Monday, October 27, 2008

We're all Europeans now

The likely election of Barack Obama along with the Democratic Congress heralds the Europeanization of America according to Pete Dupont (similarly, Mark Steyn describes the Obama approach as an EU domestic policy and UN foreign policy). It's kind of hard to argue with him given an agenda set to look something like this:
  • The U.S. military will withdraw from Iraq quickly and substantially, regardless of conditions on the ground or the obvious consequence of emboldening terrorists there and around the globe.
  • Protectionism will become our national trade policy; free trade agreements with other nations will be reduced and limited.
  • Income taxes will rise on middle- and upper-income people and businesses, and individuals will pay much higher Social Security taxes, all to carry out the new president's goals of "spreading the wealth around."
  • Federal government spending will substantially increase. The new Obama proposals come to more than $300 billion annually, for education, health care, energy, environmental and many other programs, in addition to whatever is needed to meet our economic challenges. Mr. Obama proposes more than a 10% annual spending growth increase, considerably higher than under the first President Bush (6.7%), Bill Clinton (3.3%) or George W. Bush (6.4%).
  • Federal regulation of the economy will expand, on everything from financial management companies to electricity generation and personal energy use.
  • The power of labor unions will substantially increase, beginning with repeal of secret ballot voting to decide on union representation.
  • Free speech will be curtailed through the reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine to limit the conservative talk radio that so irritates the liberal establishment.
I don't think that that Dupont is exagerrating here, this is pretty much all stuff that the Democrats have promised, and we should take them at their word. If you think about it, it's really nothing more than warmed-over European-style social welfare policies. In the minds of many people this is no big deal. "So what if we become more like Europe? What's wrong with Europe?"

Indeed, in the popular mythology that has taken hold among certain Americans a European fate is something to be embraced, not feared. To many it's an idyll. Europe conjures up images of fresh baguettes being cracked open at quaint sidewalk cafes, free health care and efficient public transport. People work less and take more vacation, choosing to instead to pause and smell the roses as they travel down life's path. And to some extent it's true. Life in Europe is hardly to be equated with Dante's seventh circle of hell.

But being European also means less chance of having a job and being poorer:
Source: CIA Factbook

Now, admittedly these statistics aren't perfect. For example, per capita income doesn't mean that everyone earns that amount. A country of 2 people, with one earning $100K per year and the other $0 averages out to a per capita income of $50K. Median is preferable but I can't find the data. Even so, if you subtract $10,000 from the U.S. per capita income it is still richer than every other European country in these graphs. In addition U.S. poverty and income statistics are also skewed by the fact that, unlike France, we've got a third world country along our border -- and I'm not talking about Canada.

This also doesn't take into account cost of living. While some items, such as food, tends to be cheaper in Europe, big ticket items such as cars, housing and electronics tend to be considerably more expensive.

Indeed, when we look at the statistics, which I don't have the time to find at the moment, we usually see that Americans drive more and bigger cars, have more housing space and have in general more stuff. I will be the first to admit that money doesn't guarantee happiness, but it is a lot easier to be happy when you are rich than when you are poor.

Defenders of the European way of life will usually counter with things like the fact that Europeans have universal health care and live longer. Well, I am not convinced that the two items are related. Health care quality is largely a function of how well we treat the sick and injured, and I have little confidence that Europeans and Americans get sick at similar rates. Americans, for example, are more likely to be overweight than Europeans. We're also more likely to get shot and -- being a car-centric society -- involved in automobile accidents I would imagine.

But health care is another debate for another day. Perhaps a useful proxy for health care quality, however, is dentistry. Compare your typical American set of teeth to your typical European. I would venture that the American comes out ahead, and it isn't just because we put flouride in the water.

To summarize, be careful what you wish for America, you might just get it. Remember, there's a reason why so many of your European ancestors left.

No comments: