After concluding another 16 days in Europe. I am again reminded how different their form of socialism is, and yet how closely it resembles the model that Obama seeks for America. The vast majority of citizens lives in apartments, even in smaller towns and villages. Cars are tiny. Prices are higher than in the states; income is lower (The government taxes you to pay for things like “free” college, so you won’t have much to spend on antisocial things like your Wal-Mart plastic Christmas Tree or your second K-Mart plasma TV.)
Mass transit is frequent and cheap, but often crowded and occasionally unpleasant. The stifled desire to acquire something—large house, car, deposit account—is of course not quite destroyed by socialism, but rather is channeled into a sort of cynicism and anger, often leading to a hedonism of few children, late and long meals, and disco hours until the early morning. The number of Gucci like stores selling overpriced label junk like 200 Euro eye-glass frames and 1000 Euro leather bags to socialists is quite amazing.
Clearly, this reflects Hanson’s experience in Greece and Italy, not “Europe.” And while Hanson’s observations are undoubtedly filtered through his own ideological lens, a lot of what he says rings true: unlike their Northern counterparts, Greece and Italy have always been on continent’s political and economic periphery. Not too long ago, Athens was being run by a military junta. Silvio Berlusconi’s checkered career is proof enough of Italy’s retrograde political culture. Taking either country as emblematic of Europe would be like using Mississippi as a prime example of the American economic and social model. Which is to say, other factors are at work here.
Cherry-picking favorable examples is a time-honored political tactic, which is why the Left is always talking about the dynamism of the Scandinavian economies – Nokia! Erickson! – or the fact that Denmark regularly tops Freedom House’s economic rankings. The bog-standard conservative rejoinder – something I happen to agree with – is that the political outcomes of small, culturally homogeneous European countries don’t necessarily track with the United States’ experience. It also follows that the defects of Greece and Italy aren’t much of a roadmap for liberalism in the Age of Obama.
Denmark and Finland do not vindicate progressive policy any more than Greece and Italy prove its ruinous consequences. The United States is a different country, and the impact of our policy choices tend to differ dramatically from the experience of even our closest political cousins. Hanson’s insights into the nature of “European” society notwithstanding, it would be better for all of us if we shied away from facile country-to-country comparisons.