Just Another Day in Regulated Europe
by Louis Rouanet
It had been a peaceful night in Europe where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average. Martin woke up on his EU regulated bed and looked through his EU regulated window. This night, Martin had slept like a baby thanks to the 109 EU regulations concerning pillows, the 5 EU regulations concerning pillow cases, and the 50 EU laws regulating duvets and sheets. Martin went to brush his teeth with his toothbrush regulated by 31 EU laws.
After that, our EU-regulated man went to his EU regulated kitchen to grab a Class 1 EU regulated apple. For the benefit of society, the EU had defined what a “class 1” fruit actually is: to class a “Red Variety” apple as “class 1” then 50% of its surface must be red. To class a “Mixed red coloring variety” of apple as a “class 1” apple 33% of its surface must be red, and so it goes for the 3 quality classes and 287 individually named apple varieties. Martin ate fruits and vegetables because the government told him it is the right thing to do. He switched the TV on and listened to the “eat five fruits and vegetables” government ad with attention. Martin’s apple was not very tasty, but at least it was controlled by a European central authority. “Isn’t that great,” thought Martin, “the EU takes care of our food. We now can eat only nice and safe products!” Martin is paying 40% more for his food because of the EU’s highly protectionist agricultural policies, but it is the price one has to pay for civilization.
Martin could not understand the spurious critics toward the European regulatory super-state. Regulations are necessary, they are the rules of the game, without them, how could people even cooperate together? Build roads? Schools? Banana production! Without the EU, who would protect consumers from profit-seeking capitalists selling small kiwis? Who would bailout bankrupt countries and their corrupt governments? Of course, some people might argue that individuals will cooperate and exchange freely together, but this seemed to Martin as being a stark utopia. Such a view of society defended by free-market fundamentalists is obviously doomed to fail.
Martin, as a proud European, was confident about the ability of the enlightened EU bureaucrats to bring peace and prosperity to Europe thanks to detailed regulations concerning every aspect of human life. Because Martin understood the importance of limiting freely contracted relationships between individuals by regulations, he stopped eating cucumbers in 2009, when the EU stopped imposing restrictions on how much cucumbers could bend if you wanted to sell the fruit as “Class 1” or “Extra.” The anarchy in cucumber production that followed was unbearable and ultimately annihilated the entire cucumber market. Martin had worked a long time in Brussels for the European Union as a director of the “subcommission of doors, windows, and other stuff to be regulated.” He knew how all this bureaucracy works, he knew that to get rid of the bureaucracy would be socially and humanly destructive. What would the EU bureaucrats do if they lost their job? They never worked in the private sector! They don’t know how it works! Their comparative advantage is to direct, regulate, dictate, model and please, people should respect that!
Martin wanted to clean his apartment with the new ecologically compatible, low power, EU regulated vacuum cleaner. But this regulated beauty could not vacuum anything for its power was limited by the center of European vitality: Brussels. It may have been for the best because this month, Martin was short on money and electricity in Europe is very expensive in order to satisfy the needs of the planet. Indeed, green energies are growing strong in Europe. The European Union made sure that those green energies have the priority on the electricity grid. But this supposes that you have a flexible electrical power plant with complementary solar and wind power. So in order to satisfy the needs of the planet, nuclear power plants are closing everywhere in Europe and being replaced by the highly ecological coal power plants. Martin always found it puzzling that people did not understand the aesthetic value of a giant wind-turbine in the French countryside. Obviously, Brussels bureaucrats have better taste.
Despite his EU regulated watch, Martin was late for lunch with his brother Daniel. Daniel was a young idealist trying to create — for the better or for the worse — a start-up selling logistical services to small firms. Martin always thought his brother to be intellectually limited. They both sat and ordered a salade niçoise. Daniel craved more olive oil but because of the latest piece of gastronomic interference coming straight from Brussels, jugs and dishes of olive oil were forbidden in restaurants. Daniel knew that his brother wanted to talk about his favorite subject: the European Union. He could not resist teasing his brother.
“I read an article on the internet complaining about waste by the EU institutions,” said Daniel hiding his smile.
“Don’t worry, your money is well spent with the EU,” replied Martin, annoyed.
“How do you know?”
“Well, we created a commission to investigate the potential waste of taxpayers’ money.”
“And what was its conclusion?”
“We need to increase the EU’s budget by 25 percent.”
“25 percent! How is that possible? Where is all this money going?”
“As I said, it is well spent. Furthermore, it is not very important, after all, there are only 30,000 European civil servants.”
“It is very easy to say when the EU writes the laws and lets the member States do the expenditures.”
“A bureaucratic tradition which survived for centuries indeed!”
“I still think the EU doesn’t need all that money.”
“Public expenditure is not about what you need.”
“What is it all about then?”
“Daniel, if you are in the public sector and you start giving money back, they will give you less the next time and you will not be able to finance all the great and necessary things we are financing today.”
“What great and necessary things?”
“How could you even ask such a question?” Martin said, outraged.
“And more precisely?”
“ERASMUS for example! Giving the opportunity for students to study abroad.”
“Oh yes! A friend of mine did that. I don’t know about financing studying, but drinking and having fun, they are financing that indeed.”
“You cynic! There is also the FEDER to finance European underdeveloped regions.”
“You mean to subsidize the corrupt regional and national governments like in Greece?”
“But we cannot just do nothing!”
“I know you guys can’t.”
“The EU is also spending in order to save our agriculture!”
“As somebody once told me, ‘First, regulate it. Second, tax it, Third, subsidize it.’ Not to mention the high prices paid by the consumers.”
“If only the EU could tax …”
“So what other useful things is the EU providing?”
“Some spending on infrastructure, culture, etc.”
“But why is the EU the best political entity to take care of these things? Is it not a contradiction with the principle of subsidiarity?”
“The EU knows no contradiction!”
“You still haven’t answered my first question.”
“The EU must finance those things because it forces people to live together.”
“You mean it forces people to pay for things they are not benefiting from. You don’t force people to live together, they live together because it is in their common interest.”
“But Daniel, not spending on all those things would undermine the very basis of our civilization!”
“But resources should be economized as much as possible, right?”
“You don’t understand how the public sector works! In the private sector, you measure your performance by the size of your profits, in the public sector, you measure your performance by the size of your budget. It is part of the division of labor: the private sector economizes resources and the public sector spends them.”
“I am not sure about what you are saying, Martin. What about Brexit? Do you think the British should leave the EU?”
Martin was a democrat, but not quite as much as he was an EU advocate. In his view, democracy is good as long as it is compatible with the idea of the EU. Martin was not naïve, he knew that for the most part, people are incredibly stupid and should be directed in their decisions. He fully agreed with Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, that “When it gets serious, you have to lie,” and that “We make a decision and present it to the public, and then wait for some time to see what happens. If there are no noteworthy complaints and no riots, because most people don’t understand what we’ve decided anyway, we just keep on going, step by step, until we reach the point of no return.”
Like Junker, Martin was “for secret” and “dark debates,” because people like his brother cannot possibly understand the issues at stake. Critics of the EU as undemocratic are irrelevant because as Jean Claude Juncker once said, “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.”
“Absolutely not!” Continued Martin with passion. As George Osborne made it clear recently, leaving the EU would mean that the UK government must reduce its deficit by 30 billion £!
“Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Of course not! If that happens we can’t spend as much!”
“You mean national politicians can’t be as irresponsible as they are today without the EU?”
“Thank god, the EU is limiting unfair and disloyal fiscal and regulatory competition!”
“You mean the EU is an instrument of fiscal cartelization and prevents taxpayers to escape hostile fiscal and regulatory environments?”
“You are not much of a thinker Daniel! Leave those questions to the experts. Your skepticism is unwarranted. Without the EU there would be no free-movement of capital, labor and persons!”
“But the bigger a political entity is, the lower are its costs to be protectionist. Switzerland could not afford to be protectionist, for the Swiss are forced to cooperate with foreigners if they want to be rich. But with the EU we can afford protectionism. The proof is the existence of a common external tariff.”
“This is not protectionism, it is fighting the trade war with China and the US! We need a strong Europe in a globalized context,” said Martin. “For instance, look at terrorism. We need coordination. As Guy Verhofstadt said, we need a European FBI.”
Daniel was skeptical. He did not like the idea of a surveillance State violating the privacy of its citizens. He knew that after 9/11, the organization was responsible for more terrorist plots over the last decade than any other is the FBI.
Finally, Daniel had to leave. It was late and he had some work to do. After an exhausting day, tired by all this anti-EU nonsense, Martin climbed 6 floors to his apartment by the stairs. He would have liked to use the elevator, but it had to be replaced to make it conform with the new EU regulations which, according to the elevator lobby, are highly recommended to improve safety and profits. After having listened to a very enthusiastic speech by Guy Verhofstadt about the new banking bailout program, Martin was too excited to sleep. So Martin swallowed an EU regulated sleeping pill and laid down in his EU regulated bed. It had been a nice day for Martin in Europe, where all the men are exasperated, the women are, for the large part, unemployed and the children not always that happy. But Martin had the solution: give more money to the EU, and someone else will solve your problems for you.
Originally published at mises.org.