EU Fugaces: European Economics and Anti-Globalism Are Not the Stuff of Summertime Dreams

Make text smaller Make text larger

LONDON ? I've been in Europe so long now, I've even forgotten Chandra Levy's boyfriend's name. Okay, not really?"Gary" is exactly the name he'd have received from a gang of crack Hollywood screenwriters, although "Brad" and "Greg" might have had fighting shots, and "Duncan" and "Dirk" would have been in the running. I did a highly negative review in Slate last week of Wesley Clark's Kosovo autobiography and elicited a hostile letter from my fellow Slateur (and old pal) Ted Widmer. It was not as if I disagreed with Ted's points?it was that I couldn't even think my way into the blinkered American frame of mind out of which he made them.

In fact, I've become so thoroughly Europeanized in the last three weeks, that I can even look at the President of the United States as if he were a stranger. After a tentative first trip to Europe last month, he was super-impressive last week. I'm as ambivalent as any European about globalization (naturally?you come over here to do a political article, and globalization is all anyone wants to talk about), but, boy, did I admire the hard line Bush took as he went into the Genoa G-8 meetings, claiming the demonstrators were no friends of the poor, and assailing policies "that lock poor people into poverty?and that is unacceptable to the United States."

There is a certain radical chic to all these antiglobalism guys?who think they're anti-colonialism guys, but are not. The smarter members of the Davos conference set?like Robert Wright?have long understood that the big gripe poorer countries have with the global economy is not that it impoverishes them. It's that the rich countries refuse to let the poor countries participate in the global market in a way that would make them rich. When you pay your workers under a buck an hour, as, say, Congo does, you can probably find some American corporate sponsor to pay your people the prevailing wage in order to stitch as many shirts as the traffic will bear. I'm not sure Bush realizes just how We-Are-the-World-lefty are the implications of his let-'er-rip capitalism. And I'm not sure the European left realizes that what it's doing is barring the Southern countries' way to eventual Western-style prosperity. And what I'm not sure of at all is which side of this conflict I'm on. But it's crystal clear, at least if you've been following the proceedings in Bonn or Genoa, that the "left" is today a force for conserving the social order, and the "right" a force for (global) income equalization and (healthy, they think) class upheaval.

Genoa took place nearly simultaneously with the Bonn conference to come up with a substitute for the Kyoto treaty that Bush has (similarly) vetoed. Here's where the rubber?as Al Gore used to say?meets the road. (And there has never been a better occasion to contrast what we actually have with what we would have had, if Gore had been allowed to steal the election last fall.) The implications of Kyoto and Bonn are the opposite of those at Genoa?the classical left behaves as a left, while the classical right behaves as a right. But these implications may be wholly rhetorical. It's apparent to any European with eyes to see that Europe can't accept the Kyoto treaty either. It's not that the Continent's politicians don't believe in a scheme of global regulation to control various effluents and airborne junk?they do, and fervently.

But they believe just as much in "quality of life," and Europe has proved unwilling to do anything that will cost its voters a single hour of vacation in Mallorca, or a single milligram of fileted sole from Fortnum & Mason's or Fauchon. This means that the European Union countries are?at root?even less likely than the U.S. is to sign a treaty that would privilege the potentially gigantic economies of countries that are moving from the Third World to the First. It is apparent to everyone who has European eyes to see with that the two biggest blusterers about Kyoto, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac, are in no serious position to enact the treaty. Germany and France have fairly advanced clean-burning coal industries. A treaty that gives them no credit for the government subsidies they've poured into making coal breathable, and that meanwhile allows India to blow all over the planet a primitive soot that provides the heat and energy for half a billion people, is not going anywhere. Whereas Gore would have added a voice of "concern" to those of Schroeder and Chirac, European leaders must, deep down, be much happier with Bush. A Gore-Schroeder-Chirac accord would have been unable to advise adoption of Kyoto, but it would have exposed the profligate hypocrisy of all concerned. Bush is, in this sense, protecting the European left in a way that Clinton never did.

Schroeder is certainly coming into his own as a European leader. There was practically no one in the Western press who thought, when he was elected almost three years ago, that he could become a chancellor with the status of Helmut Kohl or Helmut Schmidt or Willy Brandt?but here he is, gobbling off a bigger and bigger share of pan-European policymaking for Germany. The dirty secret of Schroeder, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reveals in a series of riveting editorials this week, is that he is the darling of every businessman in Germany. Ironically, what made it so clear that Schroeder was in the back pocket of German business interests was the raft of Schroeder attacks on German business. Schroeder has done a great deal to modernize Germany. He's privatized industries almost as fast as Jacques Chirac has in France, and he's stuck in a deep tax reform to boot, one that he could compare with George Bush's without feeling any need to hang his head. He's introduced a law that would regularize Germany's tax relations with the "illegal" (which is coming more and more to sound like a synonym for "indispensable") aliens. Business ate it up.

Unfortunately for his business relations, Schroeder in 1998 made a very important campaign promise to bring Germany's unemployment rate down to respectable European levels. Since unemployment was over three million people at the time, he promised, if I remember correctly, to cut it drastically to two. Unfortunately, the country's powerful bankers did not buy the economics plans of Schroeder's first finance minister, the very Frenchie Oskar Lafontaine, and there's been no statistically significant change. So now Schroeder is simply trying to get it under control?and he's hammering the German big enterprises. But only rhetorically.

Really smart French economists (like Jean-Paul Fitoussi) tend to realize that no economic system works much better than any other. There are Keynesian spending packages that are turning their countries into goldmines, and Keynesian practices that are wiping their countries out. There are capitalist governments among the Asian (and Celtic) tigers, but they are no longer the models to which the Europeans look. And I think that anyone who thinks about such things in the summer months?particularly in Europe?belongs not in the columns of New York Press but in the corridors of a mental institution.

Make text smaller Make text larger




Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Neighborhood Newsletters