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For Whom the Bell Tolls

In the final scene of Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 classic, the American Robert Jordan lies wounded.  He awaits his certain death at the hands of General Franco’s soldiers, but he is determined to take as many of those soldiers with him as possible.  He never knows the outcome of the Spanish Civil War.

Mario Draghi is the new head of the European Central Bank.  In four short months, he has proven himself far more agile and creative than his longtime predecessor.  In the mold of Ben Bernanke, he deserves much credit for stabilizing the European debt crisis.

This weekend, The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article on his views of how Europe is changing and will continue to change.  He confidently predicts greater fiscal integration, which means more centralized governance from Brussels and less from each nation’s capital.  More interesting, he sees the famed European social contract of generous benefits and great job security as a dying relic.  That social contract was the envy of the world, including the U.S., for many decades.  Those dreams are dead.

As an American, I know the death of generous benefits and job security is coming to our economy as well.  In the end, we will be a stronger economy and a stronger people.  However, getting there will be painful.  The continuing demands of labor unions and government employees for generous benefits and job security will be the enemy soldiers.

The good news is that, even if we don’t live long enough to see the new American social contact, I do know the outcome of this war.  We will be a stronger nation and a stronger people, less reliant on big-brother institutions.  We will have a balanced budget and enough foreign reserves to embarrass even the Chinese.

That is not uninformed boosterism or unbridled patriotism or even simplistic optimism.  It is recognition that the creative if cantankerous nation still has massive natural resources, geographical strength spanning two oceans, excellent higher-education, and a passion for competition.  Draghi sees good times ahead for Europe.  I see better times ahead for America.

I just hope it is a short war . . .