In a bold step intended to reduce poverty, the European Union will soon be providing some of the Continent’s poorest citizens with subsidized plane tickets and hotel rooms. The Toronto-based National Post reported on Monday that the European Union has declared traveling for tourism a human right, and is launching a scheme to subsidize vacations with taxpayer money for those too poor to afford their own trips. The Post reports that the program, which will soon be piloted and fully launched in 2013, would involve taxpayers underwriting thirty percent of the cost of the vacation bill for seniors, youths between the ages of 18 and 25, disabled people, and families facing “difficult social, financial, or personal” circumstances. The Times of London reports that the program, once fully implemented, would cost European taxpayers hundreds of millions of euros a year.
In all honesty I was hesitant to post a comment on this article, since I at first assumed it was a joke. Human rights are basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, merely by virtue of being human. In the economic sphere, these would include, at a minimum, food, clothing, and shelter. There is no reason why any human being in modern society should go without these basic necessities, and government has an obligation to provide them for those who cannot acquire them for themselves. Beyond that, government arguably has a responsibility to provide medical care and education for every citizen. But certain goods—most of them, in fact—are not strictly necessary to human health and dignity, and are more appropriately described as optional or luxury goods. A vacation is a luxury good if ever there were one, and its classification by the E.U. as a “human right” is laughable in the extreme. If anything such a policy might prove a setback for the cause of social justice, since categorizing obvious luxury goods with absolute necessities makes the term “human rights” appear farcical.
Antonio Tajani, the European Union commissioner for enterprise and industry appointed by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, explained that “The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life.” True enough, but this in no way justifies confiscating the earnings of wealthier citizens to pay the cover charges and greens fees of the Continental working class. No doubt those who take the free vacations will appreciate them, but these resources that will be used to fulfill the “human right” of “cultural appreciation” could instead be devoted to alleviating genuine need. Why not spend this money to better house and feed the millions of homeless in E.U. countries? Why not use it to combat human trafficking (i.e., modern-day slavery for purposes of prostitution and forced labor) in Europe, especially since the U.N. estimated last November that there could be around 270,000 trafficking victims in E.U. countries? Why not use it to produce lifesaving medical cures, or to better educate European youth? Alternatively, why not simply not confiscate the wealth in the first place?
This last option would be unthinkable to the European bureaucrat, as apparently would be permitting any degree of economic inequality among ordinary citizens. Any new optional spending program—this one especially—seems odd at a time when more than one E.U. member state is experiencing severe economic crisis. But even assuming there is some educational or therapeutic benefit to providing tours of “abandoned factories and power plants in Manchester” to 18- to 25-year-olds, this is in no way a human rights endeavor, but instead naked redistribution to citizens whose basic humanitarian needs have already been fulfilled. Rather than a strategy to reduce poverty, this program is, if I may speculate, the product of a mentality that economic inequality is largely a result of the good fortune and greed of the upper class, and that government should equalize wealth through income redistribution to the greatest possible extent.
Pathetic as it is, this E.U. gesture sheds a positive light on American culture, which generally contends that individuals are entitled to whatever wealth they earn and that economic inequality, while undesirable, is a consequence of the overall beneficial system of free enterprise. Rugged individualism undoubtedly has its dark side, but it is refreshing to live in a country that recognizes the notion of government-subsidized vacations for the idiocy it is.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.