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Is There a Chance to Return Europe to a Free Society?

English Pages, 3. 4. 2012

Robert Nef is – without doubt – one of the last classical liberals. There are, of course, many other people in Europe who are convinced that they are anti-communists or anti-socialists, who would insist that they are pro-market and pro-democracy but we know that they are far from being true believers in freedom and free markets and we know as well that they are not active and loud defenders of the classical liberal principles so dear to Robert Nef (and me).

These people are in favor of markets (when the other variant is central planning), but they are ready to proclaim that “unfettered” markets must be somehow put in order. They like “private goods” delivered by the markets but irrationally believe that “public goods” must be guaranteed in a quantity which grows with affluence. They are aware of the tragic consequences of all kinds of government failures but don´t protest against all the populist talk about market failures. They see the undisputable advantages of markets but speak about asymmetric information of market participants and of its destructive role. They know that markets can’t be improved by regulation but do not protest against the inefficient European, highly regulated “mixed-economy”.

This position I call “soft” liberalism and am very much afraid of the consequences of this currently dominant “liberal” tendency. We see it politically e.g. in the German FDP and academically in many “Liberal Institutes” all over the world.

Robert Nef, whom I have had several chances to meet at various Mont Pelerin Society meetings, is different. He is not a soft liberal. He is a true believer in classical liberalism, in liberty, in democracy, in Hayek, in Mises. I like his “je privater, desto besser” (in his contribution to the 80th birth anniversary of Otto Lambsdorff “Der Freiheit verpflichtet”, 2007). Robert Nef sees very clearly that “Politiker, welche zugeben, dass Planwirtschaft auf die Dauer nicht funktioniert, plädieren für die Beibehaltung staatlicher oder halbstaatlicher Lösungen” (in his recent lecture “Die Existenzkrise des Wohlfahrtsstaates”, Hayek Colloquium 2011, Obergurgl, Austria, September 9, 2011).

At the end of November 2011, I published a book “European Integration without Illusions” (in Czech, Knižní klub,Prague, 2011) in which I argued that the European integration and with it the wholeEurope has entered a blind alley.

At the launching ceremony of the book, I said the following: “After having sent the book to the publisher, I got into my hands an interesting text written by a Swiss classical liberal – one of the last ones in Europe– Robert Nef, in which he also says that we’ve entered a blind alley. This could be just a bon mot, and certainly not a new one – I used the same phrase on page 8 of my book – but he added one very important thing to it: am Ende einer Sackgasse bleibt nur der Rückweg offen, in other words, when you come to a dead end, there is only a way back. In Europe, this means that we have to take back the developments of the past decades, both the rapid growth of the paternalistic welfare state and the accelerated liquidation of the European states by the transfer of their competencies toBrussels.”

Robert Nef’s point that “am Ende einer Sackgasse bleibt nur der Rückweg offen” and his additional argument that “Sackgasse” is something conceptually else than “Engpass” because “in einem Engpass hilft die Strategie ‘more of the same’ weiter. In einer Sackgasse ist ‘more of the same’ verheerend”, is absolutely crucial.

We, who spent a greater part of our life in communism and who can “enjoy” the life in the European welfare state paradise now, see – together with Robert Nef, and as sharp as he sees it – “den Teufelskreis unbegrenzter wohlfahrtsstaatlicher Umverteilung” (Hayek Colloquium) and consider “die grenzenlose Unzufriedenheit in die grenzlos wachsende Ansprüche” as the main European and Western problem. In my parallelly prepared speech, I suggest that “the problems ofEurope are not economic in a narrow sense. They are connected with European civilization and culture” (Czech weekly “Euro”, December 12, 2011). Robert Nef says that “die heutige Krise ist nicht primär finanziell sondern kulturell”. Like himself, I see the permanently growing “Ansprüche” – without any relation to the performance – as a blind alley.

Robert Nef considers the EU as a “merkantilistischen und interventionistischen Binnenmarkt” (in his “Die Grenzen der Souveränität staatlicher Macht“, Finanz und Wirtschaft, September 2010), because “die EU beruht auf einem veralteten, territorialen, etatistischen und korporatistischen Konzept“. He sees in it “das organisierte Zusammenwirken von Lobbyisten und EU-Bürokratie“.

In the last weeks, after the December EU-summit in Brussels, we are all part of the same debate: should we participate in the shift to the EFU (European Fiscal Union) and should we send huge amounts of money to the IMF to help the indebted Eurozone countries? One of the subtitles of Robert Nef’s article is “Nur Kosten, kaum Einfluss“, which is exactly what we feel in theCzech Republic. We inEurope should be glad to have Robert Nef with us. Only with people like him can freedom to return toEurope.

Václav Klaus, contribution to Robert Nef’s Festschrift, April 2012


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