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Economic Development

Debriefing on Europe’s economic, political and cultural concerns

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Sam Waltz, Founding Publisher

Sam Waltz, Founding Publisher

By Sam Waltz

Here’s my handy debriefing on Europe’s economic, political and cultural concerns. Or, in the old-school vernacular, “˜What I did on my summer vacation’

“What I did on my summer vacation” is the report many of us remember from our school days.

Some of us remember those days when – pre-Pinterest – friends would invite us over to show us slides of their vacations.

I’d never seek such indulgence, but perhaps it would be useful to hear a couple of key themes from someone with a lifelong passion for business, history, politics and economics, who has taken nearly two dozen trips to Europe over some 40 years, and who has just returned from two weeks in Central and Eastern Europe.

I offer three thoughts, on the economy, on wealth distribution, and on immigration to Europe.

First, the economy of Germany appears to remain healthy, despite the subsidies it’s channeling via the European Union to Greece.

Industrial complexes remained busy, and, notably, even agriculture throughout Germany and Austria, appeared to remain robust, although some EU trade issues are troubling local producers who feel they’re being undermined by imported produce.

Sustainability continues to grow as a social value in Central European business, from more solar collectors than one would even see in California to wind turbines as well as no-till and low-till agriculture.

The economies of Eastern Europe, I saw, still were seeking footing, with little or no opportunity to export.

Second, based upon discussions with perhaps a dozen local guides over two weeks, it appears that the issue of dissipation of middle-income security is not unique to the United States.

The economy always has rewarded both capital and labor, but the importance of capital has seemed to increase disproportionately to that of labor.

From Munich to Budapest, what once were the older inner cities filled with people efficiently going about their work and their lives seems to have been replaced by large contingents of idle 20-somethings and 30-somethings, many seemingly without jobs, some without homes.

One Budapest woman, about 30, spoke eloquently to it, noting that her own parents had grown up in the 45-year post-WWII period when the USSR occupied and controlled Hungary with its communist version of state socialism, and, today, without that, her generation seems too often to “not know what to do” in terms of finding their own ways in the labor marketplace, simply because a free economy still was something not known to her parents, or to her.

And, in that urban restlessness, legions of young people seemed to set out to express their individuality with look-alike tattoos from wrists to necks, forever sentencing them to blue collar labor at best, should social norms regarding wanton display of inked bodies persevere and survive.

Finally, America’s Rio Grande problem is translated as Europe’s Mediterranean problem.

While in Europe, I followed the Calamity of Calais, where thousands of immigrants from Libya, other areas of North Africa and the Mediterranean appeared ready to storm the tunnel – the Chunnel as Brits called it – to seek stolen and undocumented access to Britain’s social safety net, where many seem to feel they might arrive one day and be on the dole the next.

Sovereignty by its nature is a global issue of historic proportions, and traditionally states armed themselves militarily to repel invaders who sought political and economic dominance over a conquered population.

In my view, the new sovereignty issue is between the human-rights movement, which seems to seek to make national borders all but irrelevant and those nationalists who would like to preserve some self-determination.

Today, many of those who were not productive in their home countries – some of them in fact being persecuted based on religion or politics, just as indigenous populations in many if not most countries may frequently feel historically mistreated – paint an empathetic picture of their plight in throwing themselves at the feet of receiving nations and seeking social benefits.

Indeed, the undoing of many of the European states in terms of this immigration has been the state socialism and the economic security safety nets they had put in place for their own poor.

It will put some readers in mind of the 1960s and 1970s when disproportion in America’s local welfare benefits would incent mobility among the poor to seek communities with the greatest handouts.

Even legal immigration has changed the face of. A few years ago, during an extended stay in Italy, I noticed how the Italian community homogeneity seemed to have disappeared in all but its smallest towns, compared to my first trips to Italy in the 1970s.

On this stay, for a few nights in Munich, the bilingualism of retail signs – German and English – seemed in many areas to be replaced by German and Arabic. In one upscale Marriott hotel, we seemed to be a minority among the Muslim visitors.

A big lesson is that sovereignty and borders have never seemed less important in Europe than they seem today. Accompanying that, too, in the political correctness of European multiculturalism is the erosion of the social values for the remnants of the historic ethnicity that characterized so many countries here.

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