Quizzically-inclined quantum physicists quench their intellectuality by quoting philosophers first, then their fellow scientists.
It is in fact questionable whether quantum physics would have come into being if not for George Berkeley’s 1710, “A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge.” Berkeley’s most famous saying is, ‘esse est percipi,’ or, ‘to be is to be perceived.’ He elaborated using the following examples:
“The objects of sense exist only when they are perceived: the trees therefore are in the garden, or the chairs in the parlour, no longer than while there is some body by to perceive them.” So matters of matter exist only in our mind. It is critical to note that Berkeley never posed a question but rather he made a statement of the world view through his metaphysical personal prism.
It was not until the June 1883 publication of the magazine The Chautauquan that the question was put as such: “If a tree were to fall on an island where there were no human beings would there be any sound?” Rather than pause to ponder, the answer followed that, “No. Sound is the sensation excited in the ear when the air or other medium is set in motion.”
A vexatious debate has ensued ever since, one that eventually stumped the great Albert Einstein who finally declared “God does not play dice.” In recognizing this, Einstein also resolved himself to the quantum physics conclusion, that there is no way to precisely predict where individual electrons can be found – unless, that is, you’re Divine.
Odds are high that the establishment, which looks to ride away with upcoming European elections, is emboldened by quantum physics. The entrenched parties appear set to retain their power holds, in some cases by the thinnest of margins. What is it the French say about la plus ca change? Is it truly the case that the more things change the more they stay the same?
Is this state of stasis sustainable, you might be asking? Clearly the cushy assumption is that the voices of those whose votes will not result in change will be as good as uncast, unheard and unremarkable.
Except…and this is a big ‘except’ – time is on the side of the castigated and for one simple reason – they are young. Consider Great Britain’s majority decision to leave the European Union (EU). An un-astonishing 59 percent of pensioners voted to leave the EU while only 19 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 supported Brexit. The aged see the EU as a cash drain at just the wrong time, and for good reason while the young view those 28 member states as the land(s) of opportunities.
With the caveat that polling has been revealed to be anything but reliable, young voters in France see things a might bit differently. Nearly half of surveyed French youth say they will vote for far-right candidate Marie Le Pen. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the dark horse far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Melechon, has enjoyed a late-stage surge in the polls by vowing to increase wages and shorten workweeks. Both insurgent camps view the lead contender, former banker Emmanuel Macron as the epitome of elitism, their ‘Hillary.’
Polls show the initial round of voting, which takes place on April 23rd, will make Macron sweat, but that he will survive to stand as the strongest contender in the second round. The status quo thus prevails, which for many represents continued economic stagnation and evasion of fiscal reforms.
Now factor in the rising recognition of the fallibility and limitations of central bankers. Mario Draghi, encouraged shall we say by the Germans, looks set to begin tapping the brakes on Europe’s answer to quantitative easing. Let’s be clear. Draghi has made it plain that he won’t go down without a fight. Nonetheless, it appears monetary policy will slowly become less accommodating, dragging on growth in the peripheral countries.
And then there is the matter of the refugee crisis, the cost of which few in the United States fully appreciate. Faced with impossible living conditions and no access to work in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, hundreds of thousands have opted to risk the journey to Europe. In 2015, 1.3 million asylum seekers landed in Europe, half of whom traced their origins to Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. That number plunged in 2016 to 364,000 owing mainly to a deal between the EU and Turkey which blocks the flow of migrants to Europe.
The cost, not surprisingly, is enormous. Europeans spend at least $30,000 for every refugee who lands on her shores. By some estimates, the cost would have been one-tenth that, as in $3,000 per refugee, had the journey to Europe NOT been made in the first place.
Of course, aid money helps cover the cost of the crisis. Some $15.4 billion, about 10 percent of global aid monies raised in 2016, was directed to hosting and processing migrants in developed countries last year. While charity lessens the burden, it can’t staunch anger at headline-grabbing statistics claiming that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ‘failed migrant policy’ will cost German and EU taxpayers $46 billion in the two years ending 2017.
Fear thee not, the consensus is that September’s elections in Germany will come and go with little to no fanfare; pro-Europe candidates enjoy wide leads in the polls. Many macroeconomists expect the year to end with the strongest ties in generations between Germany and the rest of the eurozone, led by France. Bullish analysts expect the euro to shake its jitters and end the year above €1.10.
The biggest obstacle to a happy ending, for the time being at least, comes down to Italy. General elections must take place by May 2018 but an early vote remains a possibility if the current prime minister of the eurozone’s third-largest economy does not survive the year. Investors, for their part, yawn at the mention of Italy. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in a recent story, numbness tends to set in after 44 governments have come and gone in the space of 50 years.
The most recent survey revealed a record one-in-three Italians would vote the Five-Star Movement into power if elections took place today. The rebellious, populist party has tapped the anxieties of Italians whose per capita economic output has suffered the most since the euro was formed in 1999. Even the Greeks can claim to have suffered less.
Is an Italian uprising in the cards? The bond market certainly doesn’t buy into the potential for major disruption, grazie Signore Draghi.
At some point demographics will start to matter. The situation in France is no doubt grave, with youth unemployment at nearly 24 percent. But that pales in comparison to Italy where 39 percent of its young workers don’t have jobs to go to, day in and day out. Older voters determined to keep the establishment intact will begin to die off. In their wake will be a growing majority of voters who are increasingly disenfranchised, disaffected and despondent.
If there’s one lesson Europeans can glean from their allies across the Atlantic, it’s that bullets can be dodged, but not indefinitely. As we are learning the hard way, necessary reforms are challenging to enact. Avoidance, though, will only succeed in feeding anger and despair. The longer the voices of the desperate go unheard, as just so many silently falling trees in the forest, the more piercing their cries will be in the end.