While in past years it seems Americans have been given two options (big, bad government or little, good government), Europeans are more likely to strive for a third option: big, good government.
In American politics, "socialism" is often perceived as an all-or-none bogeyman, evoking the stifling Soviet system of the Cold War. This thinking, which fixates on a Stalin-style oppression that has nothing to do with today's European socialism, ignores the reality that socialism is a spectrum. Every society on earth — including our own — includes some socialistic elements (such as our progressive taxation).
Like us, Europe is enthusiastically capitalistic. Europeans are just more comfortable with a higher degree of socialism. Most Europeans continue to favor their existing high tax rates because they believe that collectively creating the society of their dreams is more important than allowing individuals to create the personal empire of their dreams.
While American culture tends to be individualistic — inspired by “up by the bootstraps” and “rags to riches” stories — Europe is more focused on community. While we are more religious, Europe is more humanistic. In Scandinavia — the most highly taxed, socialistic, and humanistic corner of Europe — you don't find a church with a spire on the main square. You find a city hall with a bell tower. Inside, a secular nave leads not to a pulpit, but to a lectern. Behind that lectern, a grand mosaic tells epic stories — not from the Bible, but celebrating heroic individuals who contributed mightily to their community.
Europeans pay high taxes to buy big, good government...and expect results. Those results include an extensive social-welfare network that puts the financial burden of childcare, healthcare, education, and retirement on the collective shoulders of society, rather than on individuals. I once asked Olle, my Swiss friend, "How can you Swiss people be so docile about paying such high taxes?" Without missing a beat, he replied, "Well, what's it worth to live in a society where there is no homelessness, no hunger, and where everybody enjoys equal access to quality healthcare and education?"
About This Entry
You are reading "Europe’s "Big Government": High Taxes with High Expectations", an entry posted on 22 July 2009 by Rick Steves.