Europe's American-Style Middle Class Squeeze
All across Europe, political parties are under strain. After years of high unemployment and flatlining economies, voters have had enough of austerity and budget cuts. They don't want any more rhetoric about tightening belts - they want promises of milk and honey. Just one problem: There is no money left.
Europe is experiencing is a classic middle-class squeeze - a typical fixture of American politics that has crossed the pond to pester European politicians. Leaders across the Continent are left facing this dilemma: How to strengthen the middle class in an adverse environment where money is tight, debts are high, and budget deficits loom large?
It gets worse.
Recently, another European think tank released yet another graph projecting the aging of populations in the coming 20 years. The findings revealed deep trouble for a country thought to be at a peak of economic power: Germany. And even as its population starts to shrink and age, resulting in a smaller labor work force and dwindling fiscal contributions to social programs, the demands of Germany's middle class are increasing.
Germany never had a minimum wage, so the government is launching one by popular demand. Next up are expensive repairs to its pensions system. Germans have long mocked France's cosy welfare state arrangements - now they're copying them.
And if rich and wealthy Germany is headed for trouble, what to say of the countries that are already in dire straits? In EU nations such as Great Britain, Spain, and Italy, matters seem worse. Are they?
Not according to the think tanks. The reason: immigration. For all the hubbub about waves of immigrants flooding the United Kingdom, the prospects for the country's work force appear much improved thanks to immigration. The Netherlands is much smaller than Germany, but thanks to immigration, the future of its labor force is not as bleak as that of its powerful easterly neighbor.
Unsurprisingly, a large chunk of the middle class has come to see immigration as a threat, not as an opportunity. Politicians who aim to enlarge and strengthen the middle class, though, should try in earnest to promote immigration, instead of mimicking those parties that wish to shrink that middle class and invite economic chaos in the near future.
Perhaps European politicians should take their cue from the United States, whose current president took executive action on immigration, and where a former president (and husband of the expected front-runner of the Democratic party, who has yet to announce) is steadily harping the message of strenghening the middle class.