“Anybody who has lived in Europe knows how delicious European life can be.”
So wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks last week.
He got that part right. Not only do the Europeans have great food, wine,clothes and architecture, but they’ve managed to avoid the slavish obedienceto the marketplace that has left North Americans chained to their workstations, feeling obliged to work ever harder in order to consume ever moretrinkets.
The corporate world has certainly been successful in indoctrinating NorthAmericans in the mentality of full-blown capitalism, convincing us to acceptits harsh divide between rich and poor.
But Europeans have traditionally been smarter. They’ve taken control of themarketplace and subordinated it to the needs of the population, creating amore egalitarian society with benefits for all.
Their political culture reflects this. They pay higher taxes but in returnreceive more social benefits: generous pensions, subsidized tuition,national child-care programs, extensive unemployment insurance, five-weekholidays and lots of other stuff that we rarely hear about over here.
In recent years, the business elites of Europe have been trying to movetheir countries closer to the harsher North American model of unbridledcapitalism, arguing — as our business leaders argue — that it’s the way ofthe future.
But in many ways it’s actually a resurgence of the past, a throwback to the19th century-style unfettered capitalism of extreme inequality and workerpowerlessness that past generations fought so hard against and ultimatelyrejected.
Millions of Europeans wisely seem determined to reject it again. Last week,voters in France and the Netherlands voted against a proposed Europeanconstitution aimed at establishing the dominance of the marketplace.
North American commentators were quick to denounce the vote, perhaps out offear that people here might realize that unbridled capitalism doesn’t haveto be the way of the future, that we too could have generous socialprograms.
So, for instance, Brooks, the Times columnist who acknowledged thedeliciousness of European life, went on to argue that the European model isoutdated, that — for all its appeal — it’s just “not flexible enough for themodern world.”
In fact, European-style social welfare systems do nothing to prevent acountry from being highly competitive in the modern world.
If you doubt this, check out the latest findings of the Geneva-based WorldEconomic Forum, which ranks the economic competitiveness of more than 100countries around the globe. Among the top six globally competitive nationsare four European countries that have extremely comprehensive social welfaresystems — Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Altogether, 15 Europeancountries rank in the top 30.
Right-wing commentators find it best to ignore this reality. It’s easy tosee why — it utterly destroys their argument that generous social welfaresystems undermine competitiveness.
Europeans have been skeptical of the right-wing dogma. They understand thatlife can be both delicious and globally viable.
Right-wing commentators here are really hoping you won’t grasp this.