Gideon Rachman is a good guy. He’s a smart guy too. And knowledgeable! But man oh man, does he not understand the Tea Party. And sadly, he’s not too clear on what the European Union needs either. Yesterday in the Financial Times, he wrote, Watch Out for the Rise of a European Tea Party. (It is behind a pay wall.) He is fearful that because of the way the European Union is set up, a crazy party from a small state could gum up the works like Ted Cruz just managed to do in the United States.
You have to understand: Rachman is a conservative in the old sense of the word. He doesn’t like the chaos of revolution. He prefers that the technocrats take care of things because they know what they’re doing. And I am much in agreement with him about these things. The problem comes in with the question of who is thought to be an expert. It is too often determined not by skill and knowledge but by affinity to the interests of the ruling elite.
We have seen this in the European Center Bank, which has long acted as though the only possible policies they could pursue are those preferred by Germany. So in my opinion, the European Union could use a little shaking up. As it is, the whole thing is little more than a plutocracy, with all the establishment types on pins and needles over the thought that the people might do something rash like vote for governments who are really looking out for their interests. I wrote about one example of this last month, Disingenuous Technocrats.
One of the towering figures in the EU is Olli Rehn. He’s one of the oh so Serious People—a technocrat who will make all of Europe take that bitter economic medicine that it needs. He is perhaps the loudest voice for economic austerity. Yet when the new French government decided to balance its budget with tax increases instead of spending cuts, Rehn wasn’t happy. They weren’t balancing the budget the right way! The question is who defines the right way to balance a budget and in Rehn’s case, it is the German bankers. I know of no reason to choose spending cuts over tax increases other than that spending cuts hurt the poor and tax increases hurt the rich.
But it’s in talking about the Tea Party that Rachman goes most astray. Like most outsiders, he mistakes the Tea Party for its rhetoric. As I discussed earlier today, the base of the Tea Party movement is racism. But this isn’t typical poor people’s xenophobia that comes out of fear for their jobs. The Tea Party is made up of fairly wealthy (upper middle class) people. And it is funded by billionaires. So members of the movement may claim to be against elitists, but that’s just because in the conservative world, an elitist is a liberal college professor, not a conservative billionaire who inherited all of his money.
Rachman is right about the movement being anti-immigration. There are two elements to this. First, it is cultural. They see America as a white man’s country and they don’t want that changed. But even more important, they are concerned that immigrants will vote and thus the white Tea Party supporters will lose power. So the movement is an elitist reaction to the barbarian hoards at the gate. This is distinct from what is going on in Europe.
I also don’t see these small parties in Europe causing the problems that the Tea Party does in the United States. The party only has power here because the conservative movement is terrified of them. Given the parliamentary system, I don’t see how such an intransigent party could ever cobble together a majority. If it did happen, it would mean that all the technocrats that Rachman trusts had failed miserably at their jobs. Hopefully, a gradual liberalizing of the European Union will take place with more Francois Hollandes, less Angela Merkels, and no Gabor Vonas.