Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Bad Boy of Europe?

Today France became the first country to vote against the new EU constitution. Since all members need to ratify the charter to make it a reality, the results single a depressing defeat for the organization. NPR predicted the outcome this morning and speculated its importance, calling France the “undisputed bad boy of Europe.”

The vote was certainly significant, but “undisputed bad boy?” France? France hasn’t been a bad boy since the Napoleonic Wars, and all that instigator got was an ice cream and a psychological complex. (Fun fact: Napoleon was actually slightly taller than the average man of his era; his popular 5’2 was actually measured in French feet. By English feet, his height was just over 5’6.)

So what inconceivable event rocketed a people better know as chefs and surrenders to a nation of bad boys? The short answer is overwhelming statism. The new law restricts immigration barriers and better politically integrates the EU members. The far left complained about overwhelming capitalism, the far right spread fears about loosing national sovereignty, and with it, cultural identity. But it’s nothing more than hype and fear.

Like nature itself, economies and cultures are evolving bodies. They operate best in climates favoring freedom: climates of adaptation. History’s peaceful changes have always been generated by the people and by their will alone. Those who wish to deny economic or cultural evolution deny their fellow man fundamental freedoms, even if they deny it to themselves.

It’s far too easy to reject something when you don’t know what you are missing. So let me illustrate how unreliable paranoid statism can be with a historical example.

Over a hundred years ago, a nasty-looking structure rose above the skyline of a major city. The city wanted it torn down after it served its purpose, a feat belayed as engineers discovered it was ideal for radio transmissions. Otis Elevator Company (an American firm) built the machines that let people explore the building with ease, increasing its popularity. The construct I’m talking about is the Eiffel Tower, France’s best known symbol. If the naysayers had their way in 1889, there would be no Eiffel Tower or at least it would be a bitch to get to the top.

It’s easy not to see glorious possibilities and only fall for reactionary scares. It’s easy to forget centuries of history and progress just to embrace the latest call for authority. It’s easy to treat your fellow man as ingrates that need to be controlled instead of people that want to be liberated. These are the acts of cowards, not bad boys.


Chris said...

Ok, I have to seriously disagree with you here David. Granted, I am upset that more people don't realize or fully understand the benefits of removing trade and immigration barriers; yet, I cannot bring myself to believe that the EU Constitution will be more beneficial than harmful to the cause of liberalism.

To begin with, the EU Constitution begins Europe towards the path of centralization in trade and immigration policies. It may be a good thing to have centralization of economic policy when the institution is pro-liberalism, but this can have its downsides as well.

Furthermore, if you read the text of the EU Constitution you will note that it guarantees to keep up the European tradition of market socialism. There's no better way of hurting the cause of liberty than enshrining socialism in a political entity's founding document. A much better way of bringing about positive change is to allow each country to make its own decisions and witness the effects first hand (i.e. - national governments will be the first to notice and react to problems created through socialist market policies.)

All in all, David, what I'm trying to say is ... don't think that the EU Constitution is a godsend for liberalism. It isn't. Granted, I share your disappointment that pro-market policies haven't found a home in Europe; but I can't help but be heartened by the fact that the EU Constitution is dying.

Chris said...

Also, today the Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution partly because they fear - and rightfully so - the erosion of their cherished liberal social policies (e.g. - euthanasia, semi-legalized marijuana, and prostitution.) Again, another aspect that centralization isn't necessarily good.

David said...

Mike pointed that out to me, too, but I was mostly commenting on the unjustified fears and not the genuine problems. To be honest I didn't read the proposed Constitution, I just heard about it on NPR.