Listen carefully to those screams of outrage and sounds of shattering glass you hear wafting from the streets of Athens as rioters "protest" the end of an internationally funded gravy train: This is what happens when an irresponsible government and a lazy, entitled public finally run out of other people's money.
Welcome to the beginning of the end of the welfare state.
Since the Marshall Plan, which got the war-torn continent back on its feet, Western Europe has lived in a bubble. Shielded by US nuclear arms and guarded by hundreds of thousands of American troops, Europeans have been free to create their quasi-socialist paradises.
It was fun while it lasted: Spend the first 30 years of your life as a "student," enter the workforce late, retire early, get six-week vacations at taxpayers' expense and lavish 30-year pen-
sions -- la dolce vita had nothing on this.
The welfare-state mentality reached its zenith with the creation of the European Union and its currency, the euro, which yoked countries as disparate as Ireland, Estonia, Monaco, Germany and Greece. Ever since, legions of Eurocrats in Brussels have spent their days churning out endless miles of choking red tape as they perfected their cradle-to-grave cocoon.
Now the wheels have come off. The impotent NATO action in Libya has exposed the European military establishment as the joke it has long been. Open borders have brought a flood of immigration from Africa and the Mideast, triggering the kind of nationalism the European Union was supposed to prevent -- not only in France and Italy, which confront the consequences most directly, but as far away as Finland, where the True Finn Party recently scored big electoral gains.
But what's really causing the death throes of the Eurozone is the entitlement economy, with Greece as ground zero and Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain next to follow. Rich, frugal Germans resent having to bail out profligate Greek civil servants who are paid 14 months' salary per year, get bonuses for using a computer or being able to speak a foreign language and can retire on a pension in their 40s.
With a $485 billion national debt that's well over 100 percent of its GDP, and faced with default as early as next month, the socialist Greek government had no choice but to implement a $40 billion "austerity" plan to qualify for another round of bailout loans from European Union banks. Even so, the vote was close: 155-138, as protesters raged outside parliament.
Why the anger? For one thing, Europeans lack the American tradition of self-reliance. They expect somebody -- the king, the chancellor, the Eurocrat -- to protect them from life's vicissitudes.
For another, the disconnect between productive labor and earned reward has never been so great. Punching a clock is what counts, not tangible results.
Third, the private sector has long been subjected to punishing employment regulations that have made hiring workers too costly, so that basic Western European unemployment rates have long been more than 8 percent (yes -- the same rate that Americans are now being told to get used to).
And forget about self-starting: In Europe, the self-employed entrepreneur is looked upon as a dangerous radical and social misfit.
A zero-sum mentality regarding capital and labor has brought Europe to its present pass -- and Americans should be worried. Because what's happening in the cradle of democracy could be coming here.
Not the rioting -- Americans rarely take to the streets in violent protest. But Greece ought to be a wake-up call. With the national debt standing at more than $14 trillion -- and as much as 10 times that in unfunded liabilities and other obligations -- America's on a path every bit as unsustainable as the Greeks'.
Whether they, or we, want to admit it, the party's over. The only questions now are how bad the mess will get, who's going to clean it up -- and how loud the screaming's going to be.