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technologically advanced civilisations on the planet. By comparison, Europe was only beginning to wake from a prolonged period of violence, religious fundamentalism and economic stagnation. Anybody wishing to know how the tables came to be so spectacularly turned over t he proceeding centuries could do worse than read the first chapter of Paul Kenne dy's The Rise & Fall of the Great Powers. The European David was able to so completely outpace Asia's Goliath, Kennedy say s, because those great empires had allowed themselves to become ossified and inw ard-looking through a vast system of bureaucracy, corruption and state monopoly which served to choke not only economic entrepreneurialism but the whole spirit of individualism and adventurism. While Europeans were discovering new continents to colonise and devising ever mo re advanced methods of blowing each other up, for example, the Ming Emperor bann ed oceanic exploration and monopolised the production of cannon. In essence, whi le European civilisation began to sprint, the east went to great pains to stand still. Bizarrely, Kennedy's conclusion in 1987 was that, in order to continue to compet e and hold their own in the world economy, the countries of what was then the Eu ropean Economic Community (EEC) should press ahead with a policy of 'ever closer union' in both economic and political terms. Nearly quarter of a century on I can't say whether this is still his view but it seems to me that, in following Kennedy's suggestion, the EU is in the process o f accomplishing the very thing he said caused the old eastern empires to crumble . Like Ottoman Turkey and Ming China, power on the continent is being progressivel y concentrated in the hands of a vast and entirely unaccountable Brussels bureau cracy. An economy that once fed on the competition between states is being stead ily centralised through a web of legislative red tape and more and more un-debat ed, non-mandated 'imperial edicts' are coming from the Commission. The most recent of these to come into effect (it was decided in 2004) is the dir ective on herbal remedies. As Daniel Hannan very succinctly puts it, there is no rational reason for banning and regulating such harmless products except to ben efit 'big pharma' at the expense of small businesses, which are the driving forc e of any healthy economy. And as the BBC reports, many herbalists will simply go out of business as popula r products disappear from the shelves either through either banned outright or b ecause producers cannot afford the thousands of pounds needed for licensing. As Mr Hannan says, such a pointless and irrational piece of legislation would ne ver have gone through the national legislatures of Europe. But, like the mandari ns of the Great Ming, eurocrats are able to pursue their destructive fetish for regulation precisely because they are insulated from public opinion. As an isola ted case it is outrageous; that this is the way the EU conducts itself in genera l is intensely worrying. With the eurozone in meltdown, it is precisely the type of enterprises the Commission is putting out of business that are needed to lea d a recovery. But EU Commissioners likely assume, as many do, that because western civilisatio n has been politically and economically dominant for as long as anyone on the pl anet can remember, it will continue to be so. Indeed, the truly astounding hubri s of neoconservatives seems to have played a central role in accelerating US dec
line through what Kennedy called 'military overstretch.' The ideologically-motiv ated Iraq dÃ©bÃ¢cle turned a Clinton surplus into a Bush deficit; the economic crisis pl unged the knife in and $200bn to the healthcare budget may well spell the last r ites of US economy. As the centre of economic gravity once again shifts eastwards, it's worthwhile k eeping in mind that the Islamic Golden Age - a period when Muslim nations led th e world in the arts, economics, industry, law, literature, navigation, philosoph y, science and technology - lasted approximately six centuries. And after 500 ye ars, it may well be that western civilisation is leaving its own golden age. It will not have been immediately obvious to the great scholars and lawmakers of thirteenth century Baghdad that the city, then a leading hub of learning and co mmerce, would one day become the most dangerous place on earth at the centre of a perennially unstable backwater. Simialrly, it will not be immediately obvious to the legislators and bureaucrats in Washington and Brussels that they are busily accelerating western decline. B ut at a time when China is buying up European debt and the FT is talking serious ly of a US default, people making their voices heard on fiscal discipline and li ght government - Tea Party politics, if you will - is needed more than ever.