Steynian Reverberations Posted by: Billy Hollis
on Tuesday, February 06, 2007
I’m a big fan of Mark Steyn. He’s one of the very few political writers that I read and think “I wish I could write that well.” He is thought provoking, funny, and has a pretty good batting average when it comes to predictions.
In another conversation, he told me that he was reading “America Alone,” a book by the conservative commentator Mark Steyn, which argues that Europe is succumbing, demographically and culturally, to an onslaught by Islam, leaving America friendless in its confrontation with Islamic extremism.
“The thing I quote most from it is the power of demographics, in Europe particularly,” Lieberman said. “That’s what struck me the most. But the other part is a kind of confirmation of what I know and what I’ve read elsewhere, which is that Islamist extremism has an ideology, and it’s expansionist, it’s an aggressive ideology. And the title I took to mean that we Americans will have ultimate responsibility for stopping this expansionism.”
Steyn has been hitting the demographics point hard for a while now. His Wall Street Journal op-ed fueled a lot of discussion a year ago. In fact, that op-ed brings me to the other, more indirect, Steynian connection I saw on the Corner this morning.
When the op-ed came out, I sent a business acquaintance a link to it. He’s German, and was one of the best known software experts in Germany until he took a job with Microsoft in the US about the time that op-ed came out. That ties in with this article in the New York Times, which discusses the “brain-drain” that Germany is currently experiencing.
“That struck me like a bolt of lightning,” said Mr. Thoma, 44, an engineer then running his family’s elevator company. “I asked myself, ‘Why should I stay here when the future is brighter someplace else?’ ”
This is another point Steyn has been hitting hard for years. One of the implications of an aging population is that younger, capable people don’t want to hang around to support the old folks. They see their tax rates going way up to support a welfare state. Add to that the European proclivity to restrict the labor market, and they also have less opportunity and lower incomes. The NYT article hits the lower incomes point pretty hard.
Of course, we initially benefit from such a brain-drain, because most of it drains to us. But the long-term implications for our nominal allies in Europe are not good. It’s not in anyone’s interest to see Europe’s biggest economies crash because of an over-burdened welfare state coupled with a loss of the most capable people in their society. I’d much rather see Germany, France, et.al. get their act together, instead of suffering double our unemployment and half our growth.
If you have not read America Alone, you should. Especially if you don’t normally read Steyn’s columns, this is a great aggregation of his grand themes over the last few years. For such a depressing theme, it’s actually not a burden to read because he's such a terrific writer.
Besides the demographic discussion, Steyn gets into one concept that has caused me to do some serious thinking. Most libertarians have a sense of the flaws in the welfare state – growing dependency, reduced incentives, and a general corrosive effect on freedom and responsibility. Steyn refers to that complex of conditions as the “infantilization” of the citizenry, and I think that’s a good term. A society whose members have been trained from birth to not take responsibility for themselves is very brittle under a lot of stressful conditions. As bad as we have it here, I’m very afraid that in the next ten or twenty years, we’re going to get a really good look at the long-term implications of such policies across the Atlantic.
You say Steyn "has a pretty good batting average when it comes to predictions." That’s interesting because I quit reading him because I thought he wasn’t right about very much. So what is that batting average? I’d say he is definitely below the Mendoza line.
You can see the growth of infantilization already, if you look around for it. I was struck when Hillary Clinton or her people posed the question "What should be done about health care?" and invited Yahoo users to answer the question by sharing their ideas. There were far, far too many replies for me to read them all, but from the sampling I took, it seemed like the overwhelming majority of respondents assumed that health care was a "right" and if they didn’t have adequate health care, it was the taxpayer’s duty to provide it. And I would guess these weren’t senior citizens, facing declining health with declining financial resources, but young people who have raised to love Big Brother.
Well, Steven, he was right about several elections in a row, and was one of the very first to claim that Kerry didn’t have a chance against Bush. He was one of the first to publicize Europe’s demographic and emigration problems, and now publications such as the NYT are picking up on those themes.
He missed the last election by thinking the Republicans would squeak through, but that was a pretty close one. What else did you think he was so wrong about?
Steven, forgot to mention- Steyn was one of the few claiming that the Afghanistan operation would turn out fine when almost the entire MSM was wailing "quagmire", "graveyard of empires", "brutal Afghan winter", etc. etc.
There is more to it than just the economics and demographics. The Europeans for the most part have lost their "will". Years of multi culturalism, diversity garbage and being made to feel sorry for their own history have done them in. I do not think it is possible to save them. There would have to be something major happen to shake them up. There comes a time in the history of every civilization where it just sort of runs out of steam.
Steyn is very entertaining and very bright, BUT he does make the statistical mistake of saying, "If this trend continues, then..." The reality is that Muslims in Europe may NOT continue on as before. Poor people, not just Muslims are prolific, more developed richer people are less so. Steyn seems to act as if or believe that European Muslims will not assimilate and will continue on breeding as if they were in Cairo, not Madrid. I’m not sure that’s true. If it is, it will certainly be very significant, OTOH it may not occur. Further, I’m not sure Europe is "doomed’..."Doomed". Others have pointed out that Europe and Europeans have usually managed to rise to the challenges presented to them. I think they just might, thru Carrot AND Stick persuade the Muslims in Europe to be good citizens, and to convince their North African neighbors to be good neighbors. It will be an interactive process, with Europe drawing away from the US and Israel, not unlikely in any event, and the Muslims will probably learn that some things are just aren’t likely to happen.
I guess in 10 years we’ll know if Steyn was prescient or if he was just a very talented, but flawed visonary.
Joe, I don’t think you said much that Steyn himself would disagree with. I take his main point to be that we’re seeing some unprecendented conditions with regard to demography in various European countries, and so it’s hard to predict what will happen. But we can say that there are a lot more potential bad outcomes than good ones.
Certainly the Europeans could get a grip and come to terms with their problems. They still have enough wealth and human capital to solve those problems. But they have to first take the problems seriously, and we’ve not seen much if any indication that they’re ready for that.
There’s also the "tipping point" problem to consider. Take the brain drain, for example. It’s a vicious cycle. The more capable citizens that leave, the more the economy worsens, and the worse things become for the productive ones that are left, giving them more motivation to leave. Past a certain point, that becomes irreversible, no matter how much they recognize the problem.
I’ve talked to some Brits who think that point is already past for them. The ones who resisted the urge to leave are mostly regretful about it and the young ones are reconsidering it.
As you say, we’ll know more in ten years. For example, maybe Sarcozy will be elected and kick France’s butt into gear. Nobody would like that more than I would. But that’s not the way I’d bet.
Everyone seems to be saying the muslims that are there already are all there is going to be, Never counting the large increase in immagration. If the borders are shut then sure the new comers can be assimilated in time.If the the borders are left open then the immigrants will just bring thier culture with them.
Assimilation? We’re talking Europe, here. I have a friend in Germany who moved from the northern half to the southern half. He tried very hard to blend in, changing his accent and mannerisms to mimic those of his new home in Bavaria, but twenty years later he was still considered to be a Prussian. The European ruling ethnicities will not offer the newcomers a seat at the economic table until it’s forced upon them.
Paul Johnson’s "Modern Times" is, I believe, considered to be the best history of the 20th century, and is essential reading to understand who we are in the West, and where we came from. There is one gem from the book that is relevant to the question of Europe’s future, and is a "lesson of history" if you will. I will para-phrase, "History shows there are only two ways to reduce the size of government, civil war or revolution".
Maybe erroneous statement from the article: "Of course, we initially benefit from such a brain-drain, because most of it drains to us. "
The latter italicised bit(my italics) is nuanced by Steyn himself in some of his work. As an "overdocumented" legal immigrant in America himself , he’s had to deal with the preposterously slow INS. It is very hard to get into America legally, compared to a load of other 1st world countries, just based on high education and skills. Conversely, it is easy to get into America illegally. Thus a lot of Dutch thinking of fleeing tend to look to Canada, New Zealand and so on well before America, simply because the legal doorway to America is fairly slammed shut compared to those countries.
The US shot itself in the foot apparently back in the 60’s with an immigration reform that canceled any sort of preference of selection: ethnic or national origin, skill/education level, sex, even age and so on. The way I understand it the legal immigration is meant to come from the whole world proportionately, but the ones that might flee Europe are among a small minority of the planet’s population. Some of it literally happens via a lottery that anyone anywhere kind sign up for. Therefore the brain drain from Europe is accruing proportionately much less to the USA.
This(or roughly so) is something which Steyn points out(from memory) as being a possible cause for resentment of the USA among healthy high skilled Dutch and other such groups. America thumbs its nose at them, preferrring instead to amnesty in successive waves, loads of low skilled illegal immigrants.
Actually, Bryan, according to the NYT article, the USA does pretty well:
While the European Union’s expansion has given Germans more options, their two favorite destinations are outside it: Switzerland and the United States.
That said, I agree that our immigration policy and execution thereof is nonsense on stilts. If we had a rational policy and the INS were not the dysfunctional bureaucracy that it is, we’d get even more skilled immigrants.