by Marcus Cole.
This week, as I and hundreds of other travelers in Europe remain stranded under clear blue skies full of invisible volcanic ash, a different, more ominous cloud is gathering all over Europe. The weekly current affairs magazine, Elsevier, (the Dutch equivalent of the Economist or U.S. News & World Report) ran a cover story on the increasing pressure to raise tax rates on Europeans earning the highest incomes. With national income tax rates already exceeding 50 per cent on income over € 52,000, Nederlanders already bear the third highest tax burden in Europe, just behind Sweden and Denmark. Now the left in the Tweede Kamer (the Dutch equivalent of the House of Commons) is pushing for more, as well as elimination of the home mortgage interest deduction, largely seen as a loophole for the middle and upper classes.
In the U.K., observers were startled by the results of the first televised Leaders Debate last week, where by all accounts Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg won by a landslide. Clegg now harbors increasingly realistic ambitions of becoming the first Prime Minister from outside either the Tory or Labour parties since David Lloyd George left office in 1922. Clegg’s Liberal Democrats lead in a recent poll by the Sun with 33%, compared to 32% for the Tories and 26% for Labour. Clegg promises to cut taxes for the working classes while dramatically increasing taxes on capital gains. The only response that Conservative leader David Cameron could muster was a warning that votes for the Liberal Democrats would allow Labour’s Gordon Brown to “limp on” in power, assuming that the desire for “change” will translate into a vote for the Conservatives.
These movements in Europe are not isolated. They reflect an increasing mood to attack the higher income classes as the source of the current economic woes sweeping across the continent. In the past, educated and ambitious Europeans could escape class warfare by fleeing to the United States. But with an American administration seemingly sympathetic to European social welfare sensibilities, where will European talent turn for shelter from the gathering storm?