Explainer video: is the EU worth it?

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/04/13/explainer-video-is-the-eu-wor.html


I too love Kurzgesagt.

I kinda see the US similar to the EU in some respects, especially way back in the day.


Yes. Whatever the defects, EU gave peace and prosperity to Europe for 70 years, after the two world wars.


Enjoyable video, but I was disappointed that they spent a lot of time on the immigration issue–a basically right-wing critique of the EU (although of course there is room on the left for debate about how much immigration is desirable)–but nothing on the left-wing critique of the EU’s role in forcing privatization and austerity on its member countries. For info on this see this article along with this one. The key is apparently something called the “Maastricht treaty”, the second article discusses how it seems designed to enrich the financial sector at the expense of government spending on things like social services and infrastructure, and is basically the main cause of the Greek crisis:

Maastricht embodied the transition from a social democratic to a neoliberal model. The social democratic model focused on the general wellbeing of the population through full employment and redistributive principles of taxation and welfare. Whilst neoliberalism has seen unemployment shoot up, income and business taxes lowered and welfare cut. In line with the neoliberal model, Maastricht applied monetarist control of inflation. Maastricht also imposed limits on government public spending. This was dictated through limits on government debt and deficit as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP).

It is no coincidence that John Major’s government ratified Maastricht and introduced the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). The two are intimately connected. Once public spending was curtailed, governments turned to the financial sector for private investment of infrastructure. One of the consequences is that instead of public revenues being reinvested, private profits are siphoned offshore.

The Maastricht criteria were intended to facilitate the convergence towards the euro and beyond this to ever closer union. In order to qualify for the euro currency, both Greece and Italy turned to the likes of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and other banks. The banks advised them to mask debts using derivatives. In return, Greece effectively mortgaged its airports and highways in what The New York Times described as a “garage sale”. Touchingly, these instruments were named after Greek mythological figures. So Aeolos (the mythological god of wind) enabled Greece to hide debts in return for future landing fees at its airports. Whilst Ariadne “devoured” lottery revenues. As we all now know, the results were disastrous. Greece ended up on the hook for $300bn, much of it to banks.

Such logic is still playing out with the austerity crisis in Greece. The Troika of the EU commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has effectively superseded national sovereignty. The Troika have bailed out Greece with funds whilst imposing austerity policies. This ensures that the economy is starved of investment and that growth stagnates. Thus, debt as a proportion of GDP, continues to increase requiring more bail-outs, which only exacerbates the problem.

What could possibly be the thinking behind this self-defeating logic? Well, for a start, the funds come with structural readjustment strings attached imposing a neoliberal agenda. Greek state assets are opened up to global capital and privatised. Whilst massive cuts erode public services, wages and pensions. Similar IMF programmes have been used in the global south for decades. UK austerity is also comparable to the prescriptions for structural adjustment applied to Greece. Based on such assumptions, it is questionable whether Britain would have been allowed to create the NHS and the welfare state due to the size of its post-war debts.

In the video, the only discussion of economic criticisms and the Greek crisis was at 5:50 when they said “the Euro is the common currency of some but not all of these countries; as the Greek crisis shows, this can be a recipe for disaster. You cannot unify vastly different economies under one currency but leave their economic policies separate. So, should all European countries unite under the common currency or not? Should the weakest links be thrown out of the Euro, or should countries be made to adopt common policies on taxes, health care and social security?” They could have included a bit of discussion about the extent to which the EU already does make member countries adopt a significant degree of “common policies” via the Maastricht treaties, and how from a left-wing perspective these common policies are basically disastrous ones. This is not to say breaking up the EU is the right solution, but plenty of critics think these policies need major reform.


Yeah, not at all biased. Right.

I’m very much in favor of some kind of alliance that builds a European entity, but the EU, not so much. So when I see a propaganda piece like this one, I either laugh it off, or get irritated. A few points:

  • The welfare systems of the long standing members well predate the founding of the early origins of the EU (and the EU actually more or less discreetly pushes for their privatization).
  • Saying that it prevented wars is preposterous, especially in light of the arguments given: there was economic integration back in the XIXth century and between the two WW. It didn’t stop anything (not did the wars prevent business, as a matter of fact).

I could go on, but these two points alone make the little skit lose all credibility.


I think the video makes a few excellent points. And while your points are fairly common talking points for the groups who want to end the EU, they kind of fall flat in many situations. First off, yes some of the more progressive members of the EU already had welfare systems in place, but because of the EU more people in Europe enjoy those welfare systems (this, obviously, doesn’t mean these systems could not be improved upon, but some welfare is better than no welfare). Second, yes there were economic integration projects before the EU, but they weren’t nearly as far reaching as the EU. They didn’t, for instance, include the ability for people to freely work, live, and move through Europe like they can in the EU. And that is a big part of preventing wars.

I’m not saying the EU isn’t flawed and neither is the video, but you can fix flaws.


I always say, the modern United States was forged in the Civil War and Reconstruction. I’d even go as far as to argue that before that we were more like the EU than we were like our modern country.

But it’s also interesting that even with a country such as the US where most citizens identify more strongly with the national than subnational identity - though that’s certainly not universally true by any means and is probably becoming less so as the 21st century marches on - the ideological divide can still be as toxic or more toxic to unity than in a looser confederation such as the EU. Personally, I wish (for both the US and EU’s sakes) that we humans were better at peacefully maintaining diverse cultural identities while still getting along well enough to constructively cooperate. But to quote a good book, if wishes were fishes we all cast nets. It seems as though fear, distrust and resentment are hard-wired into our brains enough that when we don’t actively try to overcome them, they become easy levers for the slimy tentacles of opportunistic politicians such as Marine Le Pen.


I’d agree. I mean, we were the UNION. It is pretty interesting that most people saw themselves as members of their state before they saw themselves members of a nation. It is one reason our government is set up like it is, to prevent one state from bullying another or having too much say in what the Federal gov can do.

As you said, we have shifted both how we see ourselves, and the balance of power some. One thing I wonder, what if our spending was reversed? I am a firm believer in the closer one is to a problem, the better. What if the Federal taxes went to the state instead, and the state taxes went to the feds. This would only work if most of the social programs were broken up and each state took care of its own citizens. I’d start with it being an exact clone of the laws, but its possible programs could be tailored to do the most good within each state.

Of course maybe this wouldn’t work as one has the problem some states are poorer than others, so its possible they couldn’t support those programs on their taxes alone. Anyway - just day dreaming out loud.

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Have you noticed how many of our ‘cultural identities’ require deeply not cooperating with some specified groups, internal, external, or both?

As long as ‘culture’ is just about everyone’s peculiar traditional food and funny costume, nobody has to get hurt(and sometimes not even then: if your traditional food involves breaking my purity taboo or is made from my sacred cow, literal or otherwise; or your funny costume is deemed deeply immoral); but that’s sort of the elementary-school show-and-tell version of culture. In the wild, culture always ends up having strong opinions on cool stuff like the legitimate foundations of power, preferred allocation of violence; and similar topics that are both deeply dangerous and don’t make for good compromise material(‘we can all just do our thing in parallel’ works for holidays; not so much for codes of law).


I often daydream of uncooking an omelet. I have yet to accomplish it. :wink:

I rarely if ever voice my views on taxation, as it’s one area where I part ways with most liberals and in fact with most people. While I understand and to a certain extent believe in the idea of using taxation to encourage growth and discourage socially damaging behavior, I believe our byzantine tax regime has been the chief enabler of tax evasion by the rich and corporations. Based on a family of four, I would like to see the Federal poverty level raised from $24,300 to $35K, only income after the first $35K taxable, a progressive tax from $35K to $70K, and a flat tax on all personal income above that. Similar structure for corporate tax as long as it keeps its incorporation within US borders, flat above a certain level to facilitate initial growth of new companies. Flat all the way for all multinationals operating in the US. No corporate deductions whatsoever. Personal deductions limited to children and legal wards only, and maybe charitable donations to charities that meet stringent transparency and review requirements. That’s it. And I want States funded solely on property, sales, consumption and environmental cost taxes.

As long as we’re daydreaming :sleeping:

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Yeah, I wasn’t denying we’re a bunch of fucked-up tribalists. I just wish we weren’t.

I don’t have a problem with the CONCEPT of taxes. I think the way we have implemented them is way off.

Personal tax burden should be lower for the middle to lower class. For businesses, I think there should be a similar sort of scale that helps small and new ones grow, but the large ones paying their share. Small business struggle and I think it behooves everyone to try to keep them afloat. But when you read about GE or some huge company getting tons of tax breaks - basically bribes in some cases - or using existing loop holes - bleh. I get it, you made this one exception to help out the company in your state, but it all adds up when everyone does it and we have a library worth of tax code now.

And increase the capital gains. I mean that is how the 1% happens. It’s like a video game where you use a cheat code or just grinded to the point your stats are so high and your resources so great, you just walk through the rest of the game as you are constantly over powered.

While we are day dreaming…


My intended point, I’m not sure if I was suitably clear, is that ‘diverse cultural identities’ and ‘getting along’ have fundamental compatibility problems; not merely a vulnerability to distortion or exploitation by the especially ill-willed.

You can certainly have a broad diversity of cultural practices, so long as some details are agreed on(and you can also have rather ugly conflict among people that outside observers would be hard pressed to tell apart if they are not); but unless you have a fairly weak flavor of ‘culture’, something more akin to the ‘lifestyles’ sold in magazines, in mind; you can’t really paper over some contradictions.

The cultural differences you can’t really compromise on are quite often the ones that are relatively low visibility; and the ones that get people frothing about the filthy Xenos are often amenable to trivial coexistence; but they are there, even if people often get confused about which ones are which, or simply enjoy demanding conformity on all matters.

I, say, probably resemble your average American Dominionist reasonably closely in speech, dress, appearance, diet, etc. Certainly more closely than I resemble members of a wide variety of immigrant groups. However, it’s impossible for me to share a government with a Dominionist(luckily, it’s currently the Dominionist whose culture is substantially ignored when it comes to law and government, so we don’t have a theocratic hellhole on our hands); while it’s comparatively simple for me to share a government with someone who appears much more alien; but is also interested in constitutional democracy.


If one’s culture entails controlling how other people in other cultures live, then it’s gone from culture to imperialism. I suppose one could argue that’s a sort of culture, but it’s the sort that can’t peacefully coexist.

ETA: I don’t agree that cultures need to include imposing themselves on others to not be weak or watered down, but I do think that vile trait is built into our very genetic instincts, so I’m not sure I can call it a distortion either.

I don’t mean that a culture needs to be imperialistic to be non-weak; but ‘imposition’ is something that happens internally as well(and is a fairly core function: we actually call it ‘acculturation’ when you do it to children).

It’s pretty rare indeed to find something you would call a ‘culture’ that doesn’t include some theories concerning just power distribution, behavioral expectations of various sorts of people within the culture(by age, sex, class, caste, etc.) Even in the absence of political power, these positions will usually be backed by strong social pressure on culture members(especially the ones with relatively little power). If a given culture group gets a taste of power, and isn’t specifically insular, greater levels of force and a willingness to demand compliance from non-members get pretty common.

Imperial enthusiasm/universalist aspirations/interest in evangelism vary widely(and many have little enough power that their level of interest is irrelevant); but a willingness to acculturate new members and lean on perceived deviants, apostates, etc. is much less variable. Exact demands vary, as does who gets the most pressure; and what constitutes “stepping out of line”; but even the most friendly or inward looking cultures tend to take a hard line when this is deemed to have happened.

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I agree, and I agree it’s a trait intrinsic to human beings. But it’s a consequence of how we’re wired. If I’m reading you right, you seem to be suggesting it’s intrinsic to culture itself, as in it’s fundamentally impossible to conceptually (as opposed to practically) separate culture from coercion. Now maybe it’s a academic point since we can’t have culture without human beings, but I don’t agree coercion is a property intrinsic to cultures, only human beings.

ETA: Oh gawd, I’m turning into @popobawa4u :grinning:

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In a century, we will all be @popobawa4u.


The 13 Colonies weren’t constantly waging war on each other, though. And the US was immediately more unified with a president with executive power, a single currency, and a single language. With the EU, this has been a slow development, with member states dragging their feet or complaining where this is going.

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