The EU’s highway to hell

My friend has a problem that’s uniquely European – only through incredible effort can he avoid being given money by several government agencies.

As he is currently quitting his job and preparing for impending fatherhood, the amount of cash various public busybodies looking for a raison d’etre seek to impose upon him is breathtaking.

Only, he doesn’t want any of it, being perfectly capable of supporting his family. This, apparently, is a situation the system has not been designed for. That somebody could refuse money he is “entlitled to” on grounds of principle is unfathomable.
Why would you turn down money? Well, because it has been stolen to begin with, might be a good starting point for a moral objection.

There are two competing moral paradigms with regard to public goods – you’re a sucker if you don’t take something you’re “entitled to”, or – rather more moral in my opinion – you’re a dick if you take something you don’t need, and what has any number of better potential uses – healthcare, say, or education, or reducing the deficit.

Actual quotes:
“I’m almost convinced the entire system is designed for this, otherwise there is no explanation…”
“In today’s Europe it is really the easiest thing to just sit about and get paid, it’s madness.”

In a complementary point, my own experience in business is one of mounting and increasingly absurd regulation obviously designed by people with no practical experience with the things they aspire to regulate – frequently asking for physical impossibilities, and a general trend towards hiring auditors to audit the audits done previously by the auditors of the first batch of auditors.

We are also constantly pressured to be obsessive-compulsive about minute formalities of our processes (“Is there a written record the company cars have been cleaned? Is there a step-by-step manual for the cleaning?” I kid you not, and it gets worse every year), while the exact people asking the impossible are doing their own jobs halfway at best.

European business faces rising administrative requirements from parties who themselves clearly fail at the simplest tasks. Nonetheless, no sanctions are ever placed on them.

The world is a bit upside down recently, with inexperienced incompetents who never held a real job walking around enterprises they do not understand and never could build themselves, frowning over their clipboards, and telling people who’ve been leaders in their industries for thirty years how to do their jobs. Then, they get paid from these very people’s taxes. Arrogance of the inferior, even bullying, is now official policy.

As a commentator put it on The Economist, showing that things are very similar on both sides of the Atlantic: “If there are so many different laws and regulations that no business or individual can know or avoid violating them all, regulators and attorneys general become arbitrary tax collectors, deciding which laws to enforce and which to overlook, who to shake down and who to favor. The rule of law is deeply undermined. Further damage to the rule of law occurs if the law enforcement agency or regulator is allowed to keep the fines collected, as is often the case.

Speaking from personal experience, OSHA (safety regulators) is engaged on a years-long process of visiting oil and chemical plants one at a time. A team arrives, they find hundreds of little violations to their thousands of rules, ignore hundreds more that are equally evident, and present you with a hefty bill. There is always an implied threat that if you do not accept the bill and pay it, they will go hunting for more peccadillos, which they are sure to find.

The European Union is, apparently and worryingly, simultaneously intent on making it harder to get anything done, and easier to not do anything and get free stuff at public expense.

You could say that activitiy is actively discouraged, whereas passivity is encouraged. That’s a tempting proposition for the lazy and the useless. Only, that doesn’t seem to be a sustainable situation for the whole body of society for any extended period of time.

In other words, the European Union is working hard to reduce its total income and increase expenses, or reduce output and increase outlays. And it can only compensate to a certain extent for deeply flawed fiscal policies with monetary sticking plasters, AKA printing funny money at the ECB. Sooner or later, critical mass will be reached.

The combined effect on the morale of Europeans is an unambiguous “You know what? Fuck this, I’m gonna mooch off instead of being robbed and hated for doing something”.

That moral failure seems to be the singular end of EU policies. Even if uninentional, it is a spectacular reflection of the biases and intellectual failings of our optimistically named “authorities”.

Worryingly from a psychosocial point of view, it creates a situation where success is dispensed rather than earned.

A command economy.

Those are invariably spectacular successes.

It is a familiar situation where the citizen is intended to be obligated to a central authority for everything, a system of arbitrary assignment of goods, where a benefactor in the bureaucracy will be glad to do something for you, if you do something for them in return. This is a polite way to say “corruption”.

This is worrying enough in the private domain, but becomes literally a civilizational threat when extended to politics and business. Listening to political discourse, everyone is concerned with applying for and drawing from EU funds, and nobody creates anything.

The handout economy.

This is super worrying and ultra unfair in business. When a particular company in a competitive market gets subsidies, how do its competitors not sue the shit out of the EU? How are they not directly damaged?

If you’re in a profitable industry where others manage to do just fine under their own power, how can it be justified to receive public support and consequently compete unfairly by every reasonable legal definition?

If you have a bakery and your neighbor has a bakery and you both have similar prices and stay afloat by your own power and then your neighbor gets the state to buy him a new oven, how were you not damaged?

Look into the registers of EU fund recipients and you will find outrageous examples of profitable private companies getting new machines and roof renovations, paid for by the public.

How is that not disadvantaging their more honest or more competent competitors who never asked anything from the taxpayer?

How is this not creating an incentive structure where the greediest and most unscrupulous bastards and professional system milkers are greately favored over honest business and entrepreneurs? (Who are, to add insult to injury, forced to foot the bill)

How is this not unfair competition?

Why is the EU deliberately tilting the system in favor of sleaze and corruption? Can it be surprised when everyone who can afford it leaves for Switzerland?

The current European economic model openly and explicitly favors system-milkers and parasites to value-creators and inventors.

“Just apply for the handouts too” has been the advice offered more than once.
And legitimize the system, become complicit in it and forever be at the mercy of the politicians and bureaucrats who will offer to help in exchange for a part of the loot (thereby gaining blackmail opportunities on top of the stolen cash, and I would never have peace of mind or conscience again). Grand.

I do prefer a situation where I can still look at myself in the mirror.

This is how it works.

I am in the situation where a competitor (whose director just happens to be a member of the local green party) has managed to get most of their business expenses covered by government subsidy. We aren’t talking some endangered marginal industry that needs support just to break even in the modern economy (i.e. traditional farming), we’re talking massively profitable raw inputs for pharmaceuticals. It makes zero sense to subsidise this.

By footing most of their bills, the government has just, in practice, increased our competitor’s profit margin at the taxpayers’ expense. Alternately, it enabled them to keep the same profit margin and reduce their prices by tens of percent to undercut honest, tax-paying competition, and indirectly subsidise the pharma giants who are our customers. Or a mixture of both. This is business?

We can cut our own prices and fire ten people, of course. Who will become welfare recipients. Does it add up? Where will the money come from?

This is what the EU wants? A clientelist economy, conceived of as a hierarchy of thieves, a pecking order of parasites; dependent citizens and near-insurmountable barriers to honest business?

Of course it is.

This isn’t what we signed up for. This isn’t the Europe that the people in post-communist countries wanted to re-join. This is actually a reformed, but unmistakably substantially identical version of what we’ve spent the last 25 years escaping from.

Anyone know of a sane country? I’m thinking Switzerland might still be relatively honest, although the 7 franc Espressos are a powerful argument.


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  • Antonio

    Man, south america and Brazil , where I live , been a “sleeping giant” since ever. And do you know why? Its cause the rich people from here works to kepp everything with no changes. Our labor laws are the same Mussoline did in Italy in 1930`s, to give a false idea of protection for the workers. Our interest rate is the biggest in the world, to transfer all the money and opportunities for those who are in the top of the pyramid.

  • Pedro Bolson

    Unfortunately my answer to your last question is no. As I’ve commented in a previous article, I’m from Brazil and I think we are, at least, 20 years in front EU (in terms of subsidies, regulations, taxations and etc. Concerning technologies, manufacturing, living standards I would say that we are 20 years behind).

    And what were the outcomes of such state burden? GDP will plunge 3,15% in 2015 and about 2% in the next year. Official CPI is in almost 10% in a year basis. And I could spend an hour writing down bad statistics (I will save my time and yours).

    Just to give an example of how astonishing is regulation in Brasil, we have an agency to regulate movies and tv series, called ANCINE. They act to foster national productions while making difficult and costly to reproduce international ones. Does anyone from abroad have heard about good Brazilian movies? Maybe, once in a decade.

    Anyway, economy is just too complicated to being planned by these gods, I mean, “authorities”.

    Keep writing your articles! Best.

    • Zbyněk Dráb

      Brazil, and much of the rest of South America, is in my opinion a sleeping giant. When (I’m hoping it is a matter of “when” rather than “if”) you shed the horrible communists, bureaucrats and gangsters ruining your politics, you’ll be a powerhouse. We’re talking about a continent full of natural resources and talented people that barely participates in world affairs and has an inexplicably small share in the world economy. I am sure it is going to happen though.

  • x32

    Sane thoughts in insane world )))
    As it is seen from p.o.view of hard-working men, insanity comes from people who are given the right to make decisions. Who put insane people in their chairs is obvious — those who own “money” own everything.
    Nothing else.