Those Demon Europeans

A U.S. Republican in search of an enemy

Photo: Anu Koruma

In the current cabaret that passes for a Republican presidential primary season in the United States, right-wing conservative Mitt Romney has decided to run against Europe.

“This president takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe; we look to the cities and small towns of America,” he exhorted in his victory remarks after the New Hampshire primary. “He wants to turn America into a European-style en-
titlement society. We want to ensure that we remain a free and prosperous land of opportunity.”

I suppose we Europeans should take this as a compliment. It must mean that Barack Obama’s efforts to adopt elements of the European social model are resonating with the public. Perhaps the Health Care Reform, ending the denial of benefits for pre-existing conditions, or the insurer’s right to drop sick clients – two nasty practices that should never have been allowed in the first place.

Romney is running on a myth of America, which for all its charm is sadly only a myth – not news, but worth repeating. In the “cities and small towns of America” there’s no town left; most of the stores, services and cinemas have moved to the malls outside of town, only reachable by car. Local schools have been closed and centralised, as have the post offices. So there’s no good location for a coffee shop. The only other places to hang out are bars and taverns, off-limits to young people (the drinking age is 21) and perilous for adults as there’s no public transit to take you home.

So many people are isolated.

Yet with all the suburbanising, American communities are no longer sustainable. An American uses twice the electricity and produces three times the CO2 emissions of the average European.

Contrast this with Vienna, where few have a clothes dryer or an air conditioner or even limitless hot water. No one turns the heat on until mid-October and it gets turned off again in mid-April. When it’s chilly, you just put on a sweater; as Lord Baden Powell advised: “There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.” Refrigerators, too, are smaller.

As of course are the cars. Europeans own just as many (or even more, as in Austria: EU statistics show 511 per 1,000 people, vs. 451 in the U.S.), but they are more efficient and used less often.

Perhaps most frustrating is the myth of social and economic mobility – “that the U.S. is actually an egalitarian society because the poor will be rich tomorrow” – that most Americans still believe, also turn out to be wrong, as shown by Harvard pro-
fessors Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser, in their study Fighting Poverty in the U.S. and Europe: A World of Difference. In reality, mobility is no higher in the U.S. than in Europe, and for the American poor, they are, if anything, significantly more trapped than the poor in Europe. Yet, some 70% of Americans still believes the poor could escape poverty if they just worked hard enough. Among Europeans, only 40%.

And the European “entitlement society” that Romney criticised? As New York Times resident Republican David Brooks pointed out in late February: “The U.S. does not have a significantly smaller welfare state than the European nations. We Americans are just better at hiding it… through the back door, as tax breaks.” And “because they are hidden,” Brooks admitted, “many of the tax expenditures go to those who need them least.”

So why is Romney running against Europe?

This is politics.

If you can’t beat ‘em, demonise ‘em.

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