Pat Buchanan has an interesting piece on Europe’s current problems. Unfortunately, like many current commentators on Europe, Buchanan characterizes countries like Greece and Portugal as “deadbeat nations” in need of bailouts from the disciplined Germans. However, as Marshall Auerback wrote back in early November, Germany has actually benefitted from the profligacy of its neighbors whose supposed drunken sailor ways have allowed Germany to maintain its export-driven economy. Auerback even goes so far as to argue that the European Monetary Union “…locked Germany’s main export competitors into the monetary union at hopelessly uncompetitive exchange rates, thereby entrenching Germany’s export dominance, and its selfish, mercantilist model.” Clearly, Germany is no fair-haired angel in this mess either.
It is unfortunate that so many paleoconservatives like Buchanan can’t shake their antipathy to social democracy. Social democracy isn’t a perfect system, but compared to neoliberalism, it is certainly the superior option, even from a conservative standpoint. Social democracy meant high-wage jobs that often allowed even factory workers to raise a family in comfortable circumstances on one income. Social democracy meant strong local economies not ravaged by globalization, which meant that there was less need to be become a rootless nomad in search of work. Social democracy meant more access to high culture for working-class people. All of these things are conservative in the real sense of wanting to preserve and nurture the best aspects of human civilization.
Neoliberalism, on the other hand, has placed families on an economic treadmill of debt and long working hours in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. This in turn means less time at home for all family members, more stress as both working parents bring home the misery of wage slavery which has increasingly invaded the home thought the spread of cell phones, e-mail, and other methods by which employers keep their employees tied to the workplace. Less employment security has led to more rootlessness as people search all over the country, sometimes all over the globe, for jobs. Finally, the decline of free time and real income has meant more working-class people have sunk into the mire of junk pop culture as exhausted bodies flop in front of the television to seek escapism in the latest celebrity follies or violent and lascivious television programs or movies that do nothing but serve as the bread and circuses of modern capitalism.
While the issue of bloated welfare states may be valid, it is important not to fall for the morality plays that are being used to convince working people to accept austerity to pay for a crisis that is not really of their making. A systemic critique of the structure of modern neoliberal capitalism is long overdue.