A flipside of this system is that Europe doesn't have the ethic of individual charitable giving that we have in the US. We go to auctions and bake sales to support a good cause. We help our children raise money to subsidize school projects. Our local orchestras wouldn't exist without financial gifts from donors committed to that slice of culture. And public television is only possible with generous support from viewers like you. You don't see that so much in Europe. Europeans expect the government to care for the needy and fund the arts, youth groups, and foreign study opportunities. Europe's tax-funded alternative to charity auctions, pledge drives, and school car washes works for them.
In our system, the thinking is that, after we all get wealthy, we'll be sure to make charitable contributions to the places where the fabric of our society is frayed. But rather than a thousand points of light emanating from generous community members who care, Europeans prefer one compassionate, well-organized searchlight from their entire society as orchestrated by elected officials. While we care individually, they care collectively. What's perceived as good for the fabric of their community (such as having bike lanes, heroin maintenance clinics, public broadcasting, after-school childcare for working parents, paid maternity and paternity leave, and freeway art) trumps business interests.
This represents another major philosophical difference. In America we believe in government by and for the people through the corporations that we own. We want to have a good business environment so we can all share in the affluence. I was raised with the business mantra, “What's good for GM is good for America.”
Europeans strive for government by the people and for the people sometimes regardless of the interests of their corporations. Consequently, Europe is willing to make laws that are (at least in the narrow view) bad for business. While in Europe, the notion of paying for a car's disposal when you first buy the car makes sense, it would be dismissed in the US as bad for the economy. Because carbon taxes would be considered good for the environment but bad for business, I expect to see them in Europe before the US.
Philosophically, most Europeans seem to accept that when it comes to taxes, the necessity outweighs the evil. European politicians don't have to promise tax cuts to win elections. As of this writing, the president of Finland, Tarja Kaarina, was well into her second six-year term leading one of the most highly taxed countries in Europe, and she has about a 75 percent approval rating. Like many Europeans, Finns support high taxes and big government because they like what they get in return.
About This Entry
You are reading "The Trade-Offs of European Socialism", an entry posted on 24 July 2009 by Rick Steves.