For some reason, it might be that it remains the world’s largest economy, and generally behaves like police for the world, United States’ politics is interesting to people throughout the world. It helps that most of the world speaks, at least a little, English. When China finally surpasses our economy, people still won’t know much about what happens there, because the media remains controlled and the rest of us have trouble sounding out Chinese characters.
Even though the United States’ elections are followed from Germany to Japan, that doesn’t mean they interpret things the same way. I lived in Germany and Holland during much of the Clinton administration and was completely surprised at how much anger there was at him whenever I returned. “Impeach him!” they screamed. Meanwhile, the European press had barely noticed that he had an affair. Their reports were busy concentrating on policy. Europeans were not nearly so charitable to George W. Bush, but even here, the discussion wasn’t so much how dumb he allegedly is, but rather how dare him act so unilaterally (I found myself in the awkward position of defending Mr. Bush on this point.)
The United States, so we’re told, is one of the last industrialized nations to have some form of socialized medicine. Of course, even private insurance, is a form of socialized medicine, where the large cost of individual care is socialized, or spread out, among a large group of contributors, but, thanks to the Obama administration, we are embarking on a government run version. And to hear a significant segment of the United State’s population, it’s clear that this country is following the failed policies of the Soviet Union and other socialist nations. ‘Don’t they follow history,” they scream “socialism and communism have failed!” This argument seems to be pretty effective judging by the votes in the last mid-term elections.
But let’s get two things perfectly clear:
• United States is in many respects, already a socialist country. (Even some conservatives agree.)
• And that, have you ever visited Europe? It’s not that bad there!
We already have socialized medicine. It’s called Medicare and Medicaid. Whether or not we should expand these programs is worth discussing, but it’s not like we’re not already participating in the socialist experiment. There’s also Social Security. Does the name indicate nothing? This is a social program that some claim has helped to eradicate old-age poverty. It does so by taking over the decisions of ordinary people and putting those decisions in the hands of the government. That’s what social programs do. If a politician truly believes that the United States should not be socialist, why are some programs untouchable?
I spent much of 2010 in Europe, mostly in Germany, but traveling throughout. Germans, facing the big questions about how they are going to pay for the medical care they have, looked on at our bickering with confusion. “The United States plans to follow our model just when we’re wondering how we can afford it” they told me. Because they’re actually exposed to our politics, they often laughed at news of our slide toward socialism. Germans point to their Danish neighbors who have the world’s highest tax rate and yet the people are happy about it. Failed socialist systems indeed.
Above all, I spent some time traveling around Europe on business, staying in hotels, eating food and interacting with people and there’s one unmistakable fact about it. It’s not terrible. People work, and eat, and have families and vacations. They plan for the future and seem not to be overly terrified about the role of their horrible, controlling governments. Am I suggesting that we should follow in their footsteps? Hardly. I just want to point out, the sky is not falling. I may not want us to do things exactly like these countries, but there is no need to run around screaming that the U.S.A. is becoming the U.S.S.A.
I actually lived in two of those failed socialist states: Germany and Holland. Of course, no one calls these two countries socialist, except, of course the countries themselves. I’ve written elsewhere in this blog how glad I am to be back and how proud I am to be a U.S. American. I don’t want us to follow every policy of the Europe, because I believe that those policies stifle innovation and ambition; that they limit entrepreneurship and encourage waste; that they give a sense of security to people without a clear plan how future generations will pay for it. Yet, I still found myself questioning whether I’d made the right call. Not worrying about your retirement or healthcare sure makes day-to-day life a lot more pleasant.
People around the world watch our politics because, well, it’s entertaining. It’s a laugh to hear us exaggerate the swings of policy. It’s comic relief to hear us profess our commitment to capitalism when those with perspective see otherwise. Bringing balance back to politics might be as simple as reading some foreign newspapers and learning how other’s think. After all, many of them actually know first hand what to be afraid of.