The Happiness of the People

Charles Murray gave a lecture at the AEI annual dinner earlier this month which deserves attention. Here is an exerpt which will give you the tone and tack, but do read the whole thing.

When I began to work on this lecture a few months ago, I was feeling abashed because I knew I couldn’t talk about either of the topics that were of the gravest national importance. Regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, I have not publicly said a word on foreign policy since I wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times in 1973. Regarding the economic crisis, I am not an economist. In fact, I am so na├»ve about economics that I continue to think that we have a financial meltdown because the federal government, in its infinite wisdom, has for the last two administrations aggressively pushed policies that made it possible for clever people to get rich by lending money to people who were unlikely to pay it back.

The topic I wanted to talk about was one that has been at the center of my own concerns for more than twenty years, but I was afraid it would seem remote from these urgent immediate issues. How times change. As of the morning of February 24, this is the text I had written to introduce the topic: “It isn’t usually put this way, but the advent of the Obama administration brings this question before the nation: Do we want the United States to be like Europe?”And then on the evening of the twenty-fourth, President Obama unveiled his domestic agenda to Congress, and now everybody is putting it that way. As Charles Krauthammer observed a few days later, “We’ve been trying to figure out who Barack Obama is, where he’s really from. From Hawaii? Indonesia? The Ivy League? Chicago? Now we know: he’s a Swede.”

In short, the question has suddenly become urgently relevant because President Obama and his leading intellectual heroes are the American equivalent of Europe’s social democrats. There’s nothing sinister about that. They share an intellectually respectable view that Europe’s regulatory and social welfare systems are more progressive than America’s and advocate reforms that would make the American system more like the European system.

Not only are social democrats intellectually respectable, the European model has worked in many ways. I am delighted when I get a chance to go to Stockholm or Amsterdam, not to mention Rome or Paris. When I get there, the people don’t seem to be groaning under the yoke of an evil system. Quite the contrary. There’s a lot to like–a lot to love–about day-to-day life in Europe, something that should be kept in mind when I get to some less complimentary observations.

The European model can’t continue to work much longer. Europe’s catastrophically low birth rates and soaring immigration from cultures with alien values will see to that. So let me rephrase the question. If we could avoid Europe’s demographic problems, do we want the United States to be like Europe?

Tonight I will argue for the answer “no,” but not for economic reasons. The European model has indeed created sclerotic economies and it would be a bad idea to imitate them. But I want to focus on another problem.

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