Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The EU, France and the welfare state

It’s not over yet. The recent French elections wrenched back into EU headlines the triple threads of immigration, welfare and unemployment which seem to be inevitably uncoiling the tapestry of the EU structure. The pot boils in Western Europe.

A February survey by UK-based Chatham House found 61% of French citizens are in favour of suspending immigration from Muslim countries. In response to the sentiment, Front National leader Marine Le Pen says if the enormous welfare programmes can’t be reduced, the only thing left is to restrict immigration. But her main target remains the welfare state.

This is a perfectly reasonable target, too. The welfare state is not a “moral imperative.” The policy is best interpreted in terms of the common human tendency to seek power. History suggests when the nature to seek power conflicts with the nature to help, the former generally wins.

Therefore, the former is stronger, and we should look to it first to explain social and political phenomena in our own time. If we ask: What is a “welfare” programme? Through the power lens, we can see it is simply clientism – vote-buying on a wholesale scale.

Note that power-seeking and help-giving don’t necessarily contradict each other. Both can be true at the same time – and typically are. Nonetheless, on a historical timeline set out on a level playing field, the preference for people to use help-giving as modes to power-taking is so lopsided as to be funny. As Bert Cooper on Mad Men said, “philanthropy is the gateway to power.” Right on, Bert. Have I mentioned before how excellent those first three seasons were?

And in 2017, I can assure you that everyone in the French government machine a) thinks they are “helping,” and b) is quite conscious of how real votes are obtained in French politics. They see the two as a beautiful synergy. As of course, they are.

Over the last two centuries, the world adopted the welfare state because the world adopted democracy. Conservatives fail to see this. (I am not a conservative, but probably a reactionary. I want both democracy and the welfare state gone.) The world adopted democracy, an Anglo-American form of government, largely because of the power and prestige of England in the 19th century and the US in the 20th. In every European country, the democratic/liberal faction was also the Anglophile faction.

The welfare state is a result of Europe being conquered by America – specifically, by the New Dealers. Washington faced no opposition to its ideas and today there is no real political opposition to the overall liberal system in Europe – there has been none for decades. Not that there’s much in the US, either. So the result is an implicit oligarchy.

(To see how the Anglo-Americans themselves progressed toward democracy happened, you might want to read Sir Henry Maine – one of the great scholars in comparative government and jurism – specifically his Essays on Popular Government (1893).)

When discussing these sorts of things, I think people make the common democratic fallacy of treating “public opinion” as an intrinsically ultimate cause. It’s not. To reverse what Andrew Breitbart used to say, politics is upstream from culture because the machinery of government works in one direction. Thus, today, Europeans love democracy and the welfare state. Even in Germany. Then again, in 1930s Germany, Hitler was only slightly less popular than democracy is today.

Conclusion: public opinion is a function of whose military forces control the TV station, and not much more. The mass mind is a lever anyone can operate. If you find the public believing in one thing, you can be sure someone somewhere is instructing them in that one thing. So every democracy is in a sense an autocracy – whoever is in power, is in power. The question of what the proles believe is ultimately arbitrary and contingent, dependent as I said on military results.

So if we ask, as a matter of history, why French President François Hollande supported programmes which give money to migrants? One answer would be: M Hollande loves Syrians and wants to help them as much as possible. Another answer is: M Hollande was elected by a massive vote-buying machine, which specialises in purchasing the electoral loyalty of migrants.

Now, the truth is: M Hollande probably does love Syrians, in at least some sense. However, my historical assessment is that he knew which side his bread was buttered on, and if the butter had ever found itself on one side and Syrians on the other, I am quite confident as to which side he would have picked. Power is, after all, extremely tantalising to hominids.

Today, almost everyone accepts the first explanation: M Hollande wanted to take other peoples’ money and give it to migrants because he loves and wants to help them. However, if this explanation is widely held a century from now, I shall be disappointed – it’ll mean nothing whatsoever has changed.

Ms Le Pen’s solution so far is to “cut down on welfare dependency” but might not be enough. The better solution is much simpler and more effective. If Paris owes a beneficiary some payment or benefit, it should compute the actuarial value of the benefit, pay it – in present or future money – to the beneficiary and terminate the programme.

Notice how this thought-experiment exposes the difference between wanting to control people, and wanting to help people. It provides all the help, but none of the control. (Clearly, if the “entitlement” becomes an actual financial debt, it is no longer producing its former vote-buying effect.) My plan is unpopular with liberals and conservatives alike, so it won’t be enacted. At least, not by any democracy! But Ms Le Pen is on the right track anyway.

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