They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety –Benjamin Franklin
People are fond of trotting out the above quote when it comes to the police or military functions of the state. Very seldom, however, do they consider that the same concept, the inherent trade off between freedom and security, applies to economics as well.
All over the world, people have shown themselves absurdly willing to trade long-term economic freedoms for short-term economic security only to find out that their security eventually evaporates. I think this is the fundamental problem that contemporary Europe faces.
Just as an argumentative and contentious democracy provides greater physical security through political freedom than does a superficially more ordered authoritarian state, a dynamic and adaptive economy provides more security than a statist economy. Change is inevitable and an economic system that values security over freedom will value stasis over adaptation. Eventually, no matter how successful the system is in providing economic security at first, it will fail to provide it in the long run.
In general, leftists of all stripes do not view economic activities as creative endeavors requiring experimentation, risk and failure. As a consequence of this blind spot, they see no downside in restricting economic freedom in the name of providing greater economic security. The rise to dominance of the Left in Europe inevitably meant the sacrifice of economic freedoms to provide temporary economic security.
Unfortunately, the time lag between the surrender of freedoms and the loss of security can be on the order of decades. Industrial economies have a great deal of inertia and surplus wealth. It takes a long time for the negative consequences of policy decisions to manifest themselves at a politically significant level. For a generation or more people succeed in having both relative prosperity and security and they grow unwilling to believe that such a state is not permanently sustainable. If most of the population doesn’t view economic activities as essentially creative, they won’t even begin to understand why they need to trade security for the freedom to take risks in the first place.
I think the cultural sea change that needs to occur in Europe is to get enough people to view economic activities as creative endeavors that require freedom to succeed. People need to think of an individual starting a new business as an artist or explorer who must be left free to fail. Only then can Europe’s long slide be halted.