Threats, risks and hidden agendas

A cartoon on selected contemporary scares departing from Francisco Goya’s famous drawing “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”
As in Francisco Goya’s times, misperceptions and insecurity are the cause of much trouble in the world (source: GIS)

The climate change issue is presented as the ultimate danger to our planet. While some measures are necessary to protect the environment, media and politicians are using the cause to scare the public. Global warming is being depicted as a result of capitalism run amok. Under the guise of saving the planet, many are attempting to carry out thinly disguised ideological agendas and shameless power grabs.  

The climate smoke screen is also used to cover up the disastrous fiscal policies of recent years. Unrestrained money printing is now being justified by the alleged need to make the economy “greener” almost overnight. The huge debts run up by countries’ irresponsible budget policies are being shrugged off as irrelevant. The simple solutions to the challenges are supposed to be increased state intervention, high taxes (ostensibly targeting much-demonized “billionaires” but also hitting the middle class hard), and generally, global planning. That this all adds up to full-fledged socialism remains unsaid. 

Governments’ shell game

Among the frantic agitation, few consider how humanity could adapt to new climatic patterns, but this is necessary should current measures fail to bring expected results. And this may easily happen, as some of climate change’s drivers are of natural, not human-made, origin. The plans may also fail for political, technocratic and bureaucratic reasons.

The Covid pandemic has acquired a similar urgency. It is beyond doubt that widespread measures were necessary because of the damage to citizens’ health and the loss of lives. Mass-scale immunizations, monitoring schemes and lockdowns have been the leading remedies. One can only hope that these measures will be lifted as soon as the crisis is over, especially contact tracing – which could be used to monitor citizens under the pretext of public safety. 

The panic they cause allows political actors to ignore or hide from other massive threats
The risks of the pandemic are real and need to be addressed. However, we should not let politicians use them as a red herring to divert our attention. There are other, similarly important risks that we face and would neglect only at our peril. These are mainly consequences of wrongheaded policies, lack of statesmanship and foresight, or products of ideological or self-righteous agendas. 

Perceptions are trumping facts. The climate and pandemic issues are now seen as the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The panic they cause allows political actors to ignore or hide from other massive threats. Three of them are described below.

Debt and inflation

Last week, Deutsche Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann announced he was stepping down. Consequently, he also is leaving the Governing Council of the European Central Bank, its main decision-making body. (It consists of the six members of the ECB Executive Board, and the governors of the national central banks of the 19 eurozone countries.) In his ECB role, Dr. Weidmann constantly warned of the dangers of low interest rates and quantitative easing policies, but unfortunately, he remained in the minority. His departure is another sign that the central bank is unlikely to return to responsible monetary policy that would protect the value of the common currency. 

Unfortunately, the erosion of savings and future obligations on pensions, healthcare, and the degradation of the next generations’ financial security, are going to continue.

A bizarre economic concept called Modern Monetary Theory seeks to justify such irresponsible policies in the developed world. Against all logic and common sense, this theory claims that governments can incur unlimited debt without any untoward consequences. 

Also, consider the recent decision of the departing German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to abandon the country’s resistance to debt centralization and transfer union in the EU. Such policies will punish fiscally disciplined member countries, and benefit, for a short time only, a handful of southern European states. In the long run, Ms. Merkel’s concession threatens to destroy the continent’s already weakened cohesion and will prove detrimental to the whole of Europe.

Enter inflation; it has been setting in and growing lately, for various reasons. However, the ECB belittles the problem. It is hard to say whether this is due to the institution’s policies that make it incapable of suppressing inflation, or naivete and delusionary self-righteousness.

Debt will prove most devastating for areas with stagnating, aging and dramatically declining populations
The proposed policy remedies are the centralization of EU members’ debts and the creation of a full-blown transfer union, in which wealth is redistributed from richer countries to poorer ones. Aside from serving to hide state failures, these are the main tools for creating a centralized European state. This technocratic vision would kill the continent’s greatest strength – its impressive variety. Let us not forget that the original EU project was to create a close association of sovereign states to pursue shared goals and protect common interests. Aside from building a successful internal market, it was also a peace project, which fortunately materialized. A central state was never intended.

Debt is also a global problem. It will prove most devastating for areas with stagnating, aging and dramatically declining populations.

Energy security and equity

shortage of natural gas has caused a crunch in the market and all energy prices saw sharp increases this year. Energy security is jeopardized. It is very unclear how Europe is supposed to square its rapid transition to sustainable energy with energy security and affordability. The statists, led by France, Spain and Greece, argue for a centralized gas purchasing system for all. After the sad spectacle of the European Commission’s bungled Covid vaccine acquisition program, the plan is not alluring. Unless, of course, it is part of the broader centralization and redistribution agenda. 

The energy crisis has degenerated into a sad blame game between European countries. Issues of natural gas and coal procurement, insufficient winds and the future of nuclear energy generation have all been stirred into one big cocktail of confusion. 

National governments have proven insufficiently farsighted and citizens’ climate movements, often pulling in opposing directions, made the situation more difficult. 

Energy security is a major concern. The all-out push for the much desired but hard to achieve ecological sustainability in energy generation is already bringing adverse consequences, regardless of intent and motivations. The zeal against fossil fuels hampers industry investments that could bring significant environmental relief.  

If Europe is to remain competitive globally, energy security and equity are essential. Pragmatic policies and collaboration between countries will also be necessary. 

Migrations

Migration has always existed, but the scale and character of the phenomenon differed in various periods. At present, we can observe mass movements globally, driven by wars, poverty, droughts and other environmental catastrophes, regime failures – but also the lure of high-income welfare states, like some in Europe.

Europe is now battling a situation aptly described by the economist Milton Friedman: a country can have a welfare state or immigration. Trying to combine both does not work. Migrants are arriving from the south across the Mediterranean. Tragedies have taken place as a result. Countries there are facing endless dilemmas between humanity and the obligation to protect their borders. 

Refugees or migrants who refuse to assimilate pose a problem; unfortunately, there seem to be enough of such to make all newcomers suspect
Brussels favors “solidarity” of centrally assigning migrants to member states, rather than enforcing border rules more strictly. Understandably, some EU members dislike this approach and resist the idea. 

Refugees who flee discrimination or prosecution and who observe the laws, social rules, cultures, traditions and religions of their host countries should be respected. Refugees or migrants who refuse to assimilate pose a problem. Unfortunately, there seem to be enough of such to be noticed, making all newcomers suspect. 

In politics, media and in influential intellectual circles, many refuse to discuss the matter, making the situation worse. Anyone daring to raise the problem and demand that local traditions be respected risks being branded as a nationalist, right-wing extremist or even a fascist. In reality, leniency only aggravates the situation. Europeans have the right to preserve their national identities. Privileging economic migrants breeds anger and resistance and makes the lot of real refugees harder.

In addition to the Mediterranean and Balkan immigration routes, the regime in Belarus is now pushing Syrians and Afghans into the EU through its borders with the Baltic states and Poland. These states are under obligation to protect EU territory. The Baltic states asked Brussels for help in fencing their borders. The Commission refused: it considers razor wire and walls unacceptable. Hypocritically, it has criticized the countries that are obligated under EU treaties to keep the Schengen borders for wanting to use effective measures. Now, these states are being accused of being not humanitarian enough.

Poland and Hungary also face harsh criticism in Brussels for refusing to take in immigrants. In reality, however, Poland is home to several hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, as well as large numbers of Belarusians. The country is reluctant to receive non-Christians, as it is keen on preserving its cultural identity and social cohesion.  

Again, centralized solutions will not work. Europe’s rich diversity requires flexibility in devising local rules for handling the immigration challenge. Brussels’ attempts to steamroll Union members under the guise of humanitarian standards is not helpful. When imposed from above, protection and, especially, assimilation will remain impossible. But letting individual European countries find solutions adapted to their realities would at least help make a dent in the problem.

Conclusion

More than 200 years ago, the Spanish artist Francisco Goya warned in his famous print that “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters;” the quote is a good analogy of the present situation. Indeed, misperceptions and insecurity are pushing common sense aside, opening the door to all sorts of “monsters.”

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