As an American looking across the Atlantic, one almost feels sorry for Europe and the EU these days. It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago ardent Europhiles such as Jeremy Rifkin and Thomas Geoghegan were writing books like The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream and Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? How the European Model Can Get You a Life.
Today, ten fingers and ten toes aren’t sufficient to enumerate Europe’s accumulated woes. Interestingly, two of the most pressing problems have little to do with the issues that dominate news regarding the Continent these days: The sovereign- debt crisis and the possibility of a double-dip recession.
As Walter Laqueur points out in his important new book, After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent, if and when various and sundry short-term problems have eased—admittedly, big “ifs” and “whens”—Europe will still be left with many intermediate and long-term concerns, including two that are closely interlinked: immigration and demographic decline.
To cut to the chase, Europe’s low birth rate points to a future of natural population decrease. And this decrease is unlikely to be fully reversed by immigration because many Europeans today—to put it mildly—aren’t very enthusiastic about the major current sources of such immigration: North Africa and Muslim countries more generally. Indeed, think for a minute about the political brouhahas just in the last month between natives and Muslim immigrants in Germany, France, and Greece.
Although it can be argued that Laqueur is overstating things in order to sell books, it seems clear that Europe is going to face some potentially serious demographic challenges. In order to stave off depopulation, Europeans will either have to increase fertility significantly, which is unlikely, or encourage substantial immigration from other areas.
Here’s where my countrymen can help: how about immigration from the US? According to opinion polls, many Americans still seem enamored of the “European Dream,” however tattered—stakeholder capitalism, early retirement age, a robust welfare state, etc—and numerous studies in recent years have demonstrated that upward mobility is now greater in Europe than in the US.
In recent months Mitt Romney implicitly has been acknowledging the power of such Europhilic sentiments with his frequent observations that this November’s election revolves in large part around the choice between America moving toward a “European-style social-welfare state” and the country returning to a condition “more like America.” And, American Europhiles, let us not forget certain other fringe benefits of emigration: The Eurovision Song Contest, rhythmic gymnastics, football (aka “the beautiful game”), and the freedom to puff away without facing quite as much moral opprobrium.
With such considerations in mind, at least some Americans discontented with the country’s present status and trajectory—the Occupy Wall Street crowd, most notably, but perhaps others in the 99 per cent as well—might relish testing the waters of the Atlantic and life on the other side of the Pond. There is a roadmap out there, after all: Jim Crace’s post-apocalyptic novel The Pesthouse, wherein large parts of the population of our country attempt to save themselves from a dystopic US by quitting the country and heading back to Europe, whence many of their ancestors came.
Peter A. Coclanis is Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History and Director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill