Thursday, October 30, 2014

Take the Hard Votes

By Jonah Goldberg
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

‘What day is it?”

“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.

“My favorite day,” said Pooh.

As a proud member of the “don’t just do something, sit there” school of politics, I don’t fret much about partisanship and gridlock. Partisanship and gridlock aren’t bugs of our constitutional system, they’re features. And while everyone likes to see their preferred policies sail through Congress, on the whole I think we’ve been well served by those features for two centuries.

That said, in the spirit of compromise so lacking in Washington, I would like to offer a suggestion for how to fix the alleged dysfunction in Washington: Let’s have more partisanship about ideas and less about process.

You have to wonder if Harry Reid feels like an idiot yet. For years now, the Senate majority leader has been cynically protecting Democratic senators — and President Obama — from difficult votes. The rationale was pretty straightforward. He wanted to spare vulnerable Democrats named Mark — Arkansas’s Mark Pryor, Alaska’s Mark Begich and Colorado’s Mark Udall — and a few others from having to take difficult votes on issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline, EPA rules, and immigration reform.

The problem for the Marks and other red- or swing-state Democrats is that, having been spared the chance to take tough votes, they now have little to no evidence they’d be willing to stand up to a president who is very unpopular in their states.

Thanks to Reid’s strategy of kicking the can down the road, GOP challengers now get to say, “My opponent voted with the president 97 percent of the time.” Democrats are left screeching “war on women!” and “Koch brothers!”

For instance, Reid killed bipartisan legislation on energy efficiency in May by denying senators the right to offer amendments. This was a wildly partisan and nearly unprecedented move, blocking the Senate from debating important issues. He did so because he feared that GOP amendments — on the Keystone pipeline, for instance — would pass with Democratic support, angering the White House.

I’m sure Senator Mary Landrieu, (D., La.) would love to be able to tout such a vote now. But she supported Reid’s tactic, shooting herself in the foot in the process.

Of course, this assumes these allegedly independent Democrats would have broken with Obama. But whether they would have or not, wouldn’t our politics be healthier if we had an answer to that question?

Indeed, so much of Obama’s politically poisonous indecisiveness, whether on Syria, Ukraine, the Islamic State, immigration reform, or the Keystone pipeline, seems driven by a powerful desire to kick the controversial decisions down the road and simply “win” the daily spin cycle. This tactic of protecting politicians from votes is a bipartisan practice that exacerbates the worst kind of partisanship.

Under former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Republicans adopted the so-called Hastert Rule, which says no bill can be brought to the floor absent support of a majority of the majority — i.e., a majority of Republicans in the GOP-controlled House.

In 2006, even though President George W. Bush supported a hike in the minimum wage (wrongly in my view), the House refused to take it up for a vote. It could have passed with a minority of Republicans joining the Democrats. Those Republicans mostly came from states where there were minimum-wage hikes on the ballot. If they’d been allowed to vote in favor of a “clean” raising of the wage, some of them might well have kept their seats, and the GOP might have kept its majority. Instead, the Democrats were swept in that year, and they got the minimum-wage hike anyway.

This live-for-today approach — what GOP consultant Brad Blakeman calls “momentarianism” — protects the short-term interests of political elites but harms the long-term interests of just about everyone. It prevents Republicans from forging creative strategies for winning over Democrats and vice versa. But it also denies letting voters know what politicians are really for by concealing their true positions in a fog of procedural nonsense.

Gridlock is great when it reflects principled disagreements between duly elected representatives of the people, not when it’s used to protect politicians from their own constituents.

Why Middle-Class Americans Can't Afford to Live in Liberal Cities

By Derek Thompson
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On April 2, 2014, a protester in Oakland, California, mounted a Yahoo bus, climbed to the front of the roof, and vomited onto the windshield.

If not the year's most persuasive act of dissent, it was certainly one of the most memorable demonstrations in the Bay Area, where residents have marched, blockaded, and retched in protest of San Francisco's economic inequality and unaffordable housing. The city's gaps—between rich and poor, between housing need and housing supply—have been duly catalogued. Even among American tech hubs, San Francisco stands alone with both the most expensive real estate and the fewest new construction permits per unit since 1990.

But San Francisco's problem is bigger than San Francisco. Across the country, rich, dense cities are struggling with affordable housing, to the considerable anguish of their middle class families.

Among the 100 largest U.S. metros, 63 percent of homes are "within reach" for a middle-class family, according to Trulia. But among the 20 richest U.S. metros, just 47 percent of homes are affordable, including a national low of 14 percent in San Francisco. The firm defined "within reach" as a for-sale home with a total monthly payment (including mortgage and taxes) less than 31 percent of the metro's median household income.

If you line up the country's 100 richest metros from 1 to 100, household affordability falls as household income rises, even after you consider that middle class families in richer cities have more income. (The graph below considers only the 25 richest US metros to keep city names moderately legible on a computer screen.)

The line isn't smooth—and there are exceptions—but the relationship is clear: In general, richer cities have less affordable housing.

But there's a second reason why San Francisco's problem is emblematic of a national story. Liberal cities seem to have the worst affordability crises, according to Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko.

In a recent article, Kolko divided the largest cities into 32 “red" metros where Romney got more votes than Obama in 2012 (e.g. Houston), 40 “light-blue” markets where Obama won by fewer than 20 points (e.g. Austin), and 28 “dark-blue” metros where Obama won by more than 20 points (e.g. L.A., SF, NYC). Although all three housing groups faced similar declines in the recession and similar bounce-backs in the recovery, affordability remains a bigger problem in the bluest cities.

"Even after adjusting for differences of income, liberal markets tend to have higher income inequality and worse affordability,” Kolko said.

Kolko's theory isn't an outlier. There is a deep literature tying liberal residents to illiberal housing policies that create affordability crunches for the middle class. In 2010, UCLA economist Matthew Kahn published a study of California cities, which found that liberal metros issued fewer new housing permits. The correlation held over time: As California cities became more liberal, he said, they built fewer homes.

"All homeowners have an incentive to stop new housing," Kahn told me, "because if developers build too many homes, prices fall, and housing is many families' main asset. But in cities with many Democrats and Green Party members, environmental concerns might also be a factor. The movement might be too eager to preserve the past."

The deeper you look, the more complex the relationship between blue cities and unaffordable housing becomes. In 2008, economist Albert Saiz used satellite-generated maps to show that the most regulated housing markets tend to have geographical constraints—that is, they are built along sloping mountains, in narrow peninsulas, and against nature's least developable real estate: the ocean. (By comparison, many conservative cities, particularly in Texas, are surrounded by flatter land.) "Democratic, high-tax metropolitan areas... tend to constrain new development more," Saiz concluded, and "historic areas seem to be more regulated." He also found that cities with high home values tend to have more restrictive development policies.

One could attempt tying this together into a pat story—Rich liberals prefer to cluster near historic coastal communities with high home values, where they support high taxes, rent control, and a maze of housing regulations to protect both their investment and the region's "character", altogether discouraging new housing development that’s already naturally constrained by geography...—but even that interpretation elides the colorful local history that often shapes housing politics.

I asked Kahn if he had a pet theory for why liberals, who tend to be vocal about income inequality, would be more averse to new housing development, which would help lower-income families. He suggested that that it could be the result of good intentions good bad.

"Developers pursue their own self-interest," Kahn said. "If a developer has an acre, and he thinks it should be a shopping mall, he won't think about neighborhood charm, or historic continuity. Liberals might say that the developer acting in his own self-interest ignores certain externalities, and they'll apply restrictions. But these restrictions [e.g. historic preservation, environmental preservation, and height ceilings] add up, across a city, even if they’re well-intentioned. The affordability issue will rear its head."

Shine On

By Kevin D. Williamson
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In the context of free markets, I am not really sure I believe that “market failures” exist in the wild. It isn’t that I cannot imagine free markets producing outcomes that are, as the economists say, “Pareto inefficient,” meaning that at least one person could be made better off without making anybody else worse off. It’s just that every time I’ve tried to get a specific example of the phenomenon, I end up with something indistinguishable from “market failure is what happens when a market produces an outcome different from the one most desired by the economist with whom you are having this fruitless conversation.” For example, cigarettes and alcohol are sometimes offered as examples of a particular kind of market failure (“demerit goods”), but that really just comes down to the median economist’s preference that people would smoke and drink less than the median drinking-and-smoking person’s preference dictates.

That being said, there are many outcomes from the most free of free markets that seem perverse to me. Few people ever complain that the prices of the things they buy are too low, but shoeshines, for example, seem to me to be significantly underpriced. A $3 shoeshine at Grand Central Terminal seems somehow just metaphysically wrong in a world of $6 coffee and $10 cupcakes.

There’s a whole not-entirely-pleasant social history related to the question of who shines shoes for whom, of who labors at the feet of whom, of racial callousness that once had middle-aged black men described as shoeshine “boys,” etc. But there is something of the democratic tendency in there, too: There’s a famous and probably apocryphal story about Abraham Lincoln receiving a European diplomat while polishing his boots. The diplomat said that in his country, a man of Lincoln’s stature would never shine his own boots. “Whose boots would he shine?” Lincoln asked.

Still, we think of shining shoes as menial job rather than as a semi-skilled profession. But the whole point of the division of labor is that other people can do things better or more efficiently than you can; properly understood, there is no such thing as menial labor. The brain surgeon gets to spend an extra 20 minutes on brain surgery because somebody else shines his shoes; capitalism is as much a cooperative enterprise as a competitive one. The cattle rancher and the McDonald’s cook and the poet and the investment banker all work together to ensure that the cattle get raised, the hamburgers get cooked, the verse gets written, and whatever it is that investment bankers do gets done. If each of us tried to do it all ourselves, our standard of living would be Paleolithic.

Every so often, somebody goes off on a campaign against tips, or against employment situations in which waiters and bartenders and the like rely on tips rather than on a guaranteed hourly wage. I tend to think those crusades are ill-considered, but maybe we should change our compensation model for shining shoes. Instead of $3 or $6 (the average airport rate, I calculate), we should go with 5 percent of the value of the shoes — one of the few forms of progressive redistribution I can get behind. If you’re on your way to a job interview and getting a fresh new shine on a pair of $60 cap-toes off the sales rack, you pay the current going rate of $3; if you’re wearing a $400 pair of Allen Edmonds wingtips, you pay $20; if you’re wearing a $2,000 pair of Prada dress shoes, give the guy a C-note and count your blessings in life. We might want to establish a customary price ceiling for John Lobb’s bespoke-service customers and the like.

New Yorkers already have a model for this: In most of the city’s commercial garages, it costs about twice as much to park a Maserati as it does a Toyota Camry, even though exotic cars don’t take up any more room than do Buicks. Presumably, this is because of insurance risk, which men shining shoes don’t take on, but we frequently pay people more to take care of that which is more valuable. Sending a postcard from New York to Los Angeles costs one amount, sending a Warhol costs another.

Democratic immigration activists such as Eva Longoria argue that we need a class of semi-indentured serf labor — they don’t put it quite like that — because if we paid market rates to farm workers, we would have to pay “$8 for a head of broccoli,” angels and ministers of grace defend us! Eva Longoria carries a $26,000 handbag and she’s arguing that we need illegal labor to keep the price of broccoli down below the price of a Starbucks venti Frappuccino — that’s a very, very odd take on social solidarity.

Personally, I’d prefer a world in which a really good shoeshine operator makes six figures. We’re all in this together, after all.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Maher-ophobia at Berkeley

By Charles C. W. Cooke
Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A few weeks ago, when actor Ben Affleck’s precious little tirade on the evils of “Islamophobia” presented Bill Maher with the rare opportunity to play the villain on his own television show, I thought perhaps Maher might learn something from the experience. As I can attest from personal experience, it is rather lonely in the Token Conservative’s chair, the audience’s ruthless ideological conformity and the tendency of the bookers to flood the stage with disciples rather than apostates combining to engender a hostile environment for the heretics. At one level, it is an invigorating experience: The Alamo comes to mind. At others, it is futile, attempts to puncture the bubble being met by a wall of hastily strung-together buzzwords that are intended primarily to identify the speaker as a “racist” or an “ignoramus” or as a lackey for the rich and the well-connected. Unlettered as his contribution was, that Affleck had pushed Maher into the corner and given him a solid taste of his own shtick struck me as being an interesting development indeed. Perhaps, I mused, he might notice what shouting does to public reason?

I am, of course, unsure whether Maher has reflected upon the incident at all. But if he has not, perhaps he will be pushed into doing so now? “Sooner or later,” Freddie deBoer predicted, in an essay that I cannot recommend with enough vigor, the social-justice police are “going to come for people you do like.” And so, at last, they have. Per the Daily Californian, students at UC Berkeley who were informed this week that Maher was to be their commencement speaker have “sprung” into action and demanded vehemently that the invitation be rescinded. Thus far, a petition that was spearheaded “by Marium Navid, who is backed by the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition, or MEMSA, and Khwaja Ahmed, an active MEMSA member” has received over 1,400 signatures. Among its core complaints? That Maher believes Western civilization is “not just different,” it is “better”; that “the Muslim world has too much in common with ISIS”; and that “dealing with Hamas is like dealing with a crazy woman who’s trying to kill you — you can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her.” “Too many students,” the petition claims, “are marginalized by his remarks and if the University were to bring this individual as a commencement speaker they would not be supporting these historically marginalized communities.”

Naturally, Berkeley can do whatever it wants. And yet those seeking to exclude Maher should be brutally honest about what they are asking for. To the terminally silly, vapid slogans such as “Free Speech, Not Hate Speech” may sound cuddly and persuasive. To the less credulous among us, however, they are recognized for precisely what they are: an attempt to rationalize the brand of we-are-the-world dogmatism that is currently — shamefully — en vogue within the academy. Maher has no legal right to speak at Berkeley. But, as John Stuart Mill correctly observed, a healthy culture of free expression requires all of us to look farther than the authority of the magistrate and to actively indulge those who would dissent from the crowd. When students say that this is “not an issue of freedom of speech, it’s a matter of campus climate,” they are in abject denial, merely replacing one word for another. As far as I am aware, Maher is not proposing to come dressed in a Nazi uniform, nor does he intend to parade around the quadrangle with a rifle slung over his back. Rather, he is coming to give a talk. Whatever changes to the “campus climate” might result from his presence would, then, be the result of his words and of nothing else besides. H. L. Mencken observed that “when somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.” So it is, too, with speech. If they were to acknowledge this, the more perceptive among the class of 2014 might inquire as to what exactly their peers’ stance says about them and about their university. Maher’s appearance, campus senior Alex Chang frets in the Californian, “could definitely ruin someone’s graduation day.” If this degree of intellectual emasculation is typical among his peers, one cannot help but wonder how Chang will fare in the outside world.

Amusingly, the affair has only served to bolster Maher’s trenchant criticisms of both liberalism and Islam. Rarely, I suspect, has a news outlet written a sentence as grimly comical as this one:

    “Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia that will f***ing kill you if you say the wrong thing,” Maher said during the episode, which is cited on the students’ petition as an example of Maher’s “hate speech.”

Because Maher suggested that Muslims are intolerant and that they will shut down those who criticize their religion, Maher has criticized their religion and must be disinvited from speaking.

One wonders if we are honestly expected to believe that it is a coincidence that the backlash against Maher has started in the last month. In recent years, the man has described Sarah Palin as a “c***” and a “twat,” and he has casually taunted her son with Down Syndrome, Trig, for cheap laughs, terming him a “retard.” Elsewhere, Maher has expressed fervent hope that Vice President Dick Cheney would die, has cast anybody of a conservative disposition as a redneck intent on destroying civilization, and has proposed that, all in all, the United States is “a stupid country with stupid people.” His attacks on Christians are legendary, his irritation with the church of his upbringing having prompted him to make a polemical movie in which he castigated people of faith. Catholics, Maher has joked on television, are “schizophrenic” morons, who believe that they are “drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god.” Must I go on?

As valiantly as the Berkeley dissidents attempt to appear ecumenical — “Maher,” Marium Navid proposes slipperily, “insults people of all religions and backgrounds,” and to the extent that he has urged people to “rise up against religious people and religious institutions and take action” — the implications are glaringly obvious. Nobody is the slightest bit concerned about the possibility of Maher’s “ruining the graduation day” of Mormon, Southern, Christian, or pro-life students — and nor, I daresay, would this pushback have moved beyond idle grumbling if it were Republicans who were likely to be offended. (The last major address at Berkeley was given by none other than Nancy Pelosi.) Rather, as Maher himself might note, this is about his condemnation of Islam, which religion is at present so reflexively privileged above almost everything else in the hierarchy of progressive pieties that one cannot imagine who among us would not be sacrificed if its adherents expressed discomfort. If Ayaan Hirsi Ali is unwelcome at Brandeis for having excoriated a religion whose followers have subjected her to genital mutilation and attempted to take her life, what chance has a comic on HBO?

Buried within the dissenting petition’s collection of apparently unutterable sentiments is Maher’s charge that “today, feminine values are now the values of America, sensitivity is more important than truth, feelings are more important than facts.” It would be difficult to imagine a more damning confirmation that this is indeed the case than that, for having exhibited the temerity to issue harsh judgments on a religion that one is not supposed to disparage, Maher was deemed too likely to hurt the feelings of college students to be permitted to speak in public.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Plutocratic Populism Pays

By Victor Davis Hanson
Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In early October, Barack Obama went to a $32,000-a-head fundraiser at the 20-acre estate of the aptly named billionaire Richie Richman. The day before he charmed his paying audience of liberal 1 percenters, Obama had sent out an e-mail alleging that Republicans were “in the pocket of billionaires.” Does that mean that Republicans who accept cash from billionaire supporters are always in their pockets, but that when the president does likewise, he never is? And if so, on what grounds is he exempt from his own accusations?

In mid-October, Hillary Clinton gave a short lecture at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas bewailing the crushing costs of a university education. “Higher education,” Clinton thundered, “shouldn’t be a privilege for those able to afford it.”

One reason tuition and student indebtedness have soared — UNLV’s tuition is set to go up by 17 percent next year — is that universities pay exorbitant fees to multimillionaire speakers like Hillary Clinton. College foundations sprout up to raise money for perks that might not pass transparent university budgeting. Clinton — or her own foundation — reportedly charged a university foundation $225,000 for a talk lasting less than an hour. For that sum, she could have paid the tuition of over 320 cash-strapped UNLV students. Is there a Clinton Tuition Fund, to which Hillary contributes a portion of her honoraria to exempt herself from the ramifications of her own accusations?

Multibillionaire Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg wants amnesty for undocumented workers. In fact, he flew down to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s estate to blast his own country’s immigration policies. But Zuckerberg also pays millions to separate himself from hoi polloi. He recently spent a reported $30 million to buy up houses surrounding his Palo Alto estate as well as other properties. That way he can enlarge his own environment and guarantee that his privacy is not impinged on by the wrong sort of neighbors. Couldn’t he spend a comparable $30 million on affordable housing for illegal aliens, or at least allow a family or two to live next to him to provide easy mentorship about the difficult transition from Oaxaca to Palo Alto?

Recently Vice President Joe Biden hit the campaign trail, blasting “corporate profits” and “guys running hedge funds in New York.” According to populist Biden, big-money speculators bear much of the blame for rising “income inequality.”

Aside from the fact that Barack Obama and Joe Biden raised more cash from Wall Street than any other presidential ticket in history — they were once Goldman Sachs’s largest recipients — the Biden family is knee-deep in corporate and hedge-fund lucre. Biden’s son Hunter was a top official for a hedge fund — which was co-founded by the senior Biden’s brother James. Biden’s other son, Beau, has been a corporate lawyer in between political stints. The populist Biden family is a synonym for elite crony capitalism and “guys running hedge funds in New York.”

Why do so many self-interested plutocrats indulge in populist rhetoric that is completely at odds with the way they live?

Could not Barack Obama blast billionaires somewhere else than at the homes of billionaires? If Hillary Clinton is going to deplore high college costs, could she not settle for $25,000 an hour rather than ten times that? Could not Mark Zuckerberg live among those he champions rather than driving up housing prices by buying a multimillion-dollar housing moat around his tony enclave? If Joe Biden swears that hedge funds and Wall Street are toxic, mightn’t he at least first advise his brother and son to steer clear of such tainted cash?

How to explain the hypocrisy?

Zero interest rates have caused the stock market to spike. Along with globalization, sky-high stock prices have created staggering sums of money that translate into influence and power simply unimagined even in the late 20th century. The Obama administration has ushered in the greatest surge in inequality in the last half-century. The result is that a select few have struck it rich in the stock market as never before, as trillions of dollars have been transferred from zero-interest passbook accounts belonging to the middle class to fabulous speculative stock profits for the top few.

Such vast sums allow a select elite to be completely exempt from the worries of most Americans about bad neighborhoods, high taxes, poor schools, and joblessness. It is easy to be utopian when one is never subject to the consequences of one’s own ideology. If Hillary Clinton had had to borrow thousands of dollars for her daughter’s tuition, she might resent huge college speaking fees like her own. (Imagine Stanford co-ed Chelsea Clinton with a $100,000 student loan, as a Stanford foundation paid Sarah Palin $225,000 for a brief talk on campus about the problems of crushing tuition and student debt creating inequality). If Mark Zuckerberg’s kids were to enroll in first grade with mostly non-English-speakers two hours away in Mendota, he might question the value of illegal immigration, or at least its toll on the public-school system.

Populist rants against billionaires or high tuition or hedge funds also buy the very rich and powerful psychological penance. That freedom from guilt and criticism allows a Barack Obama to schmooze thousands of dollars in contributions from billionaires, or a Hillary Clinton to take nearly a quarter-million dollars an hour from universities that hike tuition rates far above the rate of inflation. Joe Biden will forever be good ol’ populist Joe, given that for each populist rant he delivers, someone in his family is free to indulge in exactly the behavior that he has damned.

Our plutocrats also feel that they deserve certain exemptions to allow them the proper landscapes from which to help the less-well-off.

How could Obama empathize with those on federal assistance if he didn’t have billionaire cash to get reelected? Without downtime on Martha’s Vineyard, how could he have got the Affordable Care Act passed? How could Zuckerberg find the proper contemplative privacy to lobby for undocumented workers if dozens of Mexican nationals were playing loud music on either side of his house? How could Clinton address exorbitant tuition if she did not have enough money for private jet travel and serene digs in D.C.?

Do not rule out naked self-interest. Open-borders advocate Zuckerberg wants more foreign workers who will work for lower wages. Billionaires pay to hear Obama’s boilerplate so they can translate their donations into crony-capitalist deals like Solyndra. Clinton trolls liberal universities because they are fat sources of campaign money for her 2016 presidential bid. Biden knows that the more he trashes the rich, the more he can get some of the rich’s money without public scrutiny.

Modern liberalism is an ideology of the super-wealthy in alliance with those who need government assistance — often in opposition to the less liberal middle class, which bears the brunt of higher taxes, more regulations, and zero interest on savings. The vast growth of local, state, and federal government and their workforces, the huge increase in pensions and benefits, the spectacular rise in the number of people on government support, coupled with zero interest for those with modest savings, represents a huge transference of wealth from the middle class to those classes beneath them — even as the resulting booming stock market has enriched the already rich. In some sense, strident populist rhetoric is a psychological tic, an acknowledgment that Obama progressivism has all but destroyed the middle class. When Hillary Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg talk like populists, then we know populism is dead.

The more liberal the 21st-century multimillionaire sounds, the more likely it is that he believes that not much of his progressive rhetoric applies to himself. In sum, for the plutocratic class and the politicians they buy, faking populism is now an anti-depressant as well as a wise business investment.

The Sick Man Of Europe Is Europe

By Joel Kotkin
Thursday, September 25, 2014

The recent near breakup of the United Kingdom — something inconceivable just a decade ago — reflects a deep, pervasive problem of identity throughout the EU. The once vaunted European sense of common destiny is decomposing. Other separatist movements are on the march, most notably in Catalonia, Flanders and northern Italy.

Throughout the continent, public support for a united Europe fell sharply last year. Opposition to greater integration has emerged, with anti-EU parties gaining support in countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, Greece, Germany and France.

The new reality is epitomized by France’s ascendant far-right political figure, Marine Le Pen, who is now leading in many polls to win the next presidential election. “The people have spoken loud and clear … they no longer want to be led by those outside our borders, by EU commissioners and technocrats who are unelected,” she declared recently. “They want to be protected from globalization and take back the reins of their destiny.”

These attitudes suggest that the EU could be devolving from a nascent super-state to something that increasingly resembles the Holy Roman Empire, a fragmented landscape of small, unimportant states wrapped in a unitary, but ephemeral crepe. This challenges the view of some Americans, particularly but not only on the left, who see Europe as a role model for the U.S.

Not long ago progressive authors like Jeremy Rifkin could project the European Union to be one of the world’s great and admirable powers. Today, Rifkin’s 2005 tome “The European Dream,” and a host of similar tracts, seem absurd amid growing political unrest and spreading economic stagnation.

Economic Decline

Some pundits, such as Paul Krugman, routinely describe Europe’s approach to economic, environment and social policy as more enlightened than America’s. Wherever possible, progressives push for European-style action in areas such as curbing carbon emissionsand rapidly converting to “green” energy.

Yet these policies are not working. The one large relatively fast-growing economy in Europe (excluding Turkey) is Poland.

Several years ago Germany and the Netherlands were exemplars as opposed to the much-disdained PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain). But German growth rates have plummeted, going negative in the last quarter, along with France and Italy. More stagnation is likely as energy costs surge and key export markets, notably in Russia and China, begin to contract. Today, the “sick man” of Europe is not any one country, or collection of countries; the “sick man of Europe” is Europe.

Europe’s poor economy stems in large part from policy. The strong welfare state so admired by progressives here has also made Europe a very expensive place to do business. High taxes and welfare costs, long tolerable in an efficient economy like Germany, have a way of catching up with companies and countries. This has been particularly notable after the financial crisis; since 2008 the unemployment rate has shot up 5 percentage points while dropping steadily in the Untied States.

The European-wide embrace of “green” energy policies has been tough particularly for manufacturers. Under Chancellor Merkel, Germany has embraced a massive shift to green energy that has helped raise electricity costs for companies by 60% over the past five years to double the rates in the United States.

The Russians, Europe’s one relatively inexpensive energy source, may have calculated that, in the long run, China may prove a better customer than the Europeans. Ironically, some European countries, including Germany, have been forced to boost their use of coal, certainly not much of a climate change win, to make up for shortfalls created by shuttering nuclear plants and overreliance on often erratic green energy.

Ultimately, high energy prices tend to fall most painfully on the middle and working classes in the form of higher electricity bills. Some may see their jobs threatened as European employers look forlower-cost alternatives, such as in the energy rich South and middle of the United States.

Demographic Disasters

The young are arguably the biggest losers in Europe’s decline. Even though birthrates are very low throughout much of Europe from Germany, Italy and Spain to the eastern countries, those now coming into the workforce face extraordinarily high levels of unemployment, topping 50% in some places. It’s no wonder that some are dubbing them a “lost generation.”

The combination of low birth rates and declining prospects contribute to rising concerns about immigration. Immigration has always been a more contentious issue in Europe, where many countries are dominated by a single ethnic group and the residents prefer something closer to homogeneity. This nativism has been painfully evidenced in recent decades from everything from the violent breakup of Yugoslavia and the far more civilized dismantling of Czechoslovakia to assaults on the Roma in France, the Czech Republic, Greece and other countries.

In Britain, the anti-immigrant and anti-EU U.K. Independence Party’s recent strong showing in the European Parliament elections reflected this concern. Diversity in London, which by some counts has the world’s largest concentration of immigrants, thrills London’s media and business communities but stirs great resentment, particularly among working and middle-class voters. The fact that by some estimates that most new jobs generated in the recovery have gone to immigrants has not warmed sentiments.

A Region Without Meaning

Chancellor Merkel has noted that “multi-culturalism” in Germany has “utterly failed.” Muslims in Europe drifting to ISIS is just one reflection of the continent’s weakness. The slow integration of immigrants into the economy, even in relatively prosperous, enlightened countries like Sweden, reflects also the inability of Europeans to integrate the newcomers who could help provide a workforce and consumer base in the future.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to Europe is not demographics, economics or energy, but one of identity. In highly secularized Europe, Christianity, which bound the continent around some similar values, is increasingly rarely practiced or believed. More Czechs, for example, believe in UFOs than in God. Outside of some vaguely anti-American, neo-druid communitarianism among some, there’s not much holding Europeans together.

All this suggests that Americans would do better than look to Europe for future solutions to our own problems. However attractive the European model may seem to our pundit class, the reality on the ground shows something more to be avoided than embraced.