Žilvinas Šilėnas. The Social Pillars of Delusion

The current social pillars are divisive, but the divide is not across the “East-West” lines or even the “liberal-socialist” lines; rather, it goes along the “reality-delusion” lines. Sadly, the proposed social pillars will not make delusional politicians to accept reality. If anything, the proposal will feed their delusions.

The reality is harsh. Europe is not getting any younger, which means that the demographic pressure to finance Europe’s over-extensive welfare states is increasing. There are no leaps in productivity either and the mantra of 2005 Lisbon to become the most competitive region in the world still causes smirks even among the die-hard fans of the EU. And I am one of the fans who think that the EU is wasting its potential.

Free trade among member states is undoubtedly the greatest economic achievement of the EU. Notably, the recipe for this miracle was simple. The European Union has used it power to remove national governments from interfering with people’s liberty to trade with each other. A correct approach – the removal of obstacles inhibiting people’s initiative – is all that was needed for this to work.

Sadly, the proposed social pillars are nothing like that. Instead of removing the government from people’s lives, they would create more opportunities for governments to interfere with people’s economic activity. On the one hand, the wording of the pillars is vague and merely describes the current state of affairs, i.e. who would argue against unemployment benefits if a person has paid into unemployment schemes while working. After all, the issues mentioned are handled by national governments, so merely renaming them as social pillars is both redundant and inappropriate.

On the other hand, the pillars are loaded with quasi-rights that represent a deluded view of the world. According to the pillars, “young people have the right to <…> a job offer of good standing within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education”. Make no mistake, I too wish young people had jobs or, even better, well-paid jobs. However, a mere aspiration will not make this happen. This is what separates reality from a dream.

Wishful thinking is detrimental on the personal level as it prevents people from accepting reality and making right decisions. It is even worse when it gets to the EU level and permeates public policies. The right to get a good job after four months will not create any jobs. Instead, it will reinforce a sense of entitlement among young people. Have you ever thought of a labor market reform as a difficult one? Imagine the hardships arising from the right to a good job.

Are you upset that some people come to your country to live on generous social benefits? Then establishing the right to a good job will make the situation worse. You will no longer be able to criticize people for not getting a job; you will be blamed for a failure to provide them with a well-paid job. A person will not even have to feel bad about not getting a job and living at taxpayers’ expense for he will be merely exercising his right to get a good job by not accepting job offers.

The proposed social pillars will not solve any real problems, but they are sure to create new ones. They will not help Europe to reform. Instead, the pillars may and will be used to block the reforms that Europe desperately needs. They will not only feed, but legislate the delusion.