed to them.
But Americans, as I told the audience in Warsaw, claim this same independence of national direction for themselves. And in many particulars Americans now have very different ideas on how best to achieve prosperity and peace. Where overlaps and mutual benefits can be negotiated between the European course and American goals, by all means let's make our policies coincide. But otherwise, let a thousand flowers bloom.
If Europeans want to ban the death penalty, that's fine with Americans; but don't ask us to follow the same dictate. If Europeans think selling military technology to North Korea and Iran, and helping Libya and Iraq with their oil industries is a good idea, expect not a shred of support from the U.S. If Europeans believe their determination to send billions of dollars to Yasser Arafat is likely to speed peace in the Middle East, we won't stop them.
If enough of these divergences accumulate, however, Americans may eventually be forced to conclude that, as economist Irwin Stelzer has put it, many European nations "are ceasing, or may have already ceased, to be our friends."
The U.S. will never be hostile to Europe; there are too many links of kinship and shared purpose for that. But neither do I expect the U.S. will have especially warm relations with the E.U. 15 or 20 years hence. Our commonalities are fading, and the feelings of solidarity that were so strong amidst World War II and the Cold War are now fading like winter leaves.
One of the wedges forming between the U.S. and Europe is the European Union. The E.U.'s encouragement of a centralized soft socialism puts it on a very different course from the U.S. The unmistakable current in the U.S. over the last generation has been to reduce centralism and the size of government: When Ronald Reagan swept onto the scene in the early 1980s, U.S. federal spending was 24 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Today it is 19 percent. That is only half or two thirds the level in most E.U. states, where levels have been rising, not falling.
The U.S. has undergone an even more profound decentralizing revolution outside of government. Many private corporations and organizations have broken themselves into smaller governing units to avoid stultification. Brand-new firms like Cisco, Southwest Airlines, Amgen, Microsoft, and Nucor, most of them beginning as tiny businesses unconstrained by bureaucracy, have used their decision-making freedom to outflank older champions. Sitting high on current lists of the richest Americans are at least a couple dozen billionaires who made their fortunes in companies that didn't even exist 25 years ago. In Europe, hardly any of the top companies are recent startups.
The U.S. has also decentralized physically, with new nodes of power and wealth sprouting all across our continent. Outlying cities like Charlotte, Fargo, Phoenix, Austin, Manchester, and Omaha have become economic dynamos. Widened prosperity and new communication technologies have made it possible for America's most productive workers to live where they choose. The U.S. is completely unlike European states--where power is almost always concentrated in one great city. If you want to be part of the action in France, you must be in Paris; in England, it's London. In America, by contrast, people and wealth are increasingly dispersed throughout the country. We may hope that entry into the E.U. of the Eastern Europeans (who have experienced the dark side of statism) will moderate Europe's centralizing mania, but that remains to be seen.
It isn't just differing policies that are splitting the E.U. from the U.S. It is also sheer competition. The very idea of forming a united states of Europe comes in large measure from a desire to keep up with America. Today, "much of the psychological drive for Euro-nationalism is provided by anti-Americanism," notes John O'Sullivan, one of the contributors to our symposium on page 30. During his term as president of the European Union, the prime minister of Sweden Goran Persson insisted that functioning "as a balance to U.S. domination" was Europe's most important role. The view of many European leaders is that "whatever diminishes the stature of the United States is of benefit to Europe," states Jeffrey Gedmin (another of our symposiasts). Many of the economic choices, cultural initiatives, and foreign policy decisions being in Europe today are animated by simple competitive envy.
Americans must be clear-eyed about this. When we had differences with European governments in the past, it was usually some exceptional matter which could be negotiated away. Given today's foaming desire of European unionists to form a superstate to compete with the U.S., splits will be less accidental in the future, and harder to rub away. "It would be a misreading of Europe's political elites to see anti-American complaints as isolated gripes which can be overcome, one by one, through patient dialogue," warned Michael Gove, a perceptive editorialist for London's Times, when I visited his office. "Europe is not begging to differ in particulars, but beginning to diverge in fundamentals."
The philosophical differences between Europe and the U.S. are reflected and magnified in three critical structural breaks: 1) Europe has surrendered much of its economic dynamism. 2) Europe has lost its stomach for military action, substituting an exaggerated confidence in diplomacy. And, 3) Europe is on a path to population collapse.
First economics. We have conventionally thought of Europe as having about the same standard of living as Americans. This is less and less true. For the European Union as a whole, GDP per capita is presently less than two thirds of U.S. levels. America's poorest sub-groups, like African Americans, now have higher average income levels than the typical European.
What's behind this? For one thing, Americans work harder: 72 percent of the U.S. population is at work, compared to only 58 percent in the E.U. American workers also put in more hours. And U.S. workers are more productive--an E.U. worker currently produces 73 cents worth of output in the same period of time a U.S. worker creates a dollar's worth.
The locomotive of Europe is the German economy, which has been in a serious mess for more than a decade. Germany's annual growth rate over the past ten years has been a limp 1.4 percent. Among the major industrial nations, only Japan (a true basket case) has done worse. The German labor market has become one of the most inflexible and uncompetitive in the world, which is why unemployment has been stuck at 9-10 percent for years, even amid a global economic boom.
Germany is the European champion for subsidies to business, but that hasn't stopped the national capital of Berlin from losing 300,000 industrial jobs since 1990. Berlin now staggers, bankrupt, under a municipal debt of $60 billion. (The city's entire annual budget is $20 billion.) German welfare programs have grown so onerous that only 57 percent of worker pay now goes into worker pockets; the other 43 percent goes to taxes.
One stark indicator of Germany's declining global economic significance is this: The share of international exported goods bought by Germany fell from 10.7 percent in 1991 to just 7.7 percent in 2001. During that same period, the U.S. increased its share from 14.0 to 18.7 percent.
German sclerosis is one reason why the collective European economy is growing at 1 percent as this year comes to a close, while the U.S.--despite the blows it has absorbed over the last two years--is close to 3 percent. (If you think America's recent bear market in stocks has been ugly, check out Europe's. At the time when our Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 23 percent, indexes for the French, Dutch, and German stock markets were down 32 to 43 percent.)
Over the long haul, these sorts of disparities add up to crunching economic divergences. Since 1970, America has produced 57 million new jobs. The E.U. nations, with an even bigger population, have produced 5 million (most of them with the government). A startling 40 percent of the unemployed in Europe have been out of work for more than a year, compared to only 6 percent in the U.S.
Another telling indicator of economic stagnation in Europe is the fact that many or most immigrants to that continent end up on welfare. In the U.S., almost all immigrants grab entry-level jobs, frequently more than one, and work their way up the economic ladder. The easy availability of work--indeed, our economy's insatiable hunger for additional laborers--is the main force that attracts immigrants to the U.S. in the first place.
Even corners of Europe that have resisted excessive government manipulation of the economy are now being dragged toward the statist norm by E.U. rules. Recently the European Court of Justice ruled that British employers must give all part-time workers four weeks of paid vacation, to align their policies with the rest of the European Union. In an effort to guarantee the "good life" by government edict, French, German, Dutch, and other continental finaglers have mandated short work weeks, long vacations, and fat social services, which has driven all dynamism out of their economies.
If no visible alternative loomed, citizens might not realize that better ways of achieving prosperity exist. But any European with eyes can observe that the United States makes very different economic choices, with very different results. Here is one root of the resentment felt by European elites, who would otherwise have a free hand to mold their societies according to their own visions. "The anti-American alliance," noted Michael Gove in the London Times earlier this year, "resents American economic success because it reminds them that their preferred cocktails of protectionism, state regulation, subsidy, and intervention constrict growth. America's practical success is a standing rebuke to their abstract beliefs."
A second divergence splitting Europe from America is defense strategy. When it comes to guarding the peace, current European leaders put all their faith in the endless talk, commissioneering, and resolution-writing of collective diplomacy--what they call "multilateralism" (a term nearly as feeble as the concept). Given Europe's history with the Treaty of Versailles, Neville Chamberlain's Munich Agreement, a biological weapons "ban" secretly violated with impunity by the Soviets and scads of other signatories, plus many more recent failures of "let's pretend" diplomacy in places ranging from Iraq to Rwanda to Bosnia, it's inexplicable that Europeans would bet all future peace on the security of parchment walls. But that's exactly what they're doing.
Charles Krauthammer diagnoses the problem this way: "After half a century under the American umbrella, West Europeans have come to believe that their freedom is self-generated. It is by now, they feel, a simple birthright, as natural as the air they breathe. When they see the United States slaying dragons abroad--yesterday Afghanistan, today Iraq, tomorrow who knows who--they see a cowboy whose enthusiasms threaten to disturb the perfect order of things, best symbolized by the hushed paper-shuffling at the International Criminal Court."
At the same time they've bet the farm on swiss-cheese treaties, the Europeans have pared their military spending to the point where the entire continent now has approximately the same force-projecting power as the Swiss navy. (See our lead item in SCAN documenting the collapse of our allies' strength.) American military spending now totals more than the next nine largest national defense budgets combined. Even more significantly, the U.S. now pays for almost 80 percent of the world's military R & D.
Without admitting it, the Europeans have essentially decided to rely on the U.S. to keep them safe. American taxpayers are paying to build a missile defense system, an unchallengeable air force, and a fleet of 13 separate supercarriers with attendant air wings and naval battle groups. Europeans are concentrating on producing richer foie gras, art museums, and corporate subsidies. They could do much more to help guard the West without straining themselves.
Contrary to Euro myth, America isn't strong because it buys guns instead of butter. Military spending represents only 3 percent of U.S. GDP today. That's down from nearly 7 percent in the 1980s, a level we could return to almost instantly if any serious threat required that. America is powerful militarily simply because it is a highly productive nation, and utterly devoted to defense of its homeland.
Excellent technology and heavy training allow the U.S. to get a great deal of military bang for the buck. But the deepest root of America's military preeminence is her demonstrated willingness to commit substantial resources to national defense over a long period of time. Roughly 40 percent of all global defense spending is currently put up by the U.S. That's what wore out the Soviets. That's what put Milosevic in handcuffs. That's what got Kuwaiti oil flowing again. That's what turned out the lights on the Taliban. That--and that alone--is what's going to prevent an Iraqi nuclear device from exploding over Tel Aviv or London.
Until Europe demonstrates an equivalent willingness to commit its sons and its treasure to national defense, all talk of building a formidable independent military force in Europe is merely hot air. Wishful thinking will not man and equip a carrier battle group, build a missile shield, or otherwise instill the necessary awe in the world's tyrants.
Of course, most European elites deny such measures are necessary. To quote my British friend Mr. Gove again: "Europe's leaders seek to manage conflict through the international therapy of peace processes, the buying off of aggression with the danegeld of aid or the erection of a paper palisade of global law, which the unscrupulous always punch through. Europeans may convince themselves that these developments are the innovations of a continent in the van of progress, but they are really the withered autumn fruits of a civilization in decline."
A final, crushing, structural divergence separating America and Europe is demography. Birth rates in Europe have been catastrophically low for two decades. Europe is thus getting old and starting to shrink. The U.S. remains a youthful and fast-growing nation.
It takes 2.1 lifetime births per woman just to keep a population stable over the long run. Today, German women are having less than 1.4 children each--only two thirds the level needed to maintain zero population growth. Italians and Spaniards are at
a shockingly low rate of 1.2 lifetime births per woman. The E.U. as a whole is far below the level needed simply to replace its current population.
The social, economic, and geopolitical ramifications are stark. At current fertility rates, Germany's total population will shrink from 82 million to 67 million over the next 50 years. Italy will tumble from 58 to 39 million people. Over that very same period, the population of the U.S. (where the birth rate is more than half-again as high) will go from 283 to 410 million.
And it isn't only the raw numbers that will change; the composition of the population will also shift dramatically. As births remain below the replacement level year after year, and old people live longer and longer, a geometric spiral forms, and a society becomes elderly. By the end of my expected lifespan in the 2030s, fully half of all Germans will be over 50. Italians will be even older--half over 54. (The U.S., by comparison, will have a median age in the upper 30s.) The European Union will be a very gray place, and within its boundaries every single employed individual will have his own elderly person 65 or older to provide for through the public pension system. This is not a recipe for an energetic society.
Europe's disinterest in childbearing is a crisis of confidence and optimism. It is a spiritual indicator, reflecting millions of individual decisions to pursue self interest and material well-being instead of participating in the human future. These individual decisions will have profound collective effects.
Keep in mind that just 100 years ago, when my own grandmother was born, the U.S. was a modest nation of 76 million people. Just Germany and Poland combined had more citizens than America. Europe was the undeniable world center ofscience, military power, arts, and intellectual innovation of all sorts.
Today the respective positions are very different. The U.S. now produces 30 percent of global GDP; as recently as the late 1980s the figure was just 22 percent. Fully half of all Internet traffic takes place in America. Three quarters of all Nobel laureates in science, medicine, and economics have lived and worked in the U.S. in recent decades. Given the very different population trends on either side of the Atlantic, America's lead will only widen in the future.
It's quite possible that in coming decades the European Union could simply lock up. The wrong-headed pressures toward centralization and state bureaucracy, the sheer cumbersomeness of its political mechanisms, the wide cultural gaps papered over by the union, could eventually lead to meltdown. How such a collapse might unfold is anybody's guess, but the possibilities are worrisome.
To American eyes, the most striking aspect of the European Union is its undemocratic nature. The E.U. apparatus is exceedingly closed and secretive. Relatively few of the confederation's important decisions are currently made by democratically accountable officials. On front after front, bureaucratic mandarins are deciding how everyday Europeans will live (see our feature article on page 36).
Many Europeans, in a way Americans find impossible to understand, are willing to let their elites lead them by the nose. There is a kind of peasant mentality under which their "betters" are allowed to make the important national judgments for them. "Europe's leaders see themselves as wise parents, and their citizens as children," explains journalist and Briton Clive Crook. "In France, Germany, and the institutions of the European Union, elites take major political decisions and impose them on the voters without consulting them," summarizes John O'Sullivan. "Political elites feel that the people have no right to obstruct the realization of the European dream."
What happens to such a system of governance if things go wrong and popular unrest bubbles up is not clear. But the history of earlier multinational collectives in Europe, like the Hapsburg and Tsarist empires, Napoleonic France, the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, and the former Yugoslavia, is not soothing. And even if ethnic blow-ups could be avoided, a withered Europe would not be a good thing. Among other effects, "a weakened Europe is likely to grow more resentful toward America," warned British journalist Charles Moore in a lecture to the New Atlantic Initiative last year, "rather than blaming themselves."
Though a nasty flame-out is conceivable, I will close with a less alarmist yet blunt prediction about Europe's likely future. Fifty years hence, when my oldest children approach retirement, I expect that today's European dream of achieving economic and military superpower status will be a dim memory, and that some more realistic alternative will have replaced it.
At that point, under current trends, the largest Western European country--Germany--will rank about 23rd on the list of the world's biggest nations. Europe as a whole will contain in the neighborhood of 360 million people and falling. Americans will be at 550 million and rising. The U.S. economy will have grown to more than twice the size of Europe's.
I expect that Americans and Europeans will be reasonably amiable. We will vacation and attend college in each other's countries, and (one hopes) trade as easily as Canada and the U.S. do today. But it will be China, India, Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil, Vietnam, the Arab world, and Turkey that the U.S. will have to huddle with most earnestly at important international conclaves--not Europe.
That is, frankly, not the circumstance most Americans would prefer. By rights, Europe and America ought to remain close cousins. But Europe's current choices in politics, economics, social and family life, and moral reasoning unmistakably suggest that a less familial relationship is emerging.
That is a reality that America needs to prepare for.