Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The New Road to Serfdom, Book Review

OK, I hope readers don't mind anther book review
The New Road to Serfdom, A Letter of Warning to America by Daniel Hannan, 187pp plus index, Harper (imprint of HarperCollins), 2010

Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament, writes this book to warn the United States not to follow the route Europe has taken. In it he contrasts the historical freedoms in the U.S. with the European situation. He regards the U.S. as the best hope for the world, not only as an example but as the only country likely to stand between freedom and the undemocratic destination toward which Europe wants to lead the world. The real power in the EU is not the elected representatives but appointed bodies essentially accountable to nobody. In fact the British have coined the word “quangos” for those Quasi-Autonomous Non-Government Organizations. These are what Hayek warned about over 60 years ago in the book from which this one takes its name.

The ruling body of the European Union is officially something that can be called a quango. A group of appointed officials is the only body allowed to initiate legislation. Europeans have no way to vote those people out. In addition, European judges often believe that they have power to do what they think right, regardless of the law and international borders. They have issued writs against Ariel Sharon, Donald Rumsfeld and others on the political right (but not of course against Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, or Robert Mugabe).

Mr. Hannan describes how the U.S. has historically been different in demanding government by representatives of the people while Europe has moved toward rule by quangos and judges, neither of which is constrained by any representative law-makers. In fact while then first words of the U.S. Constitution are “We the people.” The EU Constitution begins, “His Majesty the King of the Belgians...”

Indeed the EU document was to be approved by voters but when the first two countries (France and the Netherlands) voted they defeated it soundly. After that a team of lawyers went through the document line by line and without changing the meaning made it deliberately unreadable. Then the national governments announced that their previous promise of a referendum no longer applied. Government officials approved the union in flagrant disregard of the wishes of the people.

On a related subject, while the U.S. at least pays lip service to the idea of power dispersed to local and state governments, the EU deliberately takes the opposite track, concentrating power in Brussels. This is combined with constitutional mandates for many aspects of daily life. People are supposed to have a right to a job, to respect, vacation, food, medical care etc. However as in the old Soviet Union those rights exist on paper more than in reality. The author describes many conversations he has had with EU officials in which he points out a problem only to be told in effect, “that isn't a problem, we've listed it as one of our priorities.” Sadly the remedy seems to stop with the paper claim that the problem should be solved.

Mr. Hannan describes why it is a bad idea to copy Europe in economics, health care, welfare, society in general, and immigration and why we should not abandon federalism. He makes a good case for a return to the constitutional principles that the U.S. seems to be moving away from.

The one weakness in this book is the lack of references. While much of the material comes from the author's personal observations, there is much that should have been documented. However in spite of that weakness it is an important book, one deserving of wide attention. As Barack Obama and others try to move us toward a European model we really should look at where we are going if we follow that route.

1 comment:

OregonGuy said...

Thanks for the review, and Merry Christmas! Just started Sarah's new book, then I'm reading "Plagues." Looks like I'll be adding this to the list.