Unindividualistic Americans Already Live in a "European-Style Social Democracy"


Where's my damned subsidy?

Many moons ago, a Danish-born professor stirred up a bit of a fuss in one of my college political science classes when he off-handedly snorted at American claims to rugged individualism. Europeans are more individualistic, he told us. If they don't like laws, they don't obey them; Americans just grumble and do what they're told. I thought of grumpy old Prof. Rasmussen's dismissal of Americans' self-reliant pretenses as I read American Enterprise Institute jefe Arthur C. Brooks's column in the Wall Street Journal, "America Already Is Europe: In spending, debt and progressivity of taxes, the U.S. is as much a social-welfare state as Spain."

Brooks's approach is a little different than that of my old poli sci professor; he makes dollars-and-cents comparisons:

In 1938—the year my organization, the American Enterprise Institute, was founded—total government spending at all levels was about 15% of GDP. By 2010 it was 36%. The political right can crow all it wants about how America is a "conservative country," unlike, say, Spain—a country governed by the Spanish Socialist Workers Party for most of the past 30 years. But at 36%, U.S. government spending relative to GDP is very close to Spain's. And our debt-to-GDP ratio is 103%; Spain's is 68%.

Actually, according to the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom, in the United States, "[g]overnment expenditures have grown to 42.2 percent of GDP," while in Spain, "[g]overnment spending has increased to a level equivalent to 45.8 percent of GDP."

Brooks's further point is that we're just a little later arriving at the the same destination as those pinko European countries, but that the American left and the bipartisan forces of cronyism have steadfastly pushed us in that direction. He also suggests that, even if Americans are as pro-free enterprise and fond of individual endeavor as they think they are, their general distaste for politics has led them to ignore the changes around them.

[W]hile a majority of Americans are neither leftists nor corporate cronies, they aren't paying much attention to the political system. We often hear that more than 85% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing. But, according to the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, only 25% of American adults can correctly name both of their U.S. senators, and 51% can name neither. If I don't know who my senator is, I am unlikely to know much about his bridge to nowhere.

But the crusty Dane of Clark University insisted that Europeans were more individualistic than Americans, which suggests that my countrymen aren't just being bypassed — they might actually be less Davy Crockett-ish than they like to think (and so, probably, was Crockett). And there's evidence to just that effect.

I've written before that "globally speaking, American taxpayers are pushovers," and it's true that Americans, with our 83.1 percent tax compliance rate, give the IRS such an easy time of it that the Belgians (70.15 percent) and Italians (62.49 percent) would just consider our obedience positively unsporting. Comparing tax rates becomes a little problematic when one set of taxpayers just complains and another treats the whole matter as a game of "catch me if you can." (And Reason's own Veronique de Rugy has already written that "the U.S. tax code is more progressive and European than you think.")

I mean, really … Where's that old American individualism when research by professional peerer-into-the darkness Friedrich Schneider consistently finds the country to have the smallest shadow economy in the world relative to the size of its official GDP. Even Japan (8.9 percent) and Switzerland (8.3 percent) beat out the U.S.A (8.0 percent) in terms of people hiding their economic activities from tax collectors and regulators.

And Europeans aren't exactly bowing down to those draconian gun controls when 82 million Germans own 20 million unregistered guns (far more than the legal count), and neighboring France takes that as a spur to its competitive spirit.

Yes, it's true that nobody beats us when it comes to at least trying grass (42.4 percent of us have toked up) and cocaine (16.2 percent — nobody else is even close), according to World Health Organization data. Intoxicant-specific scofflawry seems a particular American specialty. But I think the point is clear; we're not some separate breed of go-it-aloners standing apart from the herd; we're pretty damned sheep-like ourselves, and those Europeans are more coyote-ish than we ever thought.

I guess the big question, now that my old professor has been proven largely right, is whether we'll start picking up some of the old continent's individualistic cussedness and start more enthusiastically resisting the "European-style social democracy" Mr. Brooks points out we're already inhabiting.

NEXT: Dear Chris Christie: Forcing All First-Time Drug Offenders Into Rehab Is Not Compassionate, But It Is a Waste of Money

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  1. I’d say that enough of us are collectivist fucks to break the system. It’s certainly not all of us.

    1. There are still ~25 of us who fight the dismal tide of the state.

  2. How many Europeans have SWAT teams waiting to break down their doors and shoot any moving targets for non-compliance?

    1. Yeah. I was thinking along those lines… How many of those countries have cops that will summarily execute you in the streets for looking at them the wrong way? How many of those countries will lock you up for decades for non-violent and victimless crimes?

      1. and the big question: how do European dogs fare during those raids?

      2. There’s barely any police brutality laws in Germany. I’ve seen with me own two peepers polizei beat the ever-loving shit out of people on the street for random reasons.

        They’re less likely to do so than American cops, I think, precisely because they don’t have this rugged, macho, Rambo mind-set that a lot of Americans in blue seem to have, but the legal restraints on the cops are much stricter here than there.

        1. If by “legal restraints”, you mean “paper restraints”, I have no reason to disagree.

          1. Well sure, I wasn’t commenting on whether those restraints are applied in practice. But if given the choice, I’d rather have them on paper than…not at all.

        2. In the seminal video, “Don’t talk to the cops”, the cop which gives the talk in the second half of the video says he did some consulting work in Europe, and he said that almost all interviews “started physically”.

          My impression is that our cops are violent and hard-charging on the front end, and (on average) more peaceful and rule-bound on the back end.

          Whereas in Europe they’re much more easy-going on front end, but the savagry starts when they’ve got you in the interrogation room.

          Lots of monocles and cigarettes being held in that underhanded, European interrigator way.

      3. “How many of those countries will lock you up for decades for non-violent and victimless crimes?”

        All of them, except maybe Portugal in some cases.

        1. The Netherlands tends to exempt it’s own citizens from victimless crime oppression.

      4. This – but also, Americans historically have had few enough and good enough laws that we could respect them, so we developed a respect for law that Europeans never developed.

        However, as power has been concentrated among a ruling class that does not have to obey those laws themselves, the law is no longer respectable but people still have old habits of obeying the law. Damn it, we like to be honorable, law-abiding citizens, and we don’t want to give it up … but the way things are going, we will have no choice but to give that up.

        This isn’t really a plus on the European side – it’s a huge negative on the side of American governance.

  3. 82 million Germans own 20 million unregistered guns

    So it takes like 4 Krauts to own one unregistered gun? I’m proud to be an American where at least I know all my guns are “unregistered”

    1. Polygunnery.

        1. Shotgun weddings are an old tradition here in the States, so this isn’t just more of that kink only Euros seems to go in for.

        2. Gun sharing program: Gunter gets it Montag and Dienstag, Nils gets it Mittwoch and Donnerstag, Anselma is Freitag and Samstag, and Lieselotte only gets it Sonntag, but she has an unlimited ammo allotment.

    2. That’s not at all true if you’ve purchased any since 1986. The fact that you have to fill out a form when you acquire the gun, and another when you sell it adds up to de facto registration. The gummint knows how many guns you have and what type.

      1. Unless you buy it second hand from most private sources.

      2. Something I like about Maine is that person to person sales are legal.

        The person selling the gun doesn’t always know to get your personal information to give to the feds so they know who now owns it.

      3. You must be some kind of Yankee.

        1. Right. Lots of Yankees born in Tallahassee and raised in Houston. Buying a new gun gets you paperwork that goes to the Feds. It has your name and address on it as well as the model of gun. This looks an awful lot like registration to me.

          1. I think maybe 10% of my current guns were purchased new by me. All the rest were purchased in private party sales.
            That is far from unusual in my state.
            For dealer-purchased firearms the form 4473 paperwork only goes to the Feds when they request it as part of an investigation (or the dealer goes out of business). I don’t think anyone really trusts them on that but it is the law.

    3. If you filled out the background check paperwork then your “unregistered” gun is indeed de facto registered.

      1. I seem to recall that the background check statute prohibits the ATF from keeping records for more than 90 days(?), a prohibition which ATF has been happy to ignore.

  4. While it’s hard to argue with any of the specific points that Brooks makes, the key critical point he leaves out in his analysis is that most Europeans really are taxed out the freaking asshole compared to us in the U.S., especially the broad middle class.

    And while the leftists and democrats would no doubt like the complete the quest for the holy grail and change that, they don’t dare do it, because they know damn well that if they imposed the kind of tax burden on most of us that they really want to, they would never win another election ever again.

    1. They are applying that kind of tax burden; to the young and unborn in the form of debt that will be paid off by inflation.

    2. the key critical point he leaves out in his analysis is that most Europeans really are taxed out the freaking asshole compared to us in the U.S., especially the broad middle class.

      Yet government expenditures (state, local, and national) as a percent of GDP are roughly the same. So, I question whether a typical Euro’s total tax load is really much greater than a typical American’s.

      And, if it is, wouldn’t the difference be the enormous debt that we are piling up? Is doing more borrowing supposed to help the case that Americans are more ruggedly individualistic somehow?

      1. They also tend to have lower corporate tax rates. Or so I hear.

      2. If you go by the benchmark of total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP, then Heritage, the OECD, and Eurostat all seem to be in agreement that most of Europe just crushes us when it comes to stealing money.

        1. Switzerland is slightly higher but not “crushing” us. Lithuania is significantly below the US.

          1. OK, that’s two (fairly small) countries in Europe. Now look at all the rest of them, especially the bigger ones.

        2. The Euros have to pay a VAT. They’re screwed on gas and other excise taxes too.

        3. So, we spend almost a much as they do, and they collect more taxes than we do.

          Our claim to rugged individualism appears to rest on our willingness to borrow ourselves into oblivion.

        4. So we tax at a rate of 26.9% of GDP, but we spend at a rate of 42.2% of GDP. That means that total government borrowing is 15.3% of GDP.


          Just to balance the budget (at all levels) every American will need to take (on average) a 15.3% reduction in their standard of living. To pay off the debt it will have to be reduced even further.

          1. Yep, that’s about what it boils down to.

    3. ^^^This.

      I think Germany pays north of around 60% on income taxes, once you include the various “employment” fees. There will never be a politician in America that will be able to push through this level of taxation.

      1. Denmark is leading the crushing with 49.0%.

        Technically, they are third behind Zimbabwe and some place Ive never heard of, but in the western world, they are leading.

        1. depending on state and income level, some Americans would consider 49% to be a break.

          Two big differences I see in these ridiculous comparisons between us and them: for the most part, European countries are made up of a single culture; in the US, you can’t tell who has been here forever and who just arrived. Second, the US has a politically perpetuated permanent underclass leeching off the system; at least prior to recent troubles, Europeans worked and understood that everyone had to row in order to get their goodies.

          1. Check out this table, I’m not exactly sure how they calculate the results, but it looks reasonably legitimate provided the source material is accurate.


            1. I think this makes my question re: state and local taxes even stronger as the chart only shows federal levies. Factor those in and we’re closer to Denmark than Singapore.

  5. I bet we have caught up with the Euros on ignoring bad laws. I’ve ignored many a gun law in my day. I enjoyed some illegal fireworks last weekend. Sped to work this morning, got a summons for not registering my dog, paid my contractor in cash for a discount, and broke countless other laws I’m not even aware of.

    1. Paying cash is against the law?

      1. Paying cash for used merchandise is indeed against the law in Louisiana:…..ales.shtml

        1. But I don’t know if paying a contractor cash so he can avoid sales taxes is illegal here yet or not.

          1. I don’t know and don’t care.

  6. To be fair, Warty practices civil disobedience against sexual assault laws and the whole concept of the restraining order.

    1. Violent nonresistance, that’s my motto.

  7. Europe has VAT taxes, which are harder to evade than income tax.

    The U.S. spends a big chunk of its taxes on its globo-sheriff military — a burden the Europeans do not have, leaving them freer to spend on human services.

    1. We also have more people per capita in prison than any European nation.

      1. Truth, sar.

  8. they aren’t paying much attention to the political system.

    You can be an individualist and not pay very good attention. In fact in many ways the two go together.

    The fact that the statist Media is constantly apologizing for the powers that be does not help very much.

    1. In fact in many ways the two go together.

      Very true. Those who are capable of living in a bubble often forget that they do not actually live in one. They forget that some people can steal your property from hundreds of miles away, with the stroke of a pen.

      1. Or a keystroke.

  9. It should also be pointed out that American individualism has historically been one of running away from authority.

    When they came here they were running away from autocratic Europe then they ran west. Then they ran from the south to the north now they are running south from the north and the west.

    Americans express their individualism by running away from authority and too freedom.

  10. Man, do leftists hate individuality.

  11. So, why exactly do we comply with tax laws so readily? Clearly US authorities do a better job of enforcement. But I think Americans are also simply more willing to follow the law. Part of that could actually be chalked up to our individualism. Many of us don’t want to owe anyone anything, including taxes.

    Another possible cause of our high tax law compliance is the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. People come here because it is easier to earn a living. Taxes are seen as a small price to pay for joining the middle class.

    Lastly, corruption is pretty low in the US, at least outside of DC. Perhaps some of us would much rather pay taxes than pay bribes…

    1. I did a semester abroad in college. You could tell who the rich kids were – they had at least 10g’s stuffed in their pockets in order to open a Swiss or Middle Eastern bank account out of sight of the IRS.

      I think most Americans don’t want to get caught, but if they can they would gladly dodge their taxes.

      1. My take on it is that, until relatively recently in our history (Great Society onward) America really didn’t have that many laws. Those laws we had, we tended to follow. And respect. Maybe I have to go back to pre-Prohibition then?

        Exactly the opposite in many places in Europe, especially in Italy, Greece, and don’t get me started on ‘permit Raj’ countries like India or Mexico. We have more and more immigrants from countries that loved them some bureaucracy, and we are consequently adopting more of the habits those immigrants evolved in order to survive.

        It’s amazing to me to read in popular media, this idea that it’s patriotic to pay all of your taxes, and you’re a shirker if you do otherwise. For cryin’ out loud, Learned Hand, one of the top 5 jurists this country ever produced, flat out said that it was morally fine to pay as little taxes as you could manage. [Quote omitted so as to not anger the squirrels.]

        1. You’re misinterpreting the quote. He wasn’t arguing in favor of being a tax cheat.

    2. Perhaps some of us would much rather pay taxes than pay bribes…

      Personally, I would rather slip a $20 to the nice deputy than get tagged with a $150 fine and have to go to class because I was 10 over the posted limit.

      1. In NJ, traffic tickets are now bribes. They pull you over for speeding, then make up an offense that carries a fine but no points (seatbelts, cell-phone), knowing you will pay the $100.

    3. So, why exactly do we comply with tax laws so readily?

      The collection mechanism. When it’s snagged out of your paycheck right away, it’s not like you had much choice. Then it’s either play the game to get some of it back, or get hit with penalties when you don’t. And let’s face it, the IRS is still one of teh most draconian agencies to run afoul of. They will take everything you own.

      1. This.

        It’s not that Americans are such pushovers. It’s that the IRS is that frightening. They are relentless and merciless.

    4. So, why exactly do we comply with tax laws so readily?

      Because the IRS is fucking brutal and I’ve read enough horror stories of people literally having their lives ruined over questionable deductions. Add in the quantum-level complexity of the tax code and most people would rather take the loss than try and win in court. I know people have won in tax court, but i wouldn’t roll those dice, personally. Better odds in Vegas.

      The IRS follows the theory that you only have to shoot one or two of the mob to get the rest to fall into line.

  12. OT, but Scranton is so broke that the mayor has to pay city employees minimum wage.…..52271.html

    1. Scranton is perhaps most famous these days for being the location of the fictional paper company Dunder Mifflin. Its second claim to fame is being the birthplace of Vice President Joe Biden.

      I like the order of presentation.

    2. From the comments on that article:

      If the rich and corporate citizens of Scranton PA were to pay their fair share, there’d be money to “balance the budget”. These budget shortfalls are just as phony in Scranton as they are in Athens. This economic and financial “coup d’etat” has to be exposed for the scam that it is.

      The greek government spending more than their GDP every year for more than a decade isn’t the reason greece is failing, its all the greedy capitalists fault.

      1. I’m sure there are boatloads of wealthy in Scranton.

        1. Yeah, it’s second only to Greenwich, CT.

  13. The other thing about taxation is – how draconian are other countries’ tax penalties and the organizations that carry them out? The IRS probably ranks as one of the most Stasi-like.

    1. unlike other countries, the US also has state income taxes and fees, sometimes city income tax and other fees, property taxes, etc etc. It’s more than just a federal rate.

      1. That’s a good point. Some upthread pointed out that the Euros pay more excise taxes, gas taxes, and the dreaded VAT, but I bet we come close to making up for that with all the state and local taxes and fees we impose.

        1. I don’t think we come THAT close when you include the state and local income taxes. Here in TN we don’t even have any of these so we aren’t anywhere near the taxation levels of Europe.

          1. we don’t have state income tax in FL, either, but don’t think for a second that the state and municipalities do not have means of making that up. They do. Tourists get tagged with additional bed fees, taxes are higher on cruises sailing out of here than other states, and registering a car is several hundred dollars more than I have paid anywhere else.

            1. $13/month Fire and Police city/county “integration fee” on my utility bill every month. Municipally owned power company that costs 40% more than what I paid a private utility. The “profits” on which go to run empty buses every 10 minutes for the college kids and make people feel good about themselves. Fucking thieves.

            2. All that is true, but my point is that Europe has all of these same fees and taxes but even worse.

              1. your table above only compared federal to federal. If there is something else that shows taxes beneath the federal level in Europe, I’m game for seeing it.

        2. Regulations are essentially excise taxes unto themselves. How much extra do you pay for a car because of the mandated items on it?

  14. You’re wrong, Tucille, DEAD wrong! I’ll jaywalk TWICE today, just to show you how wrong you are!

  15. Looks like we have a Shadow Economy deficit. I hope the POTUS does something about this before America loses its competitiveness.

  16. While I’m still suffering from jet lag from my first visit to Europe, I can say without doubt that the nanny state, particularly where it concerns food, smoking, and children, is a much larger and stronger force here.

    While in Amsterdam I saw various small children alone, riding their bikes, unmonitored, through the red light district and perusing the open market. While in Norway, the mother of all welfare states (and one in which the people are obviously economically retarded as they simply cannot grasp that once the market for oil starts to sink (for whatever reason), so does their social house of cards, because all of that money that upholds their little utopia will need to be replaced by unsustainably high taxes (in a state where taxes are ALREADY higher than I was in Amsterdam)), I saw restaurants that could NEVER pass our regulatory burdens, and people smoked in the streets without getting “the looks” from offended nonsmokers. They fucking smoked everywhere (except for in restaurants) and no one gave a shit. None of these are possible here, mostly because yoga moms are choking the fuck out of the rest of society because they can’t stand the thought of their precious little snowflake seeing something that isn’t pre-approved by mom.

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