The ISI Society at Ave Maria University invited Samuel Gregg to speak to students on Wednesday, October 29, 2014.
Dr. Samuel Gregg is director of research at the Acton Institute and has written extensively on questions of political economy, economic history, ethics in finance, and natural law theory. His talk was entitled: “Becoming Europe: Cultural and Economic trends in the United States.” Gregg published the book Becoming Europe in January 2013.
Gregg began his lecture at AMU by speaking about what is happening in Europe today—why it is now the “sick man of the global economy.” What we’re witnessing in Europe, he said, is not an ordinary recession, but “very much the crack-up of an entire way of organizing economic life.”
He went on to show, as his title would suggest, how some of the same trends in Europe have started to manifest themselves in the United States over the last six years. Increasingly like Europe, the U.S. is saddled with enormous debt, high unemployment rates, low economic growth, an overburdened welfare system, high taxation, government overreach, and so forth.
Gregg reminded the audience that what distinguished America in the past, and what Alexis de Tocqueville explained to his European compatriots in Democracy in America, was that Americans used to address such issues through the habit of free association, instead of expecting public officials to step in. In Europe, Gregg said, there is an equivalence of the value of solidarity with state initiative and government programs. American attitudes are quickly shifting in that direction.
Some citizens think they are entitled to any number of things from the government, without asking too many questions about how anyone will pay for it. This attitude, Gregg stated, combined with democracy, “is toxic.” “If enough people in a democracy want security from the state, at whatever cost,” he said, then anyone who wishes to reduce government intervention is at a severe electoral disadvantage.
He concluded on a hopeful note, offering ways in which Americans “might be able to avoid going down the same path.” First, we have to accept that our part in democracy cannot degenerate to “voting for whoever promises to give us the most.” Second, we have to avoid debt. As Thomas Jefferson wrote:
We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.
Third, we have to think harder about incentives. “We need to do a lot more than play around with policy and shift economic incentives,” Gregg said. People are often motivated by non-economic incentives—for instance, the desire to do good or to be seen as a good person. “We must embrace the argument,” he said, “that the end gain of the American economic experiment is not endless wealth; the goal is human flourishing.”
The ISI Society at AMU is a student club that seeks to build a community of students interested in a greater understanding of and appreciation for America’s founding principles: traditional values, free market economy, rule of law, personal responsibility, and individual liberty. The Society works to build this community by facilitating student access to the opportunities and resources of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) network.