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Why the Europeans Think the US is Insane

Alternet has an interesting article written by an American living in Germany, and attempting to explain why Glenn Beck is popular, what the Tea Party is all about, and how we have destroyed the social safety net.



  1. You’re going to get comments about how Europe can’t afford its safety net–probably citing Greece especially–so we shouldn’t try to have one. You know that, don’t you?

    Well, let me point at our massive military-industrial complex, that is still poised to fight WWII. Yes, that’s a two there. And don’t forget the truly excessive numbers of nuclear warheads/missiles/other launch systems. We’re also still fighting the Cold war (though there may be some improvement on that front). And then we’ve got proxy wars / adventurism were involved in.

    Let me also point to the crazy notion that somehow we could ship our manufacturing overseas and be the world’s managers. That worked really well.

    And I don’t want to hear about unions in the US. They’re pretty much a red herring at this point: sure, there are some unions, but they’re few and far between.

    So, when this debate gets going, how about we not excuse our lack of a safety net because we need to protect our boarders (we can do that for a fraction of what we spend), or that we have the know-how to develop and run more profitable businesses (not industry, businesses: how about instead we build more stuff so we can sell it?), or that we can’t afford to take care of everyone because the unions make everyone’s costs too high? And let’s really, really not do a simple comparison between our situation and Europe’s. We didn’t get where we are doing what they did: apples and oranges.

    I suspect we don’t do a comprehensive safety net because 1) too many of us believe that greed is good and 2) we judge people as failures–as not worthy of being taken care of–if they don’t pay their own way. For me, our lack of a social safety net says that we’re basically selfish b*st*rds, and that the blood and loss of those who don’t survive redden our hands. It’s pretty nasty of us, and not necessary at all.

    (And let’s see if my post goes through this time: it looks like my smiley from a few days ago did. 🙂 )

    Monday, December 27, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  2. ebdoug wrote:

    But this is just what Osama Bin Laden wanted. He got exactly what he wanted, the downfall of our country. We played right into his hands as far as spending our money on a fake war in Iraq. And we are bankrupt because of it. March 2003 was the end of our country as we knew it. He won.

    Monday, December 27, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  3. patriotsgt wrote:

    OK someone explain “how we have destroyed the social safety net” to me. Did we not just enact HCR? Did we not just extend unemployment foranother year? And where is it written in our constitution that “the government” is responsible for providing all our needs, no matter what? Did Social security go away? Did medicare vanish? Oh, welfare is gone, nope thats not it either. Somebody please tell me whats been taken away that destoyed our social safety net.

    Monday, December 27, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  4. Don wrote:

    I wouldn’t say the safety net has been destroyed, just that there are a lot of holes in it. A whole lot of holes.

    Health care? HCR only helps some folks. It’s still real easy to fall into the holes in that one. My disappointment that there was no open public discussion of universal care and limitations on insurance and big pharma is still there.

    Unemployment insurance? Seems like the length of time that someone can collect benefits is a long time to be off if one really wants a job, folks are really off that long. Folks my age (the long side of 60) are truly struggling to find work that pays anything like what they were making in what are supposed to be one’s maximum earning years. A lot of firms won’t hire them at all because it’s cheaper to hire younger folks. That folks lose unemployment benefits when they simply cannot find work is the hole in this one and even though benefits are extended once again, there are folks out there that can no longer draw unemployment. People who have lost their homes and their jobs have a doubly difficult time finding employment because it’s hard to be hired when you have no permanent address. A lot of these folks have been forced into bankruptcy and lost their homes.

    Companies are sitting on huge sums of cash while hiring is still way off. The hole isn’t just about how long someone can collect unemployment, it’s also about the greed of the American corporations that are making huge profits and still refusing to expand their employee rolls. We’ve gotten so good at improving efficiencies, we’ve screwed ourselves out of the ability to keep employment levels at a suitable level. This is not the fault of the unemployed.

    Social security? As a retired fed, this isn’t part of the social safety net – it’s 1/3 of my retirement. As for social security paying for those who are disabled, yes it does – to a point. Once again, though, it has large holes that folks can fall through. Health care being one of them. Although many folks on SS disability qualify for programs such as Medi-Cal, many don’t. Even under Medi-Cal, there are far too many exceptions to coverage to call it comprehensive health care.

    So, it’s not that things are being taken away – it’s just that, even with the programs you posit, there are large holes that let those less fortunate or mentally ill or disabled or older or too young to fall through.

    At the same time, your question as to what in our constitution says the gubmint is responsible for all our needs is interesting, but not necessarily germane to the question of a social safety net. It has much more to do with building a strong, resilient society where we look out for each other, and this might be the the rub in the US.

    Europeans look at their societies differently than we do. There is a more pragmatic view of what a wholesome society is and it includes insuring that the costs to society of neglected citizens are minimized by creating a more level playing field up front with guarantees to the citizenry of access to basic social needs.

    I tend to use Switzerland as my example (it’s the European county I’m most familiar with). When the social cost of providing catch as catch can medical care to those without insurance in Switzerland began to seriously undermine the system, the Swiss voters adopted what is arguably the best universal health care system in Europe – voting to tax themselves to do so. The greater good carried the day and now everyone is insured by one of six insurance companies under government regulation.

    What may be destroying our social safety net is the stress that we are putting on our existing systems/organizations/programs. We’ve got a lot of broken pieces in the existing programs and I don’t see a lot of folks seriously looking at anything but finding ways to cut services. Locally they are cutting programs that ultimately reduce society’s costs – alcohol and drug treatment as well as mental health care for the poor (we’re losing our libraries, as well, but that’s a different story).

    Anyway, PSGT, I hear your frustration and share much of it, but possibly from a different perspective. A healthy society has opportunities for all different kinds of people. Right now, we are suffering from a surfeit of opportunities with only the gubmint trying to spur growth. Check out . It says a mouthful.

    End rant.

    Monday, December 27, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Permalink
  5. patriotsgt wrote:

    Thanks Don, as always an interesting, well thought out and meaningful response. I’d have to agree, there are programs that need fixing. One huge program I deal with second hand (through some tenents) is the unemployment and state welfare programs like housing. There seems to be no sliding scale or a real short one. If folks receiving assistance attempt to help themselves out of their hole by getting even a part time job they are penalized, because they lose the entire benefit, not just the part gained by their beginning employment. So there is no incentive to help oneself out, it’s all or nothing.

    I agree we can do better, but when I hear someone living abroad infer we have no social safety net, it’s ridiculous. The jury is still not out on Europe’s social experiment as well, as more countries face the brink of collapse.

    IMO if we had a national sales tax in place of income tax we’d be better off. Then even the drug dealers and other criminals who don’t earn any taxable wages would still pay federal tax. Millionaires who buy their Porche’s, Rolls or other extravagant items, would pay big tax to have them. Also, we could have an import tariff against those countries who don’t play fair in the “fair trade” market.

    Monday, December 27, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  6. Dan wrote:

    I sent 9 years in Europe. Some days I wish I was still there.

    Start looking at health insurance as a tax and a one payer system looks pretty good. People without insurance have jobs and earn well above poverty level, if they didn’t, they would be on medicaid.

    Cutting taxes on the wealthy won’t create jobs, only demand will.

    I still think Medicare for all and paying for it with a sales tax is the answer. It will increase the price of foreign goods and take the cost of medical off American businesses. It won’t hurt insurance companies much because of all the short comings of Medicare, which over time could be fixed.

    Monday, December 27, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Permalink
  7. patriotsgt wrote:

    Now thats thinking outside the beltway Dan. I agree if we’d a just paid for HCR the right way from the beginning, we would have something. IMO Health Care should be either a payroll tax like SS or as part of a national sales tax.

    Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    I live in Oregon, where we have no sales tax at all. I really like that. I like the fact that the price marked on something is the price you pay. Sure, we have higher property taxes and we have an income tax, but those are far more progressive than sales taxes. Also, sales taxes are inefficient — they are expensive to collect. I would rather pay more in income taxes than have a sales tax, even though it costs me more money.

    If we absolutely had to have a sales tax (state or national) I would prefer if it were included in the price of each item, like gasoline sales taxes are.

    Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink
  9. PatriotSGT wrote:

    I hadn’t thought about the expense of collecting sales tax, but you’ve got a good idea IK about structuring it like the gas tax. Well, my support for sales tax vs property or income tax is that everyone contributes in the form of his or her’s available discretionary and/or disposable spending level. Raising prop tax probably only effects 50% of the people, income tax is…(well we’ve had that discussion).

    Friday, December 31, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink
  10. Iron Knee wrote:

    Sales tax is one of the most expensive taxes to collect, both for the government and for the merchants that have to collect it.

    But if we wanted to have a big discussion about taxes, we really should revamp our whole tax setup. As even the Republicans would have to agree, taxing something discourages it. So it doesn’t make sense to tax buying things (sales tax) because we want to encourage people to buy things to keep the economy going. Likewise, taxing income doesn’t make much sense either.

    The real solution is to tax things that we want to discourage, like polluting or using scarce resources. That’s why I’m in favor of some kind of carbon tax. We should also tax short term capital gains more.

    Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink