Streetwise Professor

June 14, 2010

European Fractals–and Fractures

Filed under: Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 1:21 pm

I am in Belgium, which just held an election.  A Flemish nationalist party dominated the voting.

Belgium is Europe in a fractal, self-similar kind of way.  A prosperous Flemish north heavily subsidizes a poorer, Francophone Walloon south.  I have spent the last two days criss-crossing the country.  The contrast between the Flemish and Walloon regions is stark.  After visiting Waterloo today, I bounced around Wallonia, looking for Ligny–the scene of the battle preceding Waterloo–then going to Dinant and Namur.  Along the way, I covered a lot of the Wallonian countryside.  Especially in comparison to the northern part of the country along the Dutch border, it looks seedy and hard used.  It is much more similar to, say, parts of northern Italy than it is to Holland.

The stress of subsidization of one culturally and linguistically distinct community by another threatens to pull Belgium apart.  This is especially true in hard economic times.

And as it is in Belgium, it is in Europe more generally.  In hard times, wealthy and (relatively) thrifty northern Europeans, largely culturally Protestant, are in no mood to carry any longer poorer and (relatively) spendthrift southern European nations, culturally Catholic or Orthodox.

For these reasons, Belgium is fracturing, and Europe is on the verge of doing so as well.  If you want to see the future of Europe in a miniature, more bite-sized portion, you could do far worse than look at Belgium; a political scaling relationship is clearly evident.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by . said: […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention -- — June 14, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

  2. […] As Craig Pirrong at The Streetwise Professor, Belgium represents a classic case of a northern, thrifty Protestant region not wanting to keep supporting the poorer, Catholic regions in the south. […]

    Pingback by Why The Splintering In Belgium Is A Perfect Metaphor For The Disintegration Of All Of Europe | SHOUTing GORIlla — June 14, 2010 @ 8:46 pm

  3. Wasn’t Wallonia richer and more industrialised in the past?

    Comment by So? — June 14, 2010 @ 9:47 pm

  4. Yes, it was, in the same sense that places like Pittsburgh or Detroit were once prosperous. Not so much in the post-industrial age.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — June 15, 2010 @ 2:08 am

  5. @So
    Throughout history, Flanders has always been the wealtheir region, save for a few decades after coal was found and a steel industry in Wallony came to fruition. Hardly their achievement, especially if one realises that in those days a lot of Flemish people moved to Wallony to go work in the mines and facturies. Contrast this to today where the Walloons consider it below their dignity to speak Flemish and wouldn’t move to Flanders to find a job.
    One explanation of course is that they have no need as nowadays their is an extensive and quite comfy social security system, whcih didn’t exist back then. And there are 2 aspects to this. a)it explains why a Walloon may be little motivated to do an effort to learn Flemish and move to Flanders to get a job that pays only little more than his government benefit cheque and b) it puts the entire discussion about wealth transfers in a totally different perspective because whereas it is indeed true, as some politicians like to remind us of, that in the past Wallony has been more prosperous, it does not justify any Felmish taxpayer money flowing to Wallony, simply because in the days Wallony was better of, such mechanisms didn’t exist and no Walloon taxpayer money ever flew to Flanders, yet that is something they don’t mention and people who don’t realise that social security has not been around since Adam and Eve, incorrectly conclude that since Wallony was once richer, the entire situation must have been in reverse, so now Flanders owes the Walloons something.
    This is of course nonsense, especially since -as mentioned above- the past succes that took place in Wallony was only because of the discovery of natural resources and it the work was done i.a. by boatloads of Flemish migrant workers, which epxplains btw that so many present day “Walloons” have Flemish surnames, including nearly half of their fanatic politicians such as Onckelinckx, Van Cauwenberghe, Reynders, etc. and even those with French surnames often have Flemish roots on their mother’s side, like Maingain. IMHO, this makes their present day anti-Flemishness all the more repulsive.

    Comment by Scrutinizer — June 15, 2010 @ 6:51 am

  6. YES wallonia was richer and wealthier in the past but at that time flemish workers went to work in wallonia and adapted and spook the language but then their were no transfers from wallonia to the poor flanders and even worse, even then flanders contributed more taxes to the central government as it received from it what means that the wallones received even then more than they contributed to the country as taxation at that period was based on land and agriculure and as accounting was not an obligation what resulted in the fact that a cafe with biljard in Antwerpen was taxed more as four iron melting plants in wallonia as the tax officers could well estimate the profit of a cafe but not of an iron melting plant ….. for the moment the flemish people pay each of them 2000 euro per year to wallonia and this money is then spent into maglomane projects as the useless new station of Liege… google….

    Comment by jan pieter janssens — June 15, 2010 @ 6:59 am

  7. The Flemish people have always been hard working and willing to move to places where work was available. There were times, e.g. between the world wars, when they moved to France to work in agriculture. They moved to Wallonia as farmers and adapted to the French culture and language. Many also moved to Canada and the USA. The number of FLemish names in the Walloon population is notably high. Flexibility was a steady characteristic of the Flemish population. They had to be, because they were all the time ruled by foreign goverments: Roman, French, Spanish, Dutch, Austrian, German, etc. All of Europe has been the boss here. Between 1815 and 1830 we were together with Holland, at least a very similar/identical linguistic population. During this short period the Dutch king made very interesting investments in Flanders: he started to improve the harbor of Antwerp and started the Ghent University. This was too much for the part of Belgium and Brussels that was French speaking and they started a REVOLUTION to remove the Dutch kingdom.
    The Flemish origin of Brussels is clearly visible when one reads the old texts on the walls of the Brussels town hall: the are all in Flemish and only in Flemish.
    The French speaking elite moved in, in Brussels and started to remove the Flemish population which was easy as the Flemish people were always willing to learn and adapt to others. The Flemish farmers working in Brussels were proud to speak some French as they thought it was a language of higher cultural value.
    More recently, after WW II, economic matters started to change and the Flemish self determination started to grow. They adapted much faster to the increased mobility in the world. Many speak 2 or 3 languages: Dutch, French and English. Hard working , well educated and flexibility in an open world are important characteristics for prosperity. As an example, it is noticed that the high unemployed fraction in Brussels is unilinguistic French and holds no diploma. They skipped school to learn what happens in the streets.
    Samller cultural entities have always difficulties to survive as neighbours of larger entities. The struggle of the Dutch/Flemish culture/language waas completely on the shoulders of Flanders and the high-headed Hollandish population did not understand that the Flemish people had these problems and often they look down on this phenomenon. This is very disappointing for the Flemish people!!!

    Comment by Roland Contreras — June 15, 2010 @ 2:18 pm


    Comment by DR. BRIAN HARING — June 15, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

  9. […] As Craig Pirrong at The Streetwise Professor explains, Belgium represents a classic case of a northern, thrifty Protestant region not wanting to keep supporting the poorer, Catholic regions in the south. […]

    Pingback by ETF FOOL — June 15, 2010 @ 10:58 pm

  10. Wow! Thanks for the detailed commentary.

    Comment by So? — June 16, 2010 @ 12:48 am

  11. The northern (Flemish) part of Belgium is catholic, as is the southern part of the Netherlands.
    Historically and geografically the “border” between Protestant en Catholic is situated above and under the great rivers
    Rijn and Maas. What is called “de moerdijk”.
    The Flemish were once voters that chose between BSP (Belgian Socialist Party) “the labourers’ party” and the CVP
    “the christian party”. Both parties had (and have) services for their voters: trade unions, insurance companies, health insurance, a.s.o. It is there, that their power was preserved.
    After the first great reform of the Belgian State in the seventies, the CVP en the BSP split into an flemisch SPA and a
    walloon PS. As the north got more prosperous, and the economy changed into a services economy (instead of production) the flemish SPA lost voters to other parties. In the south PS grew strong as they kept their voters bond with social security.
    The south is neither protestant, not catholic: it is formost socialist.

    Comment by Marc JJ — June 16, 2010 @ 4:47 am

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