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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The End of Europe as We Know It?

gnxp's Razib Khan links to this article about Greek protests and comments:

Wow. Every news story makes me wonder if it’s the end of Europe as we know it.
It may be, but not because of the riots.

Riots are as Greek as olive and feta pie (look at 2008), while France has a proud tradition of civil disobedience. The UK also has a good history of protest, although in recent years we've refrained from violence. So the student protests were a shock, although the level of bloodshed was nowhere near that seen in say Greece: rocks were thrown, but no petrol bombs. The police beat some people, and dragged a guy out of his wheelchair for no apparant reason, but there were no water cannons or teargas.

If anything, the level of disorder in Europe has been remarkably low. Compared to some of the reasons why people rioted in Europe during the 20th century, the current austerity measures are far more serious. If this was happening 20 years ago, we would have seen governments brought down by strikes and disorder by now. That hasn't happened because the European left isn't what it used to be.

Europeans (outside Germany and Scandinavia whose economies are strong as always) are basically being faced with a future structured on centre-right lines, after spending the past 60 years building nice centre-left welfare states. And it's not their fault, it's "the bankers", or at least that's what everyone believes. Europeans are angry and you can see why. But not angry enough to stop it.

So in a sense this is the end: the end of Europe as the land of tax-and-spend (which has never been a dirty phrase over here). At the moment the model is tax-and-don't-spend, which is obviously unpopular. But when the budgets are balanced again, in say 5 years, governments may find it easier to just cut taxes rather than trying to rebuild the welfare and social programs they dismantled.

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