Europe

Europe: America's Crystal Ball?

A new book warns that the United States is adopting a European economic culture.

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Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future, by Samuel Gregg, Encounter Books, 384 pages, $25.99

Since the financial crisis of 2008, a cross-Atlantic historical irony has been playing out. In the United States, the federal government's response to the possibility of financial Armageddon was a massive bailout signed into law by a self-described conservative, who said at the time that he had "abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system." In Europe, meanwhile, many governments have been at least ostensibly engaged in austerity.

In America, Bush's successor continued the heavy intervention in the economy. The responses to this included the rise of the Tea Party movement, a surge of activism driven in part by the worry that the U.S. was becoming increasingly "Europeanized." In Europe, it was the specter of austerity that sparked protests across the continent. Almost all of the small cuts to government budgets that have been proposed in Europe have been met with strong opposition. And it's not just the removal of services for the poor that sets off this angry response: It is the norm in Europe for well-off people to take to the streets to protest cuts to luxuries that they perceive as "benefits" as well.

In Becoming Europe, Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, addresses how Europe adopted its current economic culture. He also joins the Tea Partiers in arguing that the U.S. is adopting similar norms and institutions, thereby losing what Tocqueville called Americans' "spirit of enterprise."

It is frustrating to many Europeans that Americans refer to "Europeanization" or a "European culture." Europe, after all, is a continent of many countries and hundreds of languages; any attempt to generalize its people or culture will inevitably fall short. Thankfully, Gregg doesn't fall into this trap. While acknowledging those differences, he also explains what enables commentators to discuss a common European culture, from the presence of an established lingua franca (be it Latin, French, or English) to the centuries of trade between its different peoples to the ongoing influence of Christianity. And it surely makes sense to speak of a "European economic culture" given the existence of the European Union, whose bloated bureaucracies regulate 27 of the continent's states.

How does an increase in economic interventions set off a protest movement in the United States, while the reverse unleashes protesters in Europe? Part of the answer, Gregg notes, is the very different historical contexts that produced the modern American and European welfare states. In the late 1940s, continental Europe was coming out of a devastating war, with another war and a depression in recent memory. Many of the continent's welfare programs began growing substantially in this period, part of a general effort to assist the less fortunate after a long period of hard times. The results, as Gregg points out, have not been good for Europe's economy, social stability, or—most importantly—the purported beneficiaries of the plans. Yet many Europeans still maintain a strong attachment to those institutions.

The U.S., by contrast, did not create its welfare programs in the aftermath of domestic destruction. And here, unlike in Europe, there has always been a more robust debate about the proper role of the state. The arguments over Obamacare illustrated the almost instinctual mistrust of government that many Americans have, even if they often have other ideas that come into conflict with that distrust. It is hard to imagine that a further centralizing of governmental economic power in Europe would produce protests as large as the ones seen in response to Obamacare. Self-described conservatives in Britain dare not speak against the National Health Service, for example, despite its inefficiencies and poor performance. American welfare programs have yet to become as culturally instilled as they are in many parts of Europe. While Republicans have been known to object to cuts to some entitlement programs, it is not uncommon to be a member of the GOP while calling for a overhaul of the welfare system, something that few career-minded British Conservatives could do.

While Americans should be reassured that their political and economic culture is broadly pro-enterprise and pro-market, Gregg's book is a healthy reminder that the United States has indeed been moving toward a more European economic culture. At the same time, Gregg makes sure to point out that the U.S. is not there yet. It remains to be seen how much Americans will push for free markets, transparency, and property rights in the years ahead. But thanks to Gregg's book, they cannot claim to have not been warned.

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  1. The U.S., by contrast, did not create its welfare programs in the aftermath of domestic destruction.

    American welfare programs were created not out of need, but to take the shame out of accepting handouts.

    Boy oh boy did it work!

    1. “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

      1. By contrast, there were no great accomplishments made in US prior to 1930 because people weren’t free to take those risks.

        1. The 1920s?
          The tommy gun, the Band-Aid, the first robot, the lie detector, the discovery of insulin, the first 3-D movie, the traffic signal, the cathode-ray tube, the self-winding watch, frozen (Byrdseye) food, the dynamic loudspeaker, spiral bindings (spiral-bound notebooks), the mechanical television, the liquid-fueled rocket, PEZ candy, the quartz crystal watch, the electronic TV system, Technicolor, the aerosol can, the first quartz clock, the iron lung, the discovery of penicillin, bubble gum, the electric shaver…
          Good thing nothing happened in the 1920s.

            1. that wasn’t invented until the 30s.

              1. And even set on logarithmic scale, it was pegged out.

          1. You didn’t build that!

            1. Correct. I didn’t even build the list.

  2. Joining the UK/France/Germany Club today. Membership in the Greece/Spain/Portugal Club to follow soon.

    1. May I suggest? “Joining the UK/France/Germany Party today means you’ll soon be joining the Greece/Spain/Portugal Afterparty.”

      Still your credit, of course.

      1. I need a good editor.

        1. Editors are a dime a dozen. I love your idea though.

    2. Well, we’re already in the Greece/Spain/Portugal club.

      1. And what’s the first rule of Greece/Spain/Portugal club?

        1. Spend the shit out of any money that happens to come within reach?

          1. Failure to acknowledge a pop culture reference in follow up post. 15 yards. Automatic first down.

        2. Don’t talk about Greece/Spain/Portugal club.

          1. In which case, Obama ain’t just a member, he’s clearly showing his leadership bone fides. The Tyler Durden of the G/S/P club.

    3. We don’t have the right shoes to be part of the Greece/Spain/Portugal Club yet… soon, though… we’ve been eyeballing those screw-me pumps in the store window…

  3. But I thought culture doesn’t matter? Dat raciss!

    1. Without cultures, what would we do with petri dishes?

      1. Use them for artisanal desserts?

        1. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmayonnaise

          1. Careful, sloopy might break them over your head for that.

            1. Ah! Now we see the violence inherent in The System!

    2. But I thought culture doesn’t matter? Dat raciss!

      Please shut up.

  4. Europe: America’s Crystal Ball?

    Yes. Next?

  5. There is a huge difference between Europe and the US. One has a massive, overpowering military, and one does not. Make of that what you will.

    1. So can we go conquer some good wine, cheese, beer and choclate making regions then?

      1. And then impose the FDA upon them, making all those tasty products illegal to produce!

    2. That is a big difference. It means when we finally go belly up, no one will be dictating terms to us.

      1. As Krugman might put it, we will be dictating terms to ourselves.

        And most of us are ourselves.

        1. And most of us are ourselves.

          You know what? That makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

          1. Would you like to make $4384 a week just for sitting in front of your computer?

          2. No it doesn’t!

          3. Are we ourselves?
            Do we really know?

        2. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

    3. There’s a flip-side to that as well. Europe had their social programs subsidized by the U.S. acting in large part in place of their militaries.

      We, on the other hand, have no such subsidy. While we’ve had a juggernaut of an economy that could endure the weight of increasing government spending, the juggernaut is a finite one and will diminish if we keep on this course. It’s inevitable.

      No doubt, having a huge military while collapsing economically raises some very disturbing possibilities. We’re unlikely to collapse as dramatically and as quickly as the U.S.S.R. did, nor do we face the kind of opposition they did, so we’ll have the time and less disincentive to find a military solution to our economic woes.

      1. These are all good points.

        +1 internet for ProL’dib!

      2. Great, so you are saying that I retired just in time to miss out on some fine city sacking opportunities? Man, I am going to have to look at those “go Active from the Retired Reserve” rules again.

        1. Taking sexual prizes and looting was considered the prerogative of the victorious soldier for most of history.

      3. The stronger European countries gutted their militaries precisely to fund the welfare state. And not just in the immediate aftermath of WWII. The UK could not re-fight the Falklands War if they had to today.

        If that choice ever comes upon the USA (and I believe it will), I guarantee handouts will be the winner.

        1. I cannot clearly envision who will win, but I know who will lose.

    4. Exactly. Europe can afford their welfare states because we are subsidizing their national defense.

      1. It’s welfare states all the way down.

      2. Allowing former colonial powers to go on adventures in client States isn’t just “national defense” either.

      3. Russia appreciates their lack of hostile intent.

        1. Indeed. I could live in Russia if necessary.-)

      4. thom| 1.22.13 @ 11:46AM |#
        “Exactly. Europe can afford their welfare states because we are subsidizing their national defense.”

        Not quite. Even with defense budgets of, what? .0001% of the GDP, they *still* can’t afford their welfare states.
        So when a lefty tells you that if we had no military budget, we’d all be farting through gov’t provided silk undies, just direct their attention to Europe.

        1. I think this truth is why we seem to be catching up to their fiscal disaster so quickly.

          Another point is that the U.S.’s massive consumption of products has helped drive much of the world economy, too. Zod knows what will happen if we experience a prolonged downturn (worse than the one we’re in now, that is).

    5. We’ll be able to sell off all our weaponry to pay back some of the foreign debt?

  6. It is frustrating to many Europeans that Americans refer to “Europeanization” or a “European culture.” Europe, after all, is a continent of many countries and hundreds of languages; any attempt to generalize its people or culture will inevitably fall short.

    Hold on there you limey wannabe cowboy. First of all hundreds of languages? Really? Europe has about as many actual languages as it does countries.

    Secondly, while Europe is diverse in its language and culture, it’s pretty homogeneous in its adherence to socialism, and that’s what the term Europeanization refers to.

    Both these points are pretty obvious to someone whose spent some time in North America and Europe, so either you are being intellectually dishonest or you are just plain naive.

    1. Hmm, “hundreds of languages” is definitely an overstatement but there are certainly more languages than countries (& it gets more complicated if you toss in dialects).

    2. Your false consciousness cannot perceive the nuanced differences between French collectivism and Greek collectivism.

    3. Correct on both points, PS. And the use of “Europeanization” in terms of fiscal policy is accurate.

      Feeney may have been trying to claim “dialects” as “languages” for his “hundreds of languages” claim.

      1. And a lot of the languages, okay some of the languages were manufactured from dialects during the rise of Nationalism. Norwegian and Slovak are two that spring to mind.

        The guy has been writing a lot of ignorant things about Europe since he was brought onto Reason a few months back.

        Can’t we 86 this limey and get Lucy back?

        1. And a lot of the languages, okay some of the languages were manufactured from dialects during the rise of Nationalism. Norwegian and Slovak are two that spring to mind.

          I think it’s going to boil down to a semantic argument then. Based upon what I’ve read (admittedly little, I’ve no expertise here), there’s a lot of grey area between dialect and language.

          1. I’ve no problem acknowledging Norwegian and Slovak as distinct languages even if they did start out as trumped-up dialects a century and a half back.

            But yes, there is a huge difference between dialects and languages, it’s a difference in degree that becomes a difference in kind but to ignore that demarcation is cultural Marxism.

            1. But yes, there is a huge difference between dialects and languages

              Ever try listening to Schwyzerdutsch?

          2. Based upon what I’ve read (admittedly little, I’ve no expertise here), there’s a lot of grey area between dialect and language.

            The only difference b’twixt a dialect and a language is prevalence of use and a standing army.

            Much like the difference between a cult and a religion. Or a political system.

            1. In the original Yiddish, the quote reads “a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot” which means “A language is a dialect with an army and navy”.

              Why are you othering our sailors, Groovus?

              1. I was thinking in terms of Eastern Europe. Most of the countries are landlocked, so I wasn’t thinking of sailors.

                Don’t tell Mama Maximus I butchered the Yiddish, ok?-)

                1. Zok nit kin vey, I’ll save you from that shanda.

      2. I’m not so sure about that. I can rattle off 10 languages between Spain and the UK alone, and I don’t even know all that much about language. Is it multiple hundreds? I don’t know, but I think it’s gotta be north of one.

        1. A quick mental review and a check of Wikipedia suggests 3 in Spain (Spanish, Basque, Catalan), 5 distinct variations of Celtic, 5 (or 6) variations of Sami, about 10 different languages in Italy, a number of variations of Romani just for starters.

          Many of those variations are mutually incomprehensible. What’s important about them is that different languages often represent different cultures. As PS pointed out, some languages were created as stepchildren of nationalism and one of the goals of those creations was to stamp out local languages which carried local cultures forward.

            1. B?ter, brea en griene tsiis, wa’t dat net sizze kin is gjin oprjochte Fries!

          1. Sicilianu! Calabrese!

    4. So does this mean we can or can’t call it Christendom again?

    5. What exactly is the difference between a language and a dialect?

      Not much, really. According to sociolinguists, who have spent more time than anyone else pondering this question, a language is a dialect with an army. There?s more to it than that, but that?s what it boils down to. These same sociolinguists have observed that walking, village to village, from Portugal to Romania and listening to what is spoken, you might notice slight differences along the way, but you wouldn?t be overcome by ?language barriers.?

      The notion of language is a social construct.

      Not so with continents, one would have thought. A continent is a large mass of land surrounded by water. Europe does not fit the definition, and never has.

      1. http://cdn.memegenerator.net/i…..855777.jpg

        No. According to linguists the degree of mutual intelligibility is the difference. The only grey real area is ‘how much’ intelligibility. Language is a real thing.

        1. i?m not disputing the reality of language or any other social construct.

          Mutual intelligibility doesn?t tell us how to distinguish between language and dialect. There are many cases where those speaking the same language can?t understand each other (see China), and where two speaking different languages can understand each other, especially if both are well motivated.

          There are also many examples where there is only one-sided understanding, determined by the speakers? social standing. An aggrieved Ukrainian nationalist may not understand his Russian neighbour, the misunderstanding is not mutual. The Russian can understand well enough. This only underscores the social dimension that can?t be ignored in any discussion on language and dialect.

          1. The example you gave, of two people speaking “the same” language and not understanding each other is a matter of politics. Sociologically Mandarin and Cantonese are separate languages, but for political reasons, they are dubbed dialects of the same language. Politically motivated wishful thinking and central authority doesn’t change the fact that they are different languages.

            On your second point, again I say:
            http://cdn.memegenerator.net/i…..855777.jpg
            Social-strata and dialects are related but different things.

            MUTUAL intelligibility cuts both ways and it’s the standard for separating dialect from language. Monolingual Norwegians understand Icelandic better than monolingual Icelanders understand Norwegian, but that doesn’t have anything to do with social stratification. It has to do with drift.

    6. European socialism is just what you’re left with when you don’t kill off all the kulaks first.

      In other words, they end up holding things together just a little bit longer.

  7. ” American welfare programs have yet to become as culturally instilled as they are in many parts of Europe. ”

    Just give it some time.

    1. Produce one generation of totally state-dependent children and liberty will be as foreign to them as it is to Europe’s most intellectual social democrat.

  8. Not to disparage the book or anything – we need more of them – but did we really need a book to state the obvious? We know liberals and Obama have a huge welfare-crush on Europe.

  9. It remains to be seen how much Americans will push for free markets, transparency, and property rights in the years ahead. But thanks to Gregg’s book, they cannot claim to have not been warned.

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