Personal responsibility? Hard work? Saving? Investing? Planning? Facing the consequences of one's choices?
European leaders will not cure what ails their economies because the people who voted them into office are addicted to what ails those economies.
In other words, they are addicted to entitlements. These aren't only the entitlements as most Americans understand them, from Social Security to food stamps and corporate welfare. It's also "free" medical care, "free" university education, 35-hour work weeks, guaranteed vacations, de facto job tenure. Try to modify any of this, as various European leaders have discovered in recent years, and you'll have mass demonstrations, crippling strikes and old-fashioned rioting.
Americans might suppose that we are still a long way from Europe. But consider this: As of the first quarter of 2010, 48.5% of Americans lived in a household that received some form of government assistance. That's up from 44.4% when the financial crisis began in 2008, and up from around 30% just 30 years ago. In the meantime, 49.5% of Americans paid no federal income tax as of 2009, up from 34.1% when George W.Bush took office.
Once ObamaCare kicks in, the percentage of takers will move north of 50% (if it hasn't already), and we will become a nation of modern zombies—or, if you prefer, democratic serfs. Don't console yourself with the hope that things can be turned around with a different president, or once the failures of the entitlement state become manifest. Incentives matter, but not as much as habits do. And a habit of dependency, as any addict knows, will sooner drive a man to degradation than to reform.
Woe is us.