February 1, 2012

America vs. Europe

Republican candidates for the presidential nomination don’t love Europe. Especially Mitt Romney and his chief rival, Newt Gingrich. The two in fact have spent the past few months arguing that the current US president wants to turn the U.S. into a “European welfare state.” At a weekend appearance in New Hampshire, site of a crucial primary vote, Romney said, “I don’t believe in Europe. I believe in America.” His message, as he never tires of delivering it, is very clear: “I don’t think Europe is working in Europe. I know it won’t work here.”

As for Gingrich, one of his three key tenets is American exceptionalism. In his view, America—rooted in Democratic Capitalism—defines itself by equality of opportunity, while Europe—rooted in Social Democracy—defines itself by equality of results. And the 2012 election likely will determine whether America remains exceptional or, finally, is, culturally, reconquered by Europe.

Rick Santorum, in turn, is more articulate, or better still, less “philosophical” and more concrete: he argues that the cost of Europe’s massive welfare states made it too expensive for young people to have families. That’s why many European countries, he says, with plummeting birth rates, have resorted to “baby bonuses” to try to reverse the tide, but the demographic picture remains bleak, while the costs of entitlement programs have exploded. “Who are benefits promised to, overwhelmingly? Well, they’re promised to older people. And if you have a society like Europe that is upside down where there are a lot more older people than younger people, you have economic calamity,” he says.

But how did Europe-bashing become such an issue in the U.S? asks this BBC article. The answer, according to the author of the piece, is very simple: “Accusing Mr Obama of wanting to follow the same path of ever-growing welfare budgets and high taxes that supposedly led the EU nations to this pass will strike a chord with many voters.” But clearly this only postpones or defers the question rather than addressing it. If Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, etc. are convinced that bashing Europe would strike a chord with so many voters, and if we assume that they are neither naïve nor gullible, we have to ask ourselves why and how this has come to be. Doesn’t all this mean that many Americans still believe in American exceptionalism and that “America” is something worth fighting for and preserving? And if this is so, why is it so? As a fan of the American “exception,” I could provide some simple answers to the above questions, but I think it would be a lot better if we focused on a different aspect of the issue: Is the European model exportable to America? And, conversely, is the American model exportable to Europe? Perhaps, put in these terms, the issue would be a bit less black and white. And for both of these questions the answer would be, “probably NO.” Unfortunately for us, fortunately for them, or the exact contrary, but that’s the way things are. History is not an independent variable. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy.” Nobody should forget that.


  1. Great post!
    I can say from experience that there's a love/hate relationship between Americans and Europeans, and this is mostly due to the long lasting divide over the state’s role as provider of a social net for those who fall through the cracks of a free market system. According to a Pew Global Attitudes survey only 34% of Americans believe that government should provide guarantees so that no one is in need. Three-fifths of the Poles (64%), the British (62%), the French (62%) and the Germans (56%) say the government should play that role in the economy!

  2. It's a disappointingly shallow argument to use Europe in such a negative way, especially when one doesn't get the impression that the American credit rating agencies have European interests at heart, and the crisis originated in the USA in the first place.
    The evolution of Europe is a fabulous historical epic. To virtually dismiss Europe almost disdainfully, when it was Europe who made the USA in the first place, is absurd and seems to show a lack of culture as well as the confidence that Europe's history should evoke.
    Whatever one thinks about Obama, and none of us are fans of populists, he succeeded where others had failed. No doubt Obama Care will need to be strictly subject to financial discipline, but it's unlikely that even the Republicans will ever be able to demolish it, because it's necessary, just as national health systems are necessary in European nations.

    To say 'I don't believe in Europe. I believe in America', might please right wing isolationists, but it's already an out of date concept. We had to learn the hard way that Afghanistan's problems are our problems. Similarly the economical crisis has clearly revealed that American problems are European problems, and thus world problems. Inversely European problems are American problems, and thus world problems.
    If, apart from Fitch, S&P and Moody's are tacitly trying to undermine the European economy, ironically they could end up doing more harm to the US economy than to Europe's. It already seems to be the case since the euro has consequently lost some of it's superfluous value and this is generally attracting more stock market investment and boosting previously undervalued stock at long last.

  3. Europe has had some sort of Centralized State since the Roman Empire. Americans have until now rejected the notion. Our Constitution specifically states what the Federal Government can do. Every generation has passed legislation in violation of the Constitution's enumerated rights. If ObamaCare is not overturned by the Supreme Court or overturned by our legislative bodies, our free nation is done. National Healthcare programs are a 100% failure 100% of the time and bankrupt economies, not to say the quality of healthcare plummets. I'm afraid we are seeing the demise of a free constitutional republic by a free citizenry giving up their liberties. A lot has to do with education where high school to college graduates have no clue about US history, the Constitution or economics. The dumbing down and socialization process started in the 1920's in our public schools has been and is being successful. Those of us that view our constitutional republic and the last chance for free men and women, not subject to the oppression of the State, reject the European centralized State, as benign as it appears. We most certainly reject it here. The five thousand plus years of civilization was lived under tyranny, and the US with constitution had for the first time free men and women. A couple hundred years have passed, those in favor of the tyranny of the State have seemingly overthrown the one chance for men to live free. Apologies for the scatter shot post; just thinking out loud.