Robert Samuelson has a profoundly depressing piece in today’s WaPo, detailing the hard numbers that signal the decline of Europe. Those numbers are demographic and economic: this generation of Europeans has refused to reproduce, and doesn’t enjoy working too hard.
I have posted on this before. The empty cradle and the long unemployment lines are a symptom of a strange, almost pathological lack of moral commitment in this generation of Europeans: an inability to believe in anything beyond individual pleasure. Samuelson is by no means the first to observe that, as the unbelieving Europeans die off, they will be replaced by true believers from the Muslim world.
Wherever they look, Western Europeans feel their way of life threatened. One solution to low birthrates is higher immigration. But many Europeans don’t like the immigrants they have — often Muslim from North Africa — and don’t want more. One way to revive economic growth would be to reduce social benefits, taxes and regulations. But that would imperil Europe’s “social model,” which supposedly blends capitalism’s efficiency and socialism’s compassion. […]
A few countries (Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands) have acted, and there are differences between Eastern and Western Europe. But in general Europe is immobilized by its problems. This is the classic dilemma of democracy: Too many people benefit from the status quo to change it; but the status quo isn’t sustainable. Even modest efforts in France and Germany to curb social benefits have triggered backlashes. Many Europeans — maybe most — live in a state of delusion. Believing things should continue as before, they see almost any change as menacing. In reality, the new E.U. constitution wasn’t radical; neither adoption nor rejection would much alter everyday life. But it symbolized change and thereby became a lightning rod for many sources of discontent (over immigration in Holland, poor economic growth in France).
Samuelson appears to be writing off the Europeans. That is the last debate worth having regarding the fate of the continent: whether anything can be done to reverse the effects of decadence, or whether it’s already too late.