Shiny Happy People: The Future of Europe?

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 11.47.48One of the most brilliantly provocative pieces that our CSO has recently come across is Financial Times doyen Simon Kuper’s Smile if you’re European (3rd May 2013). Kuper convincingly posits that while the banner headlines concerning Europe pertain almost invariably these days to crisis and decline, the continent’s ‘terrible time’ is not necessarily one that looks so bad ‘compared with probably every other continent and any time in history’. The co-author of the wonderful Soccernomics cogently points to Europe’s exceptional paucity of large-scale violence, high life expectancies, relative lack of corruption perception and economic equity as reasons why life even in dynamic emerging markets will take a long time to catch up to what is considered ordinariness in the Old Continent.

Yet as convincing as Kuper’s analysis seems, after some reflection we at Mediolana believe that he has neglected to give weight to several factors which may point to a less benign future for the land mass that did so much to define much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries:

1. Geography. Kuper is writing from Turin, home of Juventus and Fiat, and one of the most affluent and well-run cities not just in northern Italy but the entire world. A perspective from several other football-mad European metropolises – Madrid and Lisbon, let alone Athens – is pronouncedly different; in an uncomfortable number of countries, the European dream of tidy prosperity has already been annihilated.

2. Change. As those familiar with Asian and African history will no doubt be especially aware, great societies can and do go into astonishing decline which may not be arrested within any reassuring timescale. The dispassionate observer can see traces of this in countries such as Spain, which lost 2.7 million mobile telephone subscribers in 2012 and whose digital telecoms base continues to shrink. At the same time, the last few decades has seen the near-monopoly which the developed world held on the Wonders of Modern Life – such as metro systems, higher education and world-class ice-cream and coffee – eroded.

3. Generation. As someone born in 1969, Kuper would have had access to a normal jobs market upon graduation from university in the early 1990s. To anyone facing relevant unemployment rates of c.50%+ in countries as diverse and Portugal and Bosnia, the future prospects of Europe minus the chance for reasonable remuneration and capital accumulation will look decidedly different.

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Filed under Economics, Finance

2 responses to “Shiny Happy People: The Future of Europe?

  1. Well observed and well said.

    Europe – I’m very sad to say – is yesterday’s story. The future belongs to people who are willing to do some serious graft and make sacrifices for the future. When I was in Saudi Arabia not so long ago I met Pakistan immigrants who worked on construction sites in the searing heat for 10+ hours a day, 6 days a week. One of the guys told me happily he was earning $200 a month. And these guys did not complain at all about their work hours or living conditions (which were little more than shacks in the desert).

    In the UK, it is a challenge to find somebody who will do more than two hour work without wanting to take a ‘tea break’.

    The philosophy among many Europeans is that you apparently produce better results if you spend lots of time resting (which for the majority means watching hours of TV sitcoms/dramas or sitting in Starbucks talking about football etc.); my philosophy, which most Europeans I speak with contest, is you produce better results if you spend that time working.

    • It’s true that at least some European countries could need an injection of the Protestant Work Ethic. That said, the United States and Japan – two countries whose populations are not averse to spending large amounts of time in the office – are both also debt-soaked zero-growth zones, so there could be more to this than meets the eye. As you say, realistic and imaginative fiscal management is the key.

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