Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Europe vs. America - again

There's a top-notch article/review of a few books looking at the relationship between the US and Europe in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. Interesting stuff. Apologies for the overly excessive quotation (done in case it goes to subscription):

"It is becoming clear that America and Europe are not way stations on a historical production line, such that Europeans must expect to inherit or replicate the American experience after an appropriate time lag. They are actually quite distinct places, very possibly moving in divergent directions. There are even those—including the authors of two of the books under review—for whom it is not Europe but rather the United States that is trapped in the past."
There are some interesting statistics on offer to boot (and no, before anyone starts leaping to the wrong conclusions again, this isn't another example of "anti-Americanism"):
"Americans live shorter lives than West Europeans. Their children are more likely to die in infancy: the US ranks twenty-sixth among industrial nations in infant mortality, with a rate double that of Sweden, higher than Slovenia's, and only just ahead of Lithuania's—and this despite spending 15 percent of US gross domestic product on "health care" (much of it siphoned off in the administrative costs of for-profit private networks). Sweden, by contrast, devotes just 8 percent of its GDP to health. The picture in education is very similar. In the aggregate the United States spends much more on education than the nations of Western Europe; and it has by far the best research universities in the world. Yet a recent study suggests that for every dollar the US spends on education it gets worse results than any other industrial nation. American children consistently underperform their European peers in both literacy and numeracy."
The article's author, NYU Professor of European Studies Tony Judt, also has perceptive things to say about the EU:
"The European Union is what it is: the largely unintended product of decades of negotiations by West European politicians seeking to uphold and advance their national and sectoral interests. That's part of its problem: it is a compromise on a continental scale, designed by literally hundreds of committees. Actually this makes the EU more interesting and in some ways more impressive than if it merely incarnated some uncontentious utopian blueprint...

"Europe is facing real problems. But they are not the ones that American free-market critics recount with such grim glee. Yes, the European Commission periodically makes an ass of itself, aspiring to regulate the size of condoms and the curvature of cucumbers. The much-vaunted Stability Pact to constrain national expenditure and debt has broken down in acrimony, though with no discernible damage to the euro it was designed to protect. And pensions and other social provisions will be seriously underfunded in decades to come unless Europeans have more children, welcome more immigrants, work a few more years before retiring, take somewhat less generous unemployment compensation, and make it easier for businesses to employ young people. But these are not deep structural failings of the European way of life: they are difficult policy choices with political consequences...

"The European Union is almost too attractive for its own good—in contrast with the United States, which is widely disliked for what it does, the EU appeals just by virtue of what it is. Refugees and illegal immigrants from half of Africa periodically drown in their desperate efforts to cross the Straits of Gibraltar or beach themselves on Italy's southernmost islands —or else they land safely, only to get shipped back. Turkey had been trying for nearly forty years to gain admission to the European club before its application was (reluctantly) taken up last month. Ukraine's best hope for a stable democratic future lies inside Europe—or at least with the prospect of one day getting there, which would greatly strengthen the hand of Viktor Yushchenko and his supporters in the aftermath of their recent victory. And the same of course is true for the remnant states of former Yugoslavia. But while Brussels is all too well aware of the risks entailed in ignoring Africa or leaving Ukraine or Bosnia to fes-ter at its gates—much less casting 70 million Turkish Muslims into the fold of radical Islam—Europe's leaders are deeply troubled at the pros-pect (and the cost) of committing the EU to extending itself to the edges of Asia."
Judt also provides one of the best summaries of the EU constitution I've yet seen:
"This document arouses paranoia and anxiety in Washington (and London); but it is actually quite dull and anodyne. Much of it consists of practical prescriptions for decision-making procedures in a cumbersome body of twenty-five-plus separate sovereign states. The constitution also strengthens the role of European courts and extends the EU's cross-border competence in criminal law and policing (a wholly laudable objective for anyone serious about fighting terrorists). But otherwise it just gives substance and application to the EU's claim to "coordinate the economic and employment policies of the member states." It is not a very inspiring document—its leading drafter, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, is no Thomas Jefferson—but it will do much practical good... Above all, it will enable Europe to continue playing to its international strengths in spite of American obstruction".
Big, big hat tip to Perfect.co.uk for the link.

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