The word looms over chat rooms, water coolers, and various other venues in America like the smell of a dead animal on the side of the highway. Anyone daring to mention the word had better be making fun of it, or comparing the person using it to a serial pedophile. It gets twisted, reconfigured, and used as a slur. It’s as if an economic system also defines the social policies for any given country. It’s as if religious points of view run parallel to economic points of view. Moreover, all of this is over a word that most people who use it fail to even understand.
The “S” Word
But as much as Americans loathe to admit it, it’s ridiculous to continue to deny it. Like a bad childhood experience, the more we tamp it down, the more it turns us all into mentally damaged thinkers.
So here it goes … contrasting the American economic model of capitalism and the European model of Socialism isn’t as black and white as Republicans would have you believe.
Now Republicans, (especially Presidential candidate Mitt Romney) will tell you that we can have a society based on merit, or one based on entitlement, but not both. He (and Republicans in general) insists that the notion of co-existing bases is absurd. Instead, Republicans and Willard Romney insist that Europe is a welfare state and that we are headed down the same path if Barack Obama is re-elected.
This has been a theme that Republicans have promoted time and time again, with a great deal of success because America has become the land where if a lie is repeated often enough it must be true. My contention is that <gasp> they are correct this time. Democrats have fought for decades to provide safety nets for America’s poor, elderly and disabled citizens. Republicans have , quite extraordinarily, been able to cloak human frailties as something for which to be ashamed, ridiculed, and even blamed.
Oddly, Republican voters still see their country as a model for the rest of the world, not the other way round and I would dare say that nobody has ever been elected president of the U.S. on a pledge to make the country more like France.
Democrats therefore always find themselves having to deny the obvious. Democrats and Obama want to make the country more like Europe. OMFG! Ridiculous! Traitorous! ……..Straw man.
What’s ridiculous is the idea that Republicans take it for granted that the U.S. being more like Europe would be a disaster. What’s ridiculous is that suggesting that America could learn something from anyone else is heresy, appeasement, or downright treasonous. Moreover, squirming spineless Democrats tacitly endorse the same philosophy.
Europe’s Many Models
The most obvious step the U.S. needed to take in Europe’s direction, and the longest overdue, was health-care reform. The Affordable Care Act is a start. When Romney championed his very similar health-care reform in Massachusetts, he was arguing for the invention of a new (universal access) plan and trying to make his state more like France. Europe has other things to teach the U.S. — and the U.S. has plenty to teach Europe. But treating economies like a Friday night football game is reckless and misplaced pride that affects millions of Americans and our very way of life. Looking abroad for guidance is no cause for shame.
Obviously, political cultures differ in deep and distinctive ways, so there will never be One True Capitalism that is right for everybody. The idea of a single European model is itself a simplification. For instance, European countries guarantee access to basic health services, but they do so in very different ways. Their tax systems vary, too. The fact that they tried to use one currency among countries with disparate fiscal policies was poorly thought out. They each have their own approach, within limits to education, industrial policy, employment protection, social safety nets and so on. Americans have been sold on the notion that nobody else even matters, that to consider that America isn’t the preferable stance on virtually every issue is unthinkable, so why should we bother to learn anything about how they operate? The majority of adults don’t even know where the various European countries are and could not point them out on a globe if their mothers’ lives depended on it. Not Italy, not Germany, not Greece, not Spain, and probably not England; much less Russia, China or India. Any or all of which could literally crash our own economy.
Still, Europe’s biggest economies all reflect a social-democratic tradition that puts more emphasis on collective provision and the guiding hand of government than seems natural in the Republican Party of the U.S. The American political tradition stresses the rights and responsibilities of individuals; it exalts private enterprise and risk. These are choices that countries are certainly within their rights to make.
The European Union’s single-market project was supposed to create an economy that would rival the U.S. in brisk speed and innovation: hence the emphasis on un-European ideas such as deregulation, cross-border competition, lower taxes, lower government spending and curbs on state subsidies for failing industries. The 2008-2009 U.S. Great Recession called some of those philosophies into question, but did little to change anything at all. The partisan laws that caused the downfall are still on the books. The 7.5 million Americans who became unemployed have largely remained unemployed.
On the other hand, European politicians decided years ago that they to needed to achieve faster growth and higher living standards in order to compete on the open market, regardless of who could claim the model as theirs. Unlike their prideful U.S. counterparts however, they weren’t embarrassed to point to the other model. And regardless of some of the exaggerations about the success of the American model, European countries moved their economies further toward the U.S. template. How strange, therefore, to see Romney’s fellow Republican presidential candidates attack him for his time in the private-equity business, that quintessentially American force for creative destruction.
Jobs, Demand, and Taxes
Our severe recession and slow recovery have caused long-term unemployment to surge, and negative housing equity has made moving to find work harder. Here, Europe can teach the U.S. a thing or two about social insurance — and not just in health care, the most egregious failure of the heretofore American economic model. Assistance for the unemployed has traditionally been stingy in length of time it is allowed and in the amount available upon which to exist. To be fair, it normally hasn’t mattered because the country’s flexible labor market sped people back into jobs. Our system is obviously woefully unable to deal with long-term high unemployment. Europe citizenry has faired better in this regard
Republicans might also ask whether America is living up to the merit-society ideal. Success in the U.S. is richly rewarded and a meritocracy doesn’t concern itself too much with equality of outcomes. Fine, but a merit society ought to provide ladders out of poverty. The obvious starting point is with good schools for anyone willing to make the effort. The unspoken American social contract says, work hard and do well. Unfortunately, in the “land of opportunity”, if you are born poor, your odds of staying poor are higher than in Europe.
In the past, Europe tried too hard to protect jobs; the U.S. hasn’t tried hard enough to protect workers. Europe’s largest economy, Germany, is now seeking once again to compete with the U.S. on a global scale. But having tied themselves to a single currency that is spread among 17 countries with as many differing fiscal policies, Germany and the entire Eurozone finds itself in the same trap that the Great Recession has caused in the U.S.
As explained in previous posts of mine,( Europe’s Perfect Economic Storm, Time for Europe And America to Implement the One Penny Solution), time is running out. And while America focuses on inane hyper-partisanship, demand remains low because there are no jobs. Jobs are unavailable because of shrinking demand.
And Republicans keep insisting that only a healthy stock of wealthy Americans with low tax rates will spur the economy. How can anyone who’s the least bit informed believe that any of the current plans will succeed?
Isn’t it time that we look outside of the only two options that have been presented by both parties and both Capitalism and Socialism? All of the plans and systems used so far have become outdated and unsustainable.
It’s time for the One Penny Solution and time is running out. If Europe implodes, and it will, America will be dragged back into a recession while party loyalties and outdated economic plans fail.
Any true American, and especially so-called leaders of our country, regardless of policy origins, regardless of party affiliation, regardless of labels such “Pious Baloney”, “Vulture Capitalism”, or “European Economic Policies”, that doesn’t seriously consider ALL options and ALL possible solutions should not only be disqualified from eligibility for office, they should shipped o Guantanamo as enemy combatants.
Given the abject failure that is unfolding in Europe in attempting to cure their ills through austerity measures, it is inconceivable that Republican leaders actually believe that austerity and drastically cutting spending alone will work in America. The only possible reason for this immovable stance is to leave their wealthy supporters flush with campaign money.
They are doing more harm, killing more people, and destroying the American Dream that was available to every single citizen 40 years ago, than suicide jets flying into skyscrapers could have ever hoped for.