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Thursday, November 13, 2003

Final: An Exchange on US Exceptionalism. 2nd of 5 Articles In The Mini-Series On That Topic.

From Michael Jabbra, who graduated from UCSB in 2002, the following comments arrived that deal with the buggy analysis in the first of several articles on American exceptionalism. The lengthy buggy reply comes afterwards.

Dr. Gordon:

Ideological bias and shallow reporting are hardly confined to the EU. Just watch the 24-hour news services such as Fox or CNN, which use lots of dazzling graphics, triumphant music, but say little of note.

Failing in business might slow you down here too. I work at a bank these days, and I think we would take a long, hard look at a loan applicant with a bankruptcy (personal or business) on his/her record.

As to national pride, is it possible that people might have it but refuse to admit it to pollsters? Here in the U.S., one might (for example) be racist but not admit it to a pollster...because it looks bad. Feelings of cultural superiority aren't gone entirely in Europe; Sweden voted against the Euro again, and the UK still doesn't want it. I don't think any human will get over the feeling that their own culture or homeland is superior to any other.

Differences? Not a lot. But then, the U.S. derives many of its political and cultural traditions from Europe.


Michael:

Thanks for the stimulating set of comments. Here are some replies, more numerous and detailed than you might have expected . . . more so than I myself had expected when I began them. All worth while, though, let us hope, if only because the replies as they uncoil should help throw into a rounder perspective what the next three buggy articles will say about key US differences with the EU. Again, for good or bad. Remember, no one pretends the US is a perfect country. A good deal of our popular culture these days, not all of it by any means --- to take just once such instance --- strikes me and others as poisonous: cheap, foul-mouthed, and extravagantly violent, pandering to what some Marxists used to call a lumpen-proletariat way of life. And if, as one more instance, you live in Southern California along the coast, you can't but wish for a rapid train system of the sort that the French and other Continental Europeans take for granted. Only fools and chauvinist ignoramuses would think we do everything better than foreign countries.

Here now are the replies, six sets of them of them as you'll see.


First, National Pride.

When a response has a huge gap of this magnitude --- 60% vs. 30% in Britain, France, and Germany in the Pew Research Center Global Survey 2003 --- no need, really, to worry much that the way a question is phrased makes much difference . . . any more, come to that, than a different worry: that respondents fear what they say may be out of step with expected opinion and hence aren't truthful. The gap is just too great to be explained that way. Then, too, Italy's being close to the US suggests clearly that it isn't just the impact of EU cooperation. What might be questioned is whether the statement directly translates into national pride per se.

Fortunately, we have other survey evidence of a more direct sort. In particular, as The Economist's survey series on US exceptionalism shows, other polls have directly probed the responses to an explicit question about national pride, above all this one: are you proud to be American (German, French, British, Italian etc). Here the differences are almost as striking, even if not in line fully with the results in the Pew Survey to which our article refers. 80% of Americans express such pride; about 50% Britons, about 35% French, about 30% Italians, and fewer than 20% Germans. The Italian results seem to be directly at odds with the Pew results. Otherwise, the responses in other countries are more or less the same.

 

The Vigor of American Patriotism

Another point here. As The Economist's survey also notes, observers from Europe have been long puzzled by the high-powered nature of American patriotism, starting back in the 1830s when de Tocqueville visited us and wrote his classis two volume study on American life. The buggy articles that follow will seek to explain the sources of that patriotism. Not that they're a mystery --- just the opposite.
After all, save for native Americans and African-Americans during the slave-trade period, all Americans voluntarily immigrated to this country, running away from religious or political persecution back in their home countries or from bone-grinding poverty. On top of that, the US as an independent country was born in a revolutionary struggle . . . a mass-based conflict, unlike those that occurred in Latin America four decades later when Spanish rule simply crumbled everywhere and macho caudillos --- strongman militarists --- ended up taking power. By the time Tocqueville arrived in 1836, the US was the only democratic Republic in the world, and the only country with mass universal male suffrage (including freemen African-Americans in the North). France wouldn't have such suffrage for decades afterwards, or Britain either.

 



The Impact of Immigration

As a further influence, the arrival of vast numbers of non-English speaking immigrants beginning with many of the Irish in the 1840s and even more from the 1870s on of the Italians and East Europeans and Scandinavians led American schools to consciously emphasize civic training, the quick learning of English, and patriotic assimilation to American life. Hence, among other things, patriotic recitations at the start of class each day while saluting the flag. It worked. The children of immigrants, even early in their rearing, had assimilated to American life and identified themselves as Americans. Another powerful shaping force lies elsewhere: in plain English, American sovereignty and national independence have been seen by Americans in vast numbers --- brought out as we'll see later in several surveys of public opinion --- as essentially something beneficial to be vigorously preserved where possible.

In Europe, nationalism except in Britain proved a dangerous disaster in WWII --- earlier in WWI --- and between 1939 and 1945 all the countries of West Europe on the Continent were defeated, occupied, and then liberated by the Anglo-Americans. Small wonder that the British, even today, show the strongest attachment to national independence when it comes to polling the EU countries about further political integration in Europe. France is also different: it's a country that, in steady decline in influence, power, and prestige since 1815 --- with the big exception in prestige its great cultural creativity and fully deserved impact for about the next 120 years --- has experienced an explicit nationalist revival movement of Gaullism, with its roots in the immediate post-war years, followed by General de Gaulle's creating the 5th Republic in 1958 amid a threat of a military rebellion by the French army in Algeria. Ever since, nationalism as a rallying point has been used both by the left and right to overcome historical animosities and ideological divisions: clerical vs. non-clerical, socialism vs. capitalism, communism as the largest political party in France in 1947, reactionary fascist-like conservatism that came to power in the Vichy era (1940-1944), not to mention regional conflicts that still flare as in Corsica.

All of which makes . . .

 

. . . France A Good Comparison For Our Purposes

As for France, a country that is often cited as having the proudest people in the EU, it's worth noting that 63% of Frenchmen in a recent poll agreed that France was in decline, a reaction to a spate of books on the subject. A brief excerpt from The International Herald Tribune puts this in perspective. It appeared on October 2nd, 2003:

" A growing sense of France's decline as a force in Europe has developed here. The idea's novelty is not the issue itself. Rather it is that for the first time in a half century that the notion of a rapid descent in France's influence is receiving wide acknowledgment within the French establishment.

At its most hurtful and remarkable, and yet perhaps its most honest, there is the start of acceptance by segments of the French intellectual community that French leadership, as it is constituted now, is not something Europe wants - or France merits.

Several current books, three on the bestseller lists, have focused discussion on the country's incapacities, rigidities and its role, they say, in the context of the Iraq war, in dividing the Western community and fracturing notions of Europe's potential unity. The books, with titles that translate to phrases like "France in Free Fall" or "French Arrogance," are merciless in their accusations of the fantasy-driven ineffectualness of French foreign policy and the extent of the country's economic breakdown. Or they more specifically target what one of books, "Le Pouvoir du Monde," by Bernard Poulet, regards as the implosion of the newspaper Le Monde, mirror of the French establishment, from one-time symbol of rectitude to self-appointed "universal mentor and Great Inquisitor"; or what another, essentially a short essay, called "Au Nom de l'Autre" by Alain Finkielkraut, contends is the rise in France of a new kind of anti-Semitism in proportions greater than anywhere else in Europe.

Together, they project the image of a decadent France, adrift from its brilliant past, incapable of inspiring allegiance or emulation and without a constructive, humanist plan for the future.


None of this is to deny that the French, as surveys show --- we'll cite one later that appears in the November 11th, 2003, New York Times --- prefer French life to American life, though interestingly, as you'll see, not for business school executives who dream of being able to break through the fetters of burdensome social restrictions and swift and harsh punishment for failure if you don't conform to well-anchored expectations as to how you can or can't get ahead in life . . . never mind change its course drastically.

 

Second, The EU Media.

No need for me to go over the problems with the EU media as opposed to the US's. Some earlier buggy articles (linked to in the previous one) have gone into this matter at length, but perhaps a few comments are still in order.



Even-Handedness?

For starters, no one --- not me certainly --- has claimed that our media here are fully objective and professional, but there is a difference, and even European journalists note it at times. When you get down to it, the strikingly contrasting ways in which the New York Times last spring and Le Monde at the same time responded to in-house and out-house criticisms bring out the differences clearly, with unequivocal force. Nor would you find any American journalists working for the major newspapers or TV networks or cable stations ever claim, if they worked abroad, that they had to serve up built-in prejudices against the Japanese or the Mexicans or the Europeans because that's' what their editors and readers or viewers here in the States insisted they do --- and yet, remember, that's exactly what the German journalists working in this country admitted, when they were at the recent Harvard symposium, they were all required to do. No exceptions. The earlier buggy article linked to above deals with that in detail.

For that matter, the two articles linked to by Lloyd, the Financial Times Sunday Magazine editor, on the British press's decline into sensationalism and attack-dog journalism has some informative comparisons with the US --- particularly the second linked article.

And note: Despite the explicit conservative orientation of Fox news, I find --- when I watch it, as I do CNN or MSNBC or The Jim Lehrer Hour on PBS --- that a range of different views is purposefully represented and probed. That is not the case at all with French or German TV; and the BBC coverage --- which used to strive for a range of opinion too --- has declined on this score, and markedly so . . . and again for the reasons Lloyd sets out in his two articles. Take this evening (November 11, 2003), three hours ago. When the Lou Dobbs program on CNN went to a commercial, I switched the channel to Fox, and Bill O'Reilly was on. He was also on one of his hobbyhorses: the political biases of left-wing professors in the social sciences and humanities at US universities, brought out, among other things, by a startling absence of registered Republicans on the faculties of major university (for whatever reason). O'Reilly started out the discussion interviewing a student conservative leader at the University of Texas, Austin. As his counterpart, a left-wing professor in journalism at that university was invited. O'Reilly spent far more time in an exchange with that professor, who did a decent job of taking issue with the student and with O'Reilly's questions and comments, than he did with the student.

Agreed: the discussion could have delved deeper. As it was, it lasted probably six minutes or so. All the same, two contrasting views were deliberately represented in the exchange: trust me, you'd have to look hard and far to find anything remotely like that on French TV; it's not part of their way of doing things, quite aside from the political management of what the state-owned networks are allowed to say . And this balance on Fox, to repeat, was on the most popular and explicitly conservative news cast in the US media. Jim Lehrer does an even better job of organizing evenhanded panels of specialists and others; so do Meet The Press and other cable shows. Again, the notion of such evenhandedness --- never very powerful in countries like France or Germany or Italy or Spain or Central Europe (as opposed, say, to Britain) --- has practically been lost in the murk of pitch-dark pc-numbness the last few decades.

 

Back To the EU Media: Fabricating Facts

To put it bluntly, Michael, you probably have had to live in the EU for long years as I have, off and on, to appreciate the difference between the US media and its counterparts on the Continent. It's also increasingly true of the BBC and the rest of British journalism save for The Economist and The Financial Times, with even The Times, in its Murdoch-owned phase, a pale replica of its once formidable reputation for careful accuracy in reportage and commentary. Thus Tunku Varadarajan, a former Oxford academic who then went into journalism in London --- only to come to this country and find a career here in the newspaper business --- said this in a Washington Times article in 2001 about the contrasts between the two countries' journalist professions:

" . . . As a journalist who once worked for a British newspaper, I found Ms. Barringer's take on the affair rather striking. For a start, there ought to be nothing more delicious--to a journalist--than to see the pages of one paper attack those of another. But the underlying thesis of the report was that Ms. Landro had broken the rules of the club to which she belongs by being beastly to her fellow journalists just at the moment when (gasp!) they were up for a prize. I may be naïve, but isn't that precisely the point at which one should kneecap a dubious contender?

Embedded in the criticism angled at Ms. Landro is the belief that a reporter's words, once printed in a serious paper, acquire a near sanctity. This view is further nourished by the sense among American journalists that they belong not to a bruising profession but to a priestly class. How different from the British approach, where reporters, in healthy self-deprecation, refer to themselves as "hacks." And if a British journalist had suggested that it was somehow not on, mate, to put the boot into another paper's story merely because it was up for an award, he'd have been laughed right out of the pub.

No one would suggest that British newspapers are inherently superior to American ones. In many respects they are quite the opposite. They take liberties with facts, and they rely heavily on unnamed sources, often hanging entire stories--even highly charged ones--on a single veiled source. British newspapers disregard the lines between fact and opinion, and the tabloids--bless them if you will, or damn them--often fail to distinguish between fact and fiction, or reporting and advocacy. But at the top of the scale--with broadsheets such as the Daily Telegraph or the Guardian--the writing is often very fine, and invariably lively. This may be because, as national newspapers, they have a certain metropolitan panache, and none of the provincial diffidence that is a hallmark of many American papers. Their liveliness may also owe something to the fact that their writers are less constrained by the Objectivity Police than their American counterparts.

Objectivity, in fact, has become something of a fetish with American papers. Melvin Lasky, the editor of the now defunct Encounter magazine, and author of "The Language of Journalism," was scathing in this regard when I picked his brains over the telephone yesterday. Mr. Lasky lives in Berlin and was describing the effect of American practices on German newspapers. "In 1945," he said, "the Germans were suckers for the simple American credo--stories should be objective, not subjective, there should be a rigid separation of fact from comment, and all that stuff. You can't do that without producing a very boring newspaper. It was the death of German papers, until years later, when they returned to their own traditions."

According to Mr. Lasky, a typical American story might run like this. Lin Po Foo drank his second cup of tea. He looked through the window. He looked at his plastic teacup. This, in his hands, was the fate of thousands of ceramic teacup manufacturers in Indonesia. A British newspaper, by contrast, wouldn't bother with Indonesia (and certainly not that second cup of tea) unless thousands were being slaughtered."


 

What Emerges Here

As you can see, Varadarajan --- whose article is revealingly entitled, Tedium on Deadline: The American press could learn from those (lively) hacks it disdains --- defends the attack-dog form of journalism that now marks the British media, the BBC included, that Mr. Lloyd of the Financial Times rightly deplores in his two articles cited earlier. What counts for Varadarajan, apparently, is colorful stuff: accuracy, even-handedness, careful efforts to get at the facts are so much fluff that block lively opinions. It's a commonplace in British journalism nowadays, these views; alas.

That commonplace, as Varadarajan observes, includes "taking liberties with the facts" and blurring the line between fact and comment, or even --- in the case of the tabloids --- between fact and fantasy. These are desirable traits?

Consider another relevant testimony here of a British journalist. Specifically, about three years ago at Salon.com, another British journalist commented at length on the stint of a colleague of his, a London Guardian reporter, who spent several months on an exchange program working for the Washington Post. That reporter, he said, found his British training ill-suited for what he was supposed to do. The differences began with the need to do careful background work on all his articles, to check all facts carefully, and to make sure that he had solicited in his interviews a range of viewpoints. He also had to keep editorializing separate from his analysis, and if an unnamed source was to be used, it had to be counter-checked with at least a second similar source or a named one. The Guardian reporter also was quoted as saying that he had never had to work so hard in his life. Back at Fleet street where the Guardian and other major national newspapers are located in London, he observed that journalists weren't just easy-going and regarded their profession as a form of personal expression, but would, if need be, make up facts to get across a colorful line of analysis . . . exactly what Varadarajan noted too.

Well, as they say, to each his own. Americans would very likely be aghast if they were told that journalism should slip into amusing, highly aggressive reporting full of half-truths and made-up facts.

 

Anti-Israeli and Anti-Semitic Sentiments in the EU and EU Media

The extent to which anti-Israeli sentiment pervades the EU media was discussed at length in several buggy articles, including 3 of the 4 on the new Arab and wider Islamic anti-Semitism. No need to go over the same ground here, except to note three or four observations of others that are even more up to date:

1) Thomas Friedman, probably the most respected of the op-ed contributors in the New York Times, observed the following in the course of an article on Israeli-Saudi relations:

Where the Israelis need the Saudis is in combating the rising tide of anti-Semitism. This new anti-Semitism is a witches' brew of Muslim rage — nurtured in madrasas and mosques financed by Saudi money — and classic European hatred fed by a new anti-Israel anti-Semitism. Both are fanned by a European press that increasingly reads like the worst Arab press, and abetted by the real images of Israeli settlers seizing Palestinian land and uprooting their olive groves.

 

2) A recent poll in Italy, published on November 11th, showed the following dismal results:

The survey exposed mixed feelings about Italian Jews and Israel, with 22 percent of those polled saying fellow Jewish citizens are not "real Italians," and 51 percent saying Jews have a different mentality and way of life from the rest of Italians.

The President of the Italian Parliament, visiting Israel, tried to assure the parliamentarians there that there is no anti-Semitism in Italy. Hard to know why, then --- in a country of 60 million where only 30,000 are Jews --- why such sentiments would be expressed openly. Might it not be due in part to the anti-Israeli frenzies in the Italian media, all this in a country that began in the Mussolini era to send its small Jewish community to the Nazi death camps? And almost four decades after Pope John sought to change the Catholic Church's long theological history of blaming Jews for the death of a fellow Jew, Jesus, in the fourth decade of the common era.

 

3) The Italian poll was ordered in the wake of the recent EU poll, published earlier this month, in which Israel was singled out as the greatest threat to world peace. 59% of EU citizens expressed this opinion, followed by 52% singling out the US as the greatest threat. The results, especially about Israel, dismayed the head of the EU Commission and the EU President, both Italians: former Prime Minister Romano Prodi and the current Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi --- the latter in a rotating position, which changes among the member-states every 6 months. Both tried to downplay the results. Both also agreed that the results were disturbing and might reflect at least some growing anti-Semitism. Berlusconi, for his part, expressed both his "surprise and indignation." Prodi went further. "I am very concerned", he said; the poll results "point to the continued existence of a bias that must be condemned out of hand."

However it's viewed, the recent Italian poll on anti-Jewish sentiments in Italy justifies these concerns. So do the two recent ADL-sponsored surveys carried out last year of anti-Semitism in the EU. Around 21% of the EU public expressed strong anti-Semitic attitudes, and another 20% or so clear if more mixed anti-Semitism. The degree varied across countries. In Britain, Holland, and Denmark, it was lower; in France, Germany, and some other countries much higher.

 

4) Worried by the growing anti-Semitic racism in the EU, UNESCO and the Wiesenthal Center held a recent conference on its rapid spread. Here is what the head of Wiesenthal Center encountered:

Recently, UNESCO and the Wiesenthal Center convened a conference in Paris on the upsurge of anti-Semitism. We met with President Jacques Chirac. He assured us that attacks against Jewish institutions originated in the poorer neighborhoods outside of Paris. But when we left the Elysee Palace to meet with Baron de Rothschild a few blocks away, members of our delegation wearing yarmulkes were assaulted by Frenchmen shouting, "Jews go to Israel

Small wonder that, according to the German Interior Minister, Otto Schilly, "the threat to Germany from neo-Nazis has risen to a new level." How great? "There have been hints that right extremists are really a great potential danger for our society…. This has now been dramatically confirmed…. "

 

Third, Risk-Taking, Bankruptcy, And Failure.

As the buggy article shows --- relying on the comparative study of entrepreneurship in the US and elsewhere --- 1 out of 12 American adults starts a new business each year. The equivalent figures are 1 out of 33 for the British and Italians; and about 1 out of 50 for Germans, Finns, and Japanese. (Interestingly, the British showed strong negative feelings about such entrepreneurs: too pushy and aggressive for their taste. By contrast, the Germans claimed in the abstract that they looked with favor on such risk-taking initiative.)

I can't say how your own bank handles credit analysis when someone comes in for a loan. I can tell you that you can go bankrupt in this country, and the next day get a credit card, buy a car on loan, and seek a new business venture. Possibly too --- I'm just speculating --- slow business in the recent disappointing recovery out of the 2001 recession (until recently) might be playing a role too. Obviously, someone with a record of repeat bankruptcy will be penalized even here. As opposed to this, venture capital groups often preferred to become partners of new business ventures headed by someone who had tried earlier and failed, but still showed promise. He or she was more likely to learn from mistakes, it was said.

 

Why Start-Ups Are Important

Note, as a clarifying tag-on observation or two, that a start-up can be small --- a one-man operation --- or larger and become a huge giant, like Microsoft, Intel, Wal-Mart, MacDonald's, and on and on. Seventy-five percent of the Fortune 500 top corporations in the US by the late 1990s had emerged out of nowhere after 1975. In Germany and almost everywhere else in the EU, hardly any new big giants had come into being. Usually with subsidies and various forms of protection --- official or concealed --- giant dinosaur corporations manage to cling to life no matter what their performance . . . at any rate until the last few years, when the pace of globalizing competition began to force changes even in Germany, France and Italy.

One big drawback here: essentially, established giant corporations have a big vested interest in the status quo. They don't like big technological flux and innovation, nor big shifts in market structures owing to globalizing forces and new competitors abroad. In effect, then, it usually takes new start-up firms to implement radically new technologies and bring them to the marketplace successfully. Hence the failure of IBM in the 1980s to keep pace with either Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Compaq, or dozens of other pc-makers. In fairness, though, IBM --- like GE, Motorola, and several other US giants --- did respond to the new competitive pressures from start-ups here or big challengers in Japan, the rest of Pacific Asia, and Europe. They shucked off old lines, trimmed down and reconsolidated, changed their leadership and focus, and became highly competitive: in IBM's case, as an information-service giant for running businesses. In Japan and Germany, by contrast, the efforts to foster new start-ups were usually undertaken by established corporations as sub-divisions, and they suffered the predictable fate: an inability to gain independence, enough finance, and enough bold risk-taking to be successful.

A related point deserves to be teased out briefly. The big breakthroughs of new start-up firms in the high-tech areas since the end of the 1970s here came from venture-capital groups, not established banks. Such venture-capital hardly existed in the EU before the mid-1990s, after which it expanded rapidly. Even so, there are few successes that can be pinned down in the EU, with a few notable exceptions like Nokia, the outstanding Finnish company, and SAS --- the German multinational giant that still, despite formidable competition from US firms, came out of nowhere in the 1980s to dominate business-firm software.

 

Failures: Punished Severely in the EU

Again, this subject has been treated so extensively in the previous buggy article --- not to mention earlier ones --- that little more needs to be added. The exception occurred today. In the New York Times of November 13, 2003, a lengthy article on French attitudes toward the US appeared. It dealt with the mix of attitudes --- mainly negative, but also some positive --- that now pervades French public opinion. At one point, some students at the most prestigious of French business schools, L'École des Hautes Études Commerciales, agreed that they saw the US as an alternative to a highly regulated, conventional career track in French life. So, some young people turn to America as an alternative. They dreamed of "sail[ing] away to America — a mythical place, perhaps, but one of boundless energy and possibility." More to the point, for Florian Bressand, 23, "America offers

the right to fail that does not exist in France. Here we have to stick to a conventional path. In America, if you burn your fingers, you learn from it and start again."


To repeat: you fail once in the EU anywhere --- not just in business, but in the tightly structured, unforgiving educational system --- and you will be lucky to be able to get a credit card afterwards. Most Americans, apparently you too, Michael, do not understand these kinds of constraints --- cultural, educational, financial, and regulative --- that pulse in coiled ways throughout European life. Most of us who visit Europe do so quickly, maybe once or twice, and for at most a few weeks or months, only to return home. Back in Europe, dreaming of big personal changes --- once you've been put on a particular educational track, followed by an entry into a carefully laid-out course of career and advancement --- is not widespread compared to here, mainly because it's futile, no easy way, if any, to escape your fate. If someone does dream away, the image-hopping will overwhelmingly remain pie-in-the-sky stuff with little action that follows. We're not talking about success in realizing a personal vision, mind you; we're talking about the effort to change. Back here, our efforts to strike out on a new life-course frequently fail too, and we have to pick ourselves up and try again.

For all that, some Americans, of course, do prefer living and pursuing a life-long career in Europe --- usually in London, Paris, or Rome, all vibrant cities. Most of them work for US multinationals, including media firms, or have independent means, or have dual citizenship from mixed family backgrounds, or are married to a European. Some are professors, and I for one enjoyed my years as an academic in France and Britain. Other Americans there are retired. They like the slower pace of life, and those who live in Latin countries enjoy the very different sort of culture that you find in Italy, France, Spain, or Portugal.

 

Fourth, The Compensatory Flight into Imagined Utopias

No doubt all these imposed limits on personal change in European life are one reason for the compensatory dreaming of political utopias on the left and, in more searing fashion usually, on the far right as well, historically and in the present. How so?.

Ideological Frenzy

Historically, save in Scandinavia, Holland, Britain, and Switzerland from 1789 until 1945 --- and especially in the traumatic decades between the start of WWI and the end of WWII --- these dreamt-after utopias led to the recurring nightmare of violent ideological clashes and frenzied revolutionary and counter-revolutionary blood-letting --- against one another and against moderate democratic states as well, almost all of them except the neutrals and Britain crashing in the wake of these maelstrom clashes during the 1930s and 1940s. Since then, it's true, the Quixotic, dangerous quest after such fantasized utopias has lost much of its steam: WWII, the cold war, and the Communist empire in East Europe were their direct consequences, and scarcely anyone wants these to happen again. Even so, such fantasizing after radical social and political change still pulses more determinedly in European minds than here --- and, more to the point, it's likely to flare with menacing force in the future.

Why?

Tersely put, it's the combined impact on West European life of remorseless globalizing change, technological flux, and big dislocating shifts in economic dynamism and market structure. In the upshot --- willy-nilly and despite all the major social dislocations and protests that will almost certainly follow --- one EU country after another is being forced to undertake the painful, far-flung changes needed to overhaul their economies and welfare states and become more globally competitive. They have little choice really. For one thing, the rapid aging of the EU population, --- which will require fewer and fewer workers to support ever larger numbers of pensioners living for decades after retirement --- is a further accelerating prod to shift economic equilibrium and re-structure, however painful the changes that ensue. For another thing --- at the other end of the age spectrum --- long-term unemployment of European youth and those in their 20's has grown rapidly and almost without relief for about three decades: right now, that unemployment is probably around 30-35% of all of them. One clear measure here: whereas about 62% of all adults between 18 and 65 were employed in both the EU and the US in 1975, the figure for the US in the 1990s and into this decade is well over 70%, and in the EU it has fallen to below 60% and barely ticked above that rate briefly in the late 1990s. Another unequivocal measure: whereas more than 60% of people between the ages of 51 and 65 in Germany and France were in the work force in 1975, the figure for Germany now is below 50% and for France around 41%. For Italy it's even lower. [Only Britain, essentially --- among the major countries in the EU: Germany, France, Italy, and Spain --- has been a notable exception: thanks to the shocks of Mrs. Thatcher's Conservative reforms in the 1980s, the British economy has done much better the last 20 years than its competitors on the Continent, and today it's participation rate in the work force is at US levels, and its unemployment rate is actually a tad lower today, what with the slow recovery of the US job market since the recession of 2001. Small wonder that there are hundreds of thousands of young Continental Europeans now working in Britain: at least there are jobs available for them.]

The direct economic implications of all this? Viewed generously against this background, there's really little time left for the big Continental EU members to succeed in overhauling their economies, welfare state systems, and regulatory apparatus.

 

The Inescapable Forces of Creative Destruction

On a deeper, more theoretical level, what's going on in the advanced industrial countries --- and not just the EU --- is what many economists call Schumpeterian "creative-destruction:" the recurring impact every 5 or 6 decades, driven by new radically restructuring technologies that noticeably change the ways we live and work and the re-distribution within and across countries of wealth and status, to let old industries and firms go bankrupt or radically prune down, while shifting to more competitive, technologically advanced industries.

These days, this means that there's no way to move into a knowledge-based economy without letting most of the manufacturing sectors of your economy pare down, freeing up capital, skilled labor, scientists and engineers, and managerial talent to move into the new information-based technologies. In 1970 or so, to illustrate this, about 31% of the US labor force was in manufacturing, and manufacturing industries accounted for about 30% of GDP. Today, after three decades of intense dislocating changes, manufacturing is about 14% of GDP and employs less than 12% of the work force. Simultaneously, as we just noted, about 75% of the Fortune 500 companies in the late 1990s didn't exist at all a generation earlier. The contrasts with almost all the EU on these scores are telling and to the point. They indicate just how restructuring the EU countries need to undertake, economically and politically, to reach a similar level of productivity and dynamism.

There's another reason why both the EU and the US --- for that matter, Japan as the other advanced industrial country of major note --- have had to change: the dynamism of several follower countries, rapidly moving up the technological ladder . . . and especially in East Asia, with much lower wage costs. As creative destruction has worked its impact in the US and to a limited extent in the EU and Japan, those follower countries with the ability to import modern technologies and diffuse them will be the beneficiaries of the older technologies, where their lower wage costs give them a comparative advantage. Some of these followers in East Asia or elsewhere will ultimately join the more advanced countries too, just as Japan already has. Eventually, too --- something already evident in the huge investment inflows out of Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea into China --- these more advanced follower countries are themselves being forced to undergo a welter of painful and dislocating changes in order to remain competitive.

Note that this Schumpeterian impact isn't new. Since the industrial revolution's breakthrough in the late 18th century, it has, as we noted earlier, erupted in waves of clustered revolutionary technologies every 50 or 60 years and it has, if anything, picked up relentless speed in the current era of rapidly spreading globalization, big shifts in market structures, and relentless technological turbulence in information and communications technologies, bio-tech, and now nano-tech.

 

So Much For the Economic Implication For the EU: What About The Social and Political Implications? .

Easy enough to forecast: no great gifts of crystal-ball gazing are needed here. Just the contrary

Starting now, as even the French and Germans are learning, the comfy, fairly insulated welfare-state life of the EU countries are being forced pell-mell into the turmoil of jarring, teeth-clenching reforms and a full-dress make-over. The wrenching alterations in European life that follow, one after another --- including a shrinkage of the native European populations, the rapid growth of alienated Muslim minorities, and the need to take care of an ever older number of retirees --- will likely take decades to work their full impact. No doubt a welfare state greater than we have in the US --- or that you find in Britain or the other English-speaking democracies --- will still exist at the end of it all in the EU. That too is easy enough to forecast. Its preservation is essential to European social peace. In fact, the great virtue of the European welfare state after WWII was that it made palatable capitalism to the doubting masses, especially on the Continent, and ended the searing, blood-splotched struggle of 150 years that pitted moderate capitalism against socialism and radicalisms of various kinds on the left and reactionary conservatism and ultimately fascisms of various sorts on the right.

As for the US, the turmoil of economic change --- amid the flux of globalizing forces, rapid shifts in market dynamism and structures around the world, and revolutionary technologies of a far-reaching sort --- is nothing new, just the contrary. We noted this a few moments ago with the marked shrinkage of the US manufacturing sector over the last 33 years or so. The most wrenching period for the US, especially in the Mid-West, was the 1980s. In California, the wrenching pressures came in the early 1990s with the abrupt ending of defense spending in the aerospace industries and in the size of the naval base in San Diego; the same pressures and dislocations have been at work in an over-expanded high-tech sector in the Silicon Valley area in this decade. And as we're seeing in the painful reactions that surround the less technologically advanced sectors of steel, textiles, wood products, and the like, the powerful impact of globalizing trade is still forcing painful overhauling and shrinkage. Even so, most of the disruption has already occurred, and the US has emerged as the most competitive of the advanced industrial countries, and by a long shot.

This is hardly a controversial observation.

As a good collective study put out by the OECD on the new technological flux put it in 1999 --- we'll cite it in a few seconds --- Americans had already absorbed by then most of the inevitable dislocations and upheavals associated with the switch away from an industrial society to a knowledge-based economy. Not so the EU or Japan, despite the start of such changes in the previous decade, along with all the dodges and evasions that occurred except in Britain and Ireland . . . and more recently, to their credit, in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Holland. For multiple reasons, the social and political consequences that await the countries undergoing painful changes aren't likely to be beneficial to stability and tranquil life --- just the contrary. And among those consequences --- especially along the more ragged edge in the Latin Countries, Greece, Germany, Austria, and Belgium --- scapegoating others and even rippling violent resistance have to be expected to emerge and spread.

One reason, probably --- among others --- why there's so much sour grapes and envy in parts of the EU about the US, and the new anti-Semitism as well.

 

EU Scapegoating: An Exaggeration?

Maybe. Let us hope so.

But observe quickly. Terrorist left-wing movements flourished in Italy and in Germany in the 1970s and into the 1980s, and terrorism has shaken France off and on in the 1990s and into the current decade: briefly from Islamists, more enduringly in Corsica. North Ireland flared with violence for decades after 1969; Basque terrorism continues to jolt Spanish life. Then too, in 1968, a general strike of workers across France joined rampant student protestors and others to bring the 5th Republic to a near crisis condition. Come to think of it, just a decade earlier, the 4th Republic crashed to pieces because of a threatened military coup out of Algeria by the French army there.

Something else rears up here. In particular, the growth of violent crime --- much worse in most of the EU now than in the US (which ranks about 15th among 22 industrial countries in its frequency according to the UN-sponsored surveys, taken every 4 years since the late 1980s, of crime-victims in dozens of countries --- will almost certainly aggravate the backlash sentiments that have led to the breakthrough of right-wing populist parties in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Italy, and France . . . some, like those in Holland and Denmark avoiding racist extremism against Muslims and Jews, others more explicit in their vitriol about these minorities. And terrorist activities coming out of the increasingly large Muslim communities, where fundamentalist religion is making big headway among alienated youth, will likely flare too. This really isn't a high-risk prognosis. What really remains uncertain is its future scope and virulence.

More generally, a question prompts itself here: aside from Islamist terrorism, will widespread violence and terrorism emerge again in the EU among the political extremes?

No one can say for sure. It's too early to tell. Some of the auguries aren't encouraging though: among them, political assassination. It followed the effort of Prime Minister Berlusconi in Italy in 2001 to have a law professor at a university draw up new legislation to allow Italian firms to lay off workers more easily. When the news was leaked to the public, the professor was killed by an unknown assassin. The encouraging offset, fortunately, was an immediate national protest against the law, but also against the violence.

 


". . . on the social and political front this is an uncomfortable world for Europe and Japan. The hyper-competitive pressures emanating from the United States, coupled with its undisputed political clout in the international stage, mean that there are continued commercial and policy pressures to converge toward the US socio-economic and legal models. In Europe, the burden of high social overhead costs must be reduced, pension financing reform become an urgent budgetary priority, agricultural support payments are increasingly disciplined through the WTO, and European governments more generally are forced to scale back their activities for budgetary reasons. All of these changes are growth-enhancing in the long run, but they require wrenching political changes."]


 

Fifth, The Reliability of Survey Data

Your comments throw doubt on what surveys disclose when they probe people's responses to questions and statements. I'll treat this larger social science matter in the next buggy article. Here are just a few observations, starting with this one: surveys --- unless carried out repeatedly over long periods of time, preferably with a designated control group followed over the decades (as well as random samples each time) --- will likely tap attitudes, not deeply held beliefs. The former vary in response to the flow of events. There can also be a gap between beliefs and behavior when it comes to the crunch. Then, too, different wording of questions will likely elicit different responses (though in ways that can be controlled to an extent). And finally, people will not necessarily own up to prejudices in surveys.

All that is true.

Oppositely, surveys are still better than impressionistic observations . . . especially when the responses are markedly different across countries or, within countries, across groups defined by class status or ethnicity or religion or region. If there are also cross-checking questions --- either in the same survey or others undertaken at more or less the same time --- then that helps limit the degree of arbitrariness in survey findings. The example mentioned earlier in this reply --- that Americans explicitly take far more pride in our country than Europeans do in theirs --- tabulates closely (save for Italy) with the Pew survey's findings about culture.

 

Finally, European Culture Shaping The US's

Yes and no. Originally, the US political and legal systems were shaped by a powerful English legacy, including common law and parliamentary government in all the colonies. Our suspicion of a standing army and conscription were also influenced by British traditions and --- something else we shared with Britain --- a reliance on sea power for protection for a large part of our history. And of course the use of the English language and its great literary heritage are easy to trace back to Britain.

On the other hand, unique US innovations in political life and other areas of culture soon broke with inherited British influences. To begin with, the US Constitution and federalism plus a separation of powers reflect a unique American departure that had no counterpart anywhere in Britain or Europe at the time or for decades later. The same is true of a strict separation of church and state --- all the more striking because the US is also far more religious even now (as survey data will show in the next article). Similarly, we have a revolutionary tradition of universality that, in Europe, is shared only by the French --- its own revolution following shortly after ours . . . one reason, come to that, for the cultural clash with our oldest ally for generations now.

Again, as the next buggy articles show, the US ideological spectrum has been far narrower than anything equivalent in the EU --- even in Britain, where a paternalistic pre-industrial, pre-democratic Tory tradition in the modern Conservative party since 1850 or so led to much greater resistance to industrial capitalism and commercial society; just as, on the left, a Labour Party founded in 1900 hemmed them in from that side. On the Continent, save for Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Holland, extremist ideologies were powerful political forces everywhere else: from Communism on the left with huge followings in Germany, Italy, Spain, and France from the 1920s on, to fascism and Nazism in the first three countries that came to power and destroyed Communism, socialism, liberalism, and democracy in the first three parties . . . never mind East Europe. What explains the absence of even a socialist tradition in the US? Or the lack of extremist right-wing parties? Even today, when the political spectrum in West Europe has narrowed considerably since 1945 --- generally, moderate coalitions of the left or right alternate in power (save for the recent populist right-wing surges in lots of countries) --- that spectrum generally lies much further to the left than in the US. Survey data also shows this.

We'll delve into these differences in the next articles. In the meantime, another thing needs to be mentioned here . . .



Immigration

Unlike Britain or Continental West Europe, our traditions have been shaped and altered by the arrival of large waves of immigrants: Irish, Italian, East European, Russian and Jewish, Hispanic, and Asian, not to mention the forced immigration of African-Americans in the slave-trade era. Only since 1945 --- slightly earlier for France --- has West Europe been influenced this way by non-European immigration. Note, too, in this connection --- as a buggy article in this series will show --- that the latest waves from Asian and Latin America, plus a shift away from the dominance in American politics and business from New England and New York WASPs that has been underway since 1945, have created a greater gulf than ever with West Europe. Someone like George Bush remains a mystery to the EU publics, not least thanks to the EU media, who have trouble even treating him as a credible human being, let alone a credible leader.

Interestingly, the new immigrants in the EU from Asia and the Middle East are much different in education and professional background than those who have immigrated here: far less educated and far more inclined to sense alienation than the US equivalents. Oppositely, in matters of education --- not alienation however; just the contrary --- the recent wave of arrivals from Mexico and the rest of Central and Latin America are much closer to the new immigrants in the EU. What all this might mean politically in the future is something of major import: for the EU and for us.

These, though, are matters for the next articles here. [For one very perceptive article entitled "Migration and the Dynamics of Empire" --- some comparisons with the US and the EU --- see James Kurth, in The National Interest for 2002.



Replies: 1 Comment

If you needed one example to demonstrate the vast difference in media standards between Europe and the U.S., you needn't look further than coverage of the battle of Jenin in April 2002. Tom Gross' article on the National Review's site proves the point, focusing on British-U.S. reporting in particular: http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-gross051302.asp.

Coverage of Jenin revealed troubling European standards for reporting, double-sourcing and cross-checking. It also proved beyond doubt that there are some journalists who are simply out to get Israel. Palestinians who may or may not exist told grisly tales of execution and bulldozers piling bodies, and British and European papers bought the massacre lie hook, line and sinker. The American papers in general, however, even when they reported the claims, careful circumscribed them by saying that they couldn't confirm the claims or that they themselves saw no evidence.

In the end, it was revealed that there was in fact no massacre -- twenty-three Israelis and fifty-two Palestinians died, all but three of whom were non-combatants -- and that the fighting took place over a small area of a few hundred square meters.

THE BUGGY REPLY:

Yes, Joey: you're dead on target. Gordon-newspost, the buggy predecessor, sent a lengthy article to its listserver subscribers about the ideological biases and sheer prejudice that marked even British coverage of the Israeli effort in Jenin to ferret out terrorists there. Come to think of it, there were probably four or five such articles that the buggy ancestor sent. Here is just one: https://mail.lsit.ucsb.edu/pipermail/gordon-newspost/2002-April/002359.html

Considering the importance of this topic --- it illustrates a great deal about the differences between the US and EU media, the topic itself just part of the wider buggy series here on US and EU differences --- I've decided to post the lengthy reply in a separate article on this buggy site.

Posted by Joey Tartakovsky @ 11/17/2003 04:04 AM PST