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Could Europe end up more free-market than the U.S.?

The United States has its problems, but at least we can make a living here more easily, without going hat in hand to a bureaucrat and begging “mother may I,” than our cousins across the pond, right? Well … by and large, that has been the case over the course of our history. But the fact that something was true in the past is no guarantee that it will remain so in the future. The U.S. government, under the mis-rule of both major parties, has tried over the past decade(s) to spend the country into somebody’s disturbing fever-dream of a rule-bound “paradise.” Those efforts continue even as Europeans reach the end of that same dodgy path and discover that, with bank accounts barren and populations too smothered in red tape to fill them up again, they may have to free up their economies out of pure necessity.

There may be no more convincing evidence that the finances of the Greek government are a shambles than the insistent claims of the German chancellor (whose government constitutes Europe’s financial fire brigade) that the Greek books aren’t so bad after all — and so members of her own government should shut up already.

This comes as Italy’s latest attempt to borrow yet more money to pay its bills met with a less-than-enthusiastic response, leaving the already-strapped European Central Bank as pretty much the only serious customer. That is, unless China decides to unload some of that cash surplus on a risky investment in the Mediterranean.

And Ireland is under heavy pressure to address its own cash-strappedness by paring the welfare state and trimming compensation for government workers — advice being implemented elsewhere, amidst much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

All over Europe, governments are running out of money, and have all put the touch one time too many on flusher neighbors who no longer have much to spare for their domestic concerns, let alone to bail out spendthrifts across the border. Much of the speculation by observers watching Europe’s financial troubles is over whether or not the multi-nation euro currency can survive, but does it really matter whether the shrunken European governments of the future pay their reduced bills with the euro, or with revived versions of the drachma and the lira?

“Shrunken,” I say, because it’s pretty clear that European governments in the foreseeable future will spend less money, provide fewer services and intervene less in private economic matters. Governments from Dublin to Athens are cutting back on generous social programs, paying bureaucrats less than in the past, privatizing businesses and deregulating some important aspects of their economies. Ireland has reduced its minimum wage, Greece has eased the process of hiring and firing workers and other countries are doing much of the same — haltingly, it’s true. Taxes are rising in the process, unfortunately, but that may do limited damage among populations accustomed to treating tax rates as little more than suggested contributions, especially if markets really do enjoy reduced regulation.

And all of this as the United States moves closer to very-expensive welfare-state status with the imposition of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And, while the Obama administration has backed off a bit on EPA regulations, and has ordered federal agencies to review regulations to make sure they’re not too burdensome, the White House has also engaged in high-profile enforcement of red-tape, including an armed raid, against companies such as Boeing and Gibson Guitars.

I can see a time not far in the future when Europeans, climbing their way back to prosperity, engage in their traditional entertainment of heaping scorn upon Americans — but now for clinging to outmoded statist economic policies and bloated government institutions. If it happens, it will be an historic turn-about — though not completely unprecedented.

Hmmm … It might be time to polish up your language skills. For what it’s worth, Spanish and Italian are pretty easy to pick up.