A Huge Deficit and Nothing But Guns to Show For It

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In today’s Washington Post, ultra-conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer writes that Obama wants to make the U.S. like Europe. Some Americans like me who actually live in Europe don’t think that is necessarily a bad idea.

I think I have already made this point ad nauseum, but I will repeat myself: throughout continental Europe, health care is free and universal and there is no noticeable difference in quality to that in the U.S. Meanwhile, public transportation and infrastructure is very noticeably superior in Europe and crime rates are much lower. And imagine, with fewer vacation days and labor strikes, American workers are actually on par with their French counterparts in terms of productivity.

That doesn’t mean per se that I believe the European model to be superior, for I still prefer many aspects of the American system. The American legal system, believe it or not, has also provided for many consumer and workplace protections without having to resort to the costly and largely ineffectual governmental remedies offered in Europe. Nevertheless, if you look at the facts that Krauthammer lays out,  it becomes pretty obvious that something is missing from the equation:

In the European Union, government spending has declined slightly, from 48 percent to 47 percent of GDP during the past 10 years. In the United States, it has shot up from 34 percent to 40 percent. Part of this explosive growth in U.S. government spending reflects the emergency private-sector interventions of a Republican administration. But the clear intent was to make the massive intrusion into the private sector temporary and to retreat as quickly as possible. Obama has radically different ambitions.

The spread between Europe and America in government-controlled GDP has already shrunk from 14 percent to 7 percent. Two terms of Obamaism and the difference will be zero.

Why is there only a seven percent spread between the two continents when (i) both personal income and sales taxes are considerably less in the U.S. and (ii) the U.S. government offers significantly fewer social services to its citizens? Furthermore, the U.S. spends, as a percentage of GDP per capita, less on foreign aid than any of the European member states. So where are American taxpayer dollars and indebtedness (we have increased spending while actually lower taxes) going? My guess is that the difference is mainly on defense spending.  In other words, Krauthammer is totally missing the point.

There is not necessarily a conflict between an American and a European model. The problem is that Krauthammer, like many other conservatives, absurdly sees an ideological riff in the midst that unpatriotically questions American exceptionalism. But American exceptionalism itself is an absurd, imperialistic and ethnocentric myth. As Robert Palmer stated on last week’s Bill Moyer’s Journal,

Yeah, illusions I think about, first of all, about America’s essential goodness as an economic system. I don’t want to deny that there is goodness in our national character or in our economy and certainly not in democracy rightly understood. But the notion that we always get it right, my country, right or wrong — that somehow America is the noblest nation in the world, these are things that I’ve for a long time, been unable to believe. And I think a true patriot is one who loves his country.But as you do when you love something, you also have a lover’s quarrel with it. And that means that you stand on some other ground than simply the inherent 100 percent continuing goodness and validity of that which you love.

Thus, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong or harmful in taking what is best from, say, the European health care model and combining it with what works so much better in the American system. As a nation, we can surely hope that within that seven point spread our government is offering something of value other than a strong military to its citizens. Otherwise, without quality roads, public transportation, and universal health care, what would Krauthammer want the U.S. government to be like? One big military base? What have three Republican presidents and one Democrat president done with our money for the past 28 years?

Surely, if Americans pay significantly less taxes but its government spends almost the same as the Europeans, we can find ways to offer similar services more efficiently. Why must it be either or?

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5 Comments

Filed under Essays

5 responses to “A Huge Deficit and Nothing But Guns to Show For It

  1. Gads cugino,

    I realise your interest in the position, but alas my fine family member, it simply isn’t reasonable or even feasible.

    No offense to you, but I’ve heard this argument ad nauseum, and it is the worst kind of fallacy.

    The “countries” of Europe are equivalent to states in the U.S. Each one, an independent sovereign state; not as with the U.S., where the states are subject entities, under the authority of the larger, and normally, more geographically separated Federal government.

    So, in the first, you have a markedly higher numerical problem just with the number of “chiefs” involved in the decision making process. Let’s not belabor this point either; they all have to “get something” for their involvement; i.e. first stage of corruption.

    Secondly, you have the geography and how that affects demographics. There is no unification, of even the remotest sort in this country; our degree of “factions” is worse even than in most Muslim nations. Again, everyone is going to want for “their people” and let the activist/lobbyist payouts begin.

    It cannot be effective here; just basics of probabilities with regards to regulation, corruption, avarice and the all powerful, and ever inept legislative process.

    Ideals are beautiful things, until they have to face facts. That’s why metaphysics always loses to physics; it’s called assumption for a reason.

  2. I’ve decided to change my posting moniker here, I really love that Turkish term.

    Awesome, ain’t it?

  3. eric

    James and new-and-improved moniker!!!!

    Welcome back, cuz!

    Well, I think you kind of made my point. The U.S. has huge advantages to Europe. We have a very real single market for goods, services, and especially capital raising which is the major engine of our economy. We also have a fairly well defined system of federalism with divided state and federal competences. So why with such advantage and a similar government participation in GDP aren’t we able to do things so much better?

  4. Simple: apathy and avarice.

    1. Active citizenship is long since dead, if it ever existed outside of perception.

    2. What we see occurring now, is the factual nature of capitalism/free market economics. “I gotsta gets mines!!!”

    The entire idea that capitalism is not the most base, animistic, genetically reinforced behavior pattern of humans attempting execute economy is ludicrous. Especially since the inception of corporations having individual rights, they can operate with impunity, and answer to no one.

    Plus, you just seem to be ignoring the central point of what I stated; it is precisely because there is so much money, across such an expansive geography that the graft of corruption is unstoppable.

    Sure, try socialised healthcare, it will be bankrupt in under five years. Not that it matters at this point; in five years the inflation index from all the money printing for all the bailouts will have buried us beyond recovery.

    Plus, we get the added advantage of taking down the world’s economies with us. ::giggety::

    “America sneezes, and the world gets a cold.”

  5. Did you find out what “kitapsiz” means, both in the strict definition and in Turkish colloquy?

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