When the history of the rise and fall of postwar Western Europe is someday written, it will come in three volumes. Title them “Hard Facts,” “Convenient Fictions” and—the volume still being written—”Fraud.”
The hardest fact on which postwar Europe was founded was military necessity, crisply summed up by Lord Ismay’s famous line that NATO’s mission was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” The next hard fact was hard money, the gift of Ludwig Erhard, author of the economic reforms that created the Deutsche mark, abolished price controls, and put inflation in check for generations. The third hard fact was the creation of Jean Monnet’s common market that gave Europe a shared economic—not political—identity.
In 1965, government spending as a percentage of GDP averaged 28% in Western Europe. Today it hovers just under 50%. In 1965, the fertility rate in Germany was a healthy 2.5 children per mother. Today it is a catastrophic 1.35. During the postwar years, annual GDP growth in Europe averaged 5.5%. After 1973, it rarely exceeded 2.3%. In 1973, Europeans worked 102 hours for every 100 worked by an American. By 2004 they worked just 82 hours for every 100 American ones.
What comes next is the explosion of the European project. Given what European leaders have made of that project over the past 30-odd years, it’s not an altogether bad thing. But it will come at a massive cost. The riots of Athens will become those of Milan, Madrid and Marseilles. Parties of the fringe will gain greater sway. Border checkpoints will return. Currencies will be resurrected, then devalued. Countries will choose decay over reform. It’s a long, likely parade of horribles.