When Europeans make such criticisms, Americans assume we’re envious. “They want what we’ve got,” the thinking goes, “and if they can’t get it, they’re going to stop us from having it.” But does everyone want what America has? Well, we like some of it but could do without the rest: among the highest rates of violent crime, economic inequality, functional illiteracy, incarceration and drug use in the developed world. President Bush recently declared that the U.S. was “the single surviving model of human progress.” Maybe some Americans think this self-evident, but the rest of us see it as a clumsy arrogance born of ignorance.
Europeans tend to regard free national health services, unemployment benefits, social housing and so on as pretty good models of human progress. We think it’s important civilized, in fact to help people who fall through society’s cracks. This isn’t just altruism, but an understanding that having too many losers in society hurts everyone. It’s better for everybody to have a stake in society than to have a resentful underclass bent on wrecking things. To many Americans, this sounds like socialism, big government, the nanny state. But so what? The result is: Europe has less gun crime and homicide, less poverty and arguably a higher quality of life than the U.S., which makes a lot of us wonder why America doesn’t want some of what we’ve got.
Brian Eno (!), writing in Time. (Thanks to Neil Krupnick for the pointer.)