I've just spent a few days in Europe on business. Business and eating. Possibly more eating of excellent foods than business, I can't be sure due to the quantities of tasty wine consumed. Regardless, as I sit here on the plane in my seat measuring approximately 14 inches wide, I can report the following with some certainty:Without honest governance, serious financial sacrifice and a willingness to focus on individual responsibility America will be Europe in another 15 or 20 years. It's really that simple.
Remember the recent strikes that threatened to shut down France because the government plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62?
Or the riots in the streets of Athens because the government is trying to rein in spending by restructuring pensions and trimming the size of the government workforce, which currently employs every Greek citizen except one guy named Costas in the town of Thessaloniki?
How about in the U.K. where firefighters almost went on strike this past week to protest possible changes to their benefits? Ooh, wait...my favorite, BBC journalists went on strike the other day because the BBC, an organization that hasn't made a profit since the days of Queen Victoria, needs to cut costs in order to reduce the size of their annual losses. -- This of course gives us hope that perhaps NPR journalists will follow suit and go on strike.
And let's not forget the kids... they should have the same right to strike as the grown ups.
In many parts of Europe striking and joining in street protests is considered a right of passage, much like getting a tattoo or body piercing in order to show how unique and nonconforming you are compared to all the other tatted up protesting kidlets with various metal bits stuck in their gob.
Why, even now there are thousands of British students (many of whom are paying nothing for their education) taking to the streets in London to protest the UK government's plan to raise tuition fees.
Much to the chagrin of the young and their parents, it could soon cost anywhere between 6,000 and 9,000 British pounds per year for higher education. Many in the U.K. support the protests, believing that education should fall under the category marked "Paid for by Government."
Anyway, the kids are out in force... throwing bricks through windows, chanting, smoking clove cigarettes and "flash mobbing"... a hip activity where at the spur of the moment lots of folks receive a text message instructing them to descend upon a particular location all at the same time. I know, I don't get it either, but I'm kind of old.
So what conclusion are we to draw from the current events in Europe?
How about this...in Europe folks got used to loads of free stuff over several decades. Hey, who doesn't like free stuff? Ladle on some free education with that excellent government job and maybe a heaping helping of no-cost health care and a splash of reduced work hours so you have more time to enjoy life with your free stuff. Huzzah!
Here's the bit that, as simple as it sounds and as common sensical as we all know it to be, seems to have been left off the equation. There's no such thing as free stuff. Okay...I know many of you right now are saying "well yeah, no s**t, Sherlock." Right... We all get it -- if you spend more than you make you're eventually going to be in a fiscal goat rope.
Europe is painfully dealing with this right now -- decades of free crap have created generations of folks who really, really like their free crap. When the various governments now try to steer their ships towards the magical land of fiscal responsibilty, the populations mutiny and someone has to walk the plank.
Here in America, where we often like to wittily scoff at the Europeans and their vast quantities of free stuff and socialist leanings, we are once again at the point where there is talk about sailing to fiscal responsibility land. This happens every now and then, usually right after a midterm election.
Why, just look at last week's elections...all the people crying for Democrats to walk the plank because of their reckless ways and efforts to turn us in to Europeans. "Cut spending" the people shouted... "Rein in the deficit" was the rallying call.
So now we have a Congress that has made a pinky swear to reduce spending. And a population that has demanded fiscal responsibility. We stand on the cusp of not continuing our march towards becoming Europeans.
But, uhh, we kind of like our entitlements. I mean, who wants to take on Social Security or Medicare? What's that? Raise the Social Security age to 70? Are you insane? Surely we can set those sacred cows aside and still get tough on spending. And then there's education. Cutting that can't be good. And defense...how we gonna do that when the world's a scary place?
Now, with those items off the table, how much savings do you think can be gleaned from the budget? The answer is $27 dollars and 14 cents. Currently that's the equivalent of one Euro.
No matter -- the people have spoken and the people demand deficit reduction and serious spending cuts. I'm sure all those newly elected Republicans and Democrats who profess to have heard the demands of the people can find some entitlements somewhere that the people won't mind losing. And just like all the other voters out there, I demand that they get busy.
Just don't be touching my free stuff.
And soon, maybe in a few years time, I won't have to wedge my bottom in a 14 inch wide seat to visit Europe. I can just walk out my door. Et voila.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe.
Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector and has recently returned to Diligence LLC, a company he cofounded in 2000, as president.
He appears frequently in the media as an expert on counterterrorism, intelligence and homeland security.
Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," as well as major motion pictures.