Goodbye to rugged American individualism?

By Bernd Debusmann
February 18, 2009

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

Shock!! Horror!! The United States is becoming more like Europe! The rugged individualism that makes up part of the country’s self-image may be doomed. Paternalism threatens to throttle enterprise and initiative.

That has been the reaction of Republican leaders to the $787 billion stimulus package President Barack Obama signed this week after a contentious debate that echoed arguments made more than 80 years ago on the eve of the Great Depression.

“We were challenged with the choice of the American system of rugged individualism or the choice of a European system of diametrically opposed doctrines – doctrines of paternalism and state socialism,” Herbert Hoover said in his closing campaign speech for the 1928 presidential elections he won comfortably. The European ideas, he said, undermined the initiative and enterprise that propelled Americans to “unparalleled greatness.”

Fast forward to February 2009 and listen to an updated version of conservative philosophy, expressed by Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s minority leader: “This (stimulus package) paints a picture of the Europeanization of America … and if we take all these measures, we will have made a dramatic move in the direction of turning America into Western Europe.”

Why is this such a dreadful prospect? After all, the United States does not fare particularly well on international comparisons of quality of life. It ranks 15th on the United Nation’s annual Human Development Index which measures such things as life expectancy and standard of living. A similar index compiled a few years ago by the Economist Intelligence Unit and using different factors put the United States in 13th place.

In both surveys, some of the European countries routinely derided as “nanny states” by conservative ideologues scored comfortably ahead of the United States.

Still, conservative talk show hosts dubbed the stimulus bill the European Socialist Act of 2009 – not meant as a compliment — and Newsweek magazine followed up the theme with a cover that carried the headline We Are All Socialists Now and noted inside that “Barack Obama sounds more like the president of France every day.”

It warned that slow economic growth in the United States, which has historically grown faster than Europe, “could kill rugged American individualism.”

Which begs the question to what extent rugged individualism can flourish in a deep recession.

IN RECESSION, SAFETY NETS LOOK GOOD

In January alone, almost 600,000 Americans lost their jobs, the biggest monthly drop in 34 years. Over the past year, job cuts totaled 3.6 million. This year alone, 2.4 million people are expected to lose their homes, according to the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer advocacy group which tracks foreclosures. In the next four years, that figure is estimated to climb to 8 million.

More than 44 million Americans lack health insurance, the highest number in any industrialized country, and another 38 million are under-insured.

In these bleak surroundings, European-style social safety nets look attractive even to rugged individualists, particularly those affected by the downturn. Even before the present crisis, polls showed growing support for government programs to help those in need. A 2007 Pew survey, for example, showed 69 percent supporting the notion that government should take care of people who can’t care for themselves.

Unfettered capitalism this is not. In the Internet debate prompted by Republican warnings of the impending Europeanization of America, one commentator asked: “Does this mean that the half million Americans losing their jobs each month can count on having health care, public transportation, quality education and a public safety net?”

That depends on whether and how fast the stimulus package takes effect and allows Obama to translate promises into actions. Health care reform is high on his list, as are plans to overhaul America’s creaking transportation infrastructure, make college education more affordable, and provide a safety net for the poor and the unemployed.

Call it Europeanization or a 21st century version of the 1930s New Deal designed to end the Great Depression (economists still argue over whether it did or not), it is a sharp turn from the conservative philosophy that government is the problem and can’t be the solution. That was the basic plank of the “Reagan revolution” of small government, low taxes, de-regulation and a belief that the markets know best.

Numbers confirm that the United States is coming closer to Europe: In the late 1990s, U.S. government spending amounted to around 34 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 48 percent in Europe, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. By next year, stimulus spending is expected to bring the U.S. figure to around 40 percent and 47 percent in Europe. The gap is shrinking.

But in comparisons between America and Europe in an age of economic crisis, one element is conspicuously absent: social unrest. Greece, France, Bulgaria and Iceland have been shaken by riots, mass protests and strikes. No sign of that in the United States – yet.

Are rugged individualists less prone to protests and riots? Or is it just a matter of time?

– You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com. For previous columns, click here. –

157 comments

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Even if the stimulus plan works, it will only be an over priced band-aid covering a serious wound. I’m not sure it is wise to leverage our children’s’ futures for a quick fix, especially since there are no proposals in the mix to heal the overall economy in the future. This legislation is incredibly shortsighted, and equally selfish – sort of like a wife asking her husband to fix a leaky pipe and, instead of doing the job right, he merely patches it up with a million dollar roll of duck tape. Instead of quick fixes, we need to focus on an overhaul of our over taxed and over regulated marketplace, otherwise, we will leave a European-style economy to our children and grandchildren – 60% of their income going to the government with very little return on investment.

Posted by Matthew L. | Report as abusive

The “Nanny” and socialist sytems of Europe are constantly in question. Why shoudl America bow to overly liberal ideas in order to conform to social experiments that are not proved to be stable or feasible. in England and other socialized healthcare systems you can be denied care for smoking related illness if you smoked. the waiting times for visits can be excruciating.
How is it wrong for a system to demand that you look after your self?
As for employment, how is the rest of the world fairing better? in Italy the employment is stagnant, and employees can not be let go for many reasons, given a life time employment option.
Few systems are perfect, but a system that forces you to do for yourself is a darn sight better than social safety net that become a social cradle.

Posted by sean parker | Report as abusive

It’s not worth the effort trying to puzzle through Republican bloviating. Nowadays, theirs is a platform based purely on irrationality — mainly irrational fear.

Posted by Skinner | Report as abusive

This is a very insightful and timely article. “Rugged Individualism” in the United States is really just another term for “Oppression.” It fits in well with elitist thinking in the sense that there are a lot of people who seem to identify with the dream that “They too, will be rich some day.” But, of course, the question is, “At whose expense?” Well, even if it is at their own expense they seem to be O.K. with it. This seems really dumb. What about people trying to just get along socially, using the country’s resources to provide economic stability and good physical health care to all walks of life. What about just having a income tax for education and all schools given the same amount of money to educate their children? If this is socialism then so be it, but it seems only like common sense. Today, our economy has collapsed because some people were so greedy there was never enough. How much do you need? And, can you really be happy when other people are suffering? Apparently, some people are. Well, if there is a definition for oppression, then that is it. Just one more thing: some how the Europeans have managed in the process of their socialization to bring “beauty” into their lives and in their surroundings, both architecturally and in their landscapes, while we are making garbage dumps that will soon be their own named mountain range. We should take the time now to think and change our lives. This article is thoughtful and I would like to see more articles like this. Thank you.

Posted by Reuben Ryder | Report as abusive

It seems the main arguement here is that acting more like Western Europe isn’t a bad thing because their countries rank higher. How would passing this bill improve the US’s standing on the Human Development Index?

Posted by Drewbie | Report as abusive

The United States is becoming more like Europe in many ways. The U.S. is getting older and more and more Americans realize something that Europeans have had centuries to accept, namely, that the government should provide a safety net for individuals. Certainly, there are many examples of how people have abused this in Europe and in the US, but it is immoral for governments to do nothing in the face of impending hardships for their citizens. The Republicans party is a party of the past. They are fighting battles that were decided 80 years ago. We understand now that free market capitalism is a great engine for lifting the living standards of the masses, but the government must also provide the necessary stewardship of the economy. This means that in times of crisis, the government must step in to care for those who have fallen through the cracks.

Posted by Davion | Report as abusive

This was all set in motion by socialist (merely a nicer-sounding word for communist) policies that relaxed financial rules to enable the irresponsible to get into serious debt with no strings attached under the guise of equal opportunity.

I’m not usually one for conspiracies but I have pondered the possibility that this outcome was the aim of communists who despise anyone who strives to better themselves.

As long as Americans don’t again succumb to the misguided ideals about helping losers & their offspring dictate policies America will rise back to its rightful place as defender of individual freedoms.

About the standard of living, I just wanto to say that the statistic is affected by the inmigrants. They start with nothing and gradually improve their condition.

Europe is very much more agresive with inmigration, foreign, pour, people is not allowed there, so their rank may look better in somke cases.

I am sure that this number does not reflect what US inmigrants say about US and what european ingirants say about europe.

Posted by Francisco | Report as abusive

To answer your question, it’s just a matter of time.
The rugged individualism of the Wild West has been supplanted by the individualism of capitalists who wanted to turn U.S. and global finance into an unregulated, economic Wild West. They were pretty successful. Both the post Civil War and the Great Depression economies spawned a lot of outlaws and now the U.S. is about to get another taste of it as the number of disenfranchised citizens grows larger.
Our corporations wanted essentially unregulated global capitalism and we’re living the results now having generated yet another period of economic instability that will undoubtedly grow the world’s largest prison population.
Given the U.S. mortgage meltdown, I don’t think our “partners” in the world economy are going to have any more of it. We can either get economically civilized or go it alone like the faux individualists many of our corporate bosses pretended to be until they needed help and ran begging to the people for tax dollars.
We can call it socialism or we can call it a nanny state or call it anything else we wish but those are nothing more than political labels meant to garner votes.
The way I see it, we’re either going to have to start “civilizing” America or be isolated from the rest of the world. We may even lose our reputation as the model of world finance. If we haven’t already.

Posted by Ra | Report as abusive

I don’t want to be European. My grandfather came from Europe and if I wanted to I could go back where I still have family. Let me tell you it ain’t what you think it is. They may live long etc. but it isn’t anything to be copied. If it were so great why do most American’s have families that left there to come here?

Instead I would like to live in place where it is up to me to make it or fail. I like the idea that it is all riding on my shoulders and that no government is going to come and bail me out because at the end of the day if I make it it will give me a feeling worth more than I would ever have from the government saving my sorry behind. Having the freedom to fail is one of the great American freedoms.

Plus it was the rugged individualist who saved Europe’s fanny in WWII and has kept them safe until today. That is right with out the US the European “Union” would be the Soviet Union right now.

Posted by Bill H | Report as abusive

You miss the point entirely. Capitalism is not good for the sole reason that it delivers a high quality of life. That is merely a byproduct. Capitalism is good because it is the only moral option.

A high quality of life funded using money stolen from the highest achievers is not something a moral human should desire.

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

Does American really have individualism? Please explain in which way you think American ever have individualism in common life and business. Especially, culture?

Posted by nina | Report as abusive

I’m sorry, but I believe the author is slipping into the same baloney that precipitated this mess – namely that the argument has been defined by some sort of right/left dichotomy. The truth is that it is about making good decisions by competent people at all levels of government, with proper checks and balances. That is how you run anything well, from companies to governments. Giving a crap about what Marx or Adams said years ago and how it may or may not reflect on politics today generates the kind of arguments that let the evil people run amok and raid the cupboards bare while the general population worries about non-issues. Small government, low taxes, less regulation, etc, are all non-sensical arguments when taken at the macro level.
The key argument that this article does head towards is this:
what are the fundamentals to a great society, and what is the best method of achieving this?

Posted by James Perly | Report as abusive

God forbid America should become more like Europe! This country is founded on fierce independence and opportunity. I am sure there are factions in this country that would like nothing better than to have a paternalistic government. Namely those already in power! We need to avoid this like the plague which is just what it is. When paternalism is in place the human spirit and will are significantly diminished.

Posted by Har Dass | Report as abusive

Under the Bush era, actions were not taken to keep the house in order. Now, the new steward of the people has to
clean up the mess. All Republicans want to do is cut taxes
but this won’t provide immediate help to the unemployed. Why can’t the whining mainstream republicans get rugged and embrace the housecleaning project set in motion by our leader?
Rugged individuals don’t whine but join together as they did when the founding fathers and pioneers pulled together to form the country. We are still rugged but a house divded does not stand. Is Madoff our shining example of a rugged individualist? Or the Wallstreet Ceos
of the failing institutions? As John Stossel would say, “Give me a break!”.

Posted by Joe Giovanetti | Report as abusive

The truth is whether you wish to believe it or not, we have entered into the era of the end. The Bible speaks in the last days of a One World Governement when they say, “Peace and Safety, at last! Then sudden destruction will come upon them” That is exactly where were heading. No more recession? Global Economy. Helping our world’s citizens? Universal Healthcare. Violence and Disagreements? Tolerance and Inclusion. Ultimately, all of these plans will fall like a house of cards. Government isn’t the answer either. Jesus is! And very soon we are going to see a dynamic shift in the world as we know it. Something is going to shake humanity. Then you will see who still reigns, the Lord GOD.

Posted by The Herald | Report as abusive

Give me a damn break.

The Americanization of American has not worked for the last 8 years. Call it what you want, but a new approach to the curent mess is needed. Also, perpetuaing the myth of rugged individualism is not helpful given the fact that the U.S. has been lead by a man who considered himself a rugged individual. W, is the supreme example that rugged individualism should be Europeanized.

Posted by francisco | Report as abusive

Unlike those readers who will buy into this Europeans live better nonsense, I have actually traveled around most of the United States and Europe and I’m not buying it for a minute. In the United States, the average annual GDP per capita is $48,000. In Europe it’s $33,800. That’s 30 percent less.

You can buy a lot of health insurance for that $14,000 but you don’t really need to. I’m 54 and live in one of the most expensive Zip Codes in Southern California. I have a $5 million private health insurance policy on myself and two $5 million private health insurance policies on my wife for which I pay less than $400 per month total. Health insurance is actually an amazing bargain. People just don’t want to pay today for something they might need tomorrow.

You can also buy a lot of gasoline (and at about a quarter of the price you pay in Europe). Perhaps that is one reason why the United States has 765 cars per 1,000 people (including children to young to drive) while the U.K. has 426.

Electricity is cheaper in the U.S. as well. Air-conditioning is ubiquitous in the U.S. even among the so-called poor. Hundreds if not thousands of Europeans die each year from the summer heat. In 2003, the total number of heat related deaths topped 19,000.

You call this a better standard of living? Please.

Let me make this real simple for you. Here is what is really happening in America.

If you are a political party, you are in business to win elections. To do that, you need voters.

If you are the party of say the long distance runners, you want to create more long distance runners, either by importing them or by influencing voters already here to become long distance runners.

If you are the party of the rich, you want to create more rich voters. You do this by removing impediments to work, saving, investment and production. You lower tax rates and reduce the burden of government.

If you are the party of the poor, you want to create more poor voters. You do this by increasing impediments to work, saving, investment and production. You raise tax rates and increase the burden of government. If this still doesn’t create enough poor voters to solidify your powerbase, you import more poor people and put them on a path to citizenship or just register them to vote anyway. And if this still doesn’t create enough poor voters, you finally just pay people outright to stay dependent on government, which ensures that they never get ahead.

The path to financial independence has an early fork in the road. One way leads to dependence, one to independence. In order to qualify for government handouts, you need to present and document yourself as a victim. In order to get ahead, you need to accept the axiom that “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me”.

These two positions, states of mind really, are diametrically opposed. It is virtually impossible to hold both concepts of oneself simultaneously. This is why you can choose to get by or you can choose to get ahead but you can’t choose both. Of course, you can always go back and revisit that choice. And that is why the welfare reform of the 1990s worked in terms of weaning people off the welfare rolls and onto a different, more responsible, more productive and, ultimately, more independent path.

In repealing welfare reform as well as encouraging illegal immigration, motor voter laws and the right to vote without providing even basic identification, and by constantly pushing for higher taxes, more government intrusion and intervention into business as well as more borrowing and spending, Democrats are simply doing everything in their power to make it easier to get by and harder to get ahead. They’re hoping that when millions of voters and potential voters reach or revisit that fork in the road, they will choose dependency.

What’s so difficult to understand about that? After all, they are the party of the poor. They need to create as many poor people (and as few rich) as possible.

Posted by Randell Young | Report as abusive

‘Europeanization’ covers a whole range of different political and economic systems.

Look at France. Most Europeans think that France is too centralistic (everything gets decided in Paris, practically no saying of local governments) and has a social benefit system that is far too wasteful.

On the other hand, take northern European states like Sweden or Denmark. They have very high tax rates for European standards, but the government covers a lot and people are very satisfied up there. High standard of living with big government.

Then, take Switzerland. Taxes are low there for European standards, but there are nonetheless very good infrastructure, public education (primary to universities) and social benefits. High standard of living with small government.

So the question Americans should ask themselves should not be: How big shall our government be, compared to the European standard?

It should rather be: What do we want the government to cover, then what is the optimal amount of taxes to finance this public service? Governments can be very big and wasteful and inefficient (France), but they can also be very big and efficient (Sweden, Denmark). Or they can be pretty small and efficient (Switzerland).

Posted by Dan Wunderli | Report as abusive

James Perly said: “Small government, low taxes, less regulation, etc, are all non-sensical arguments when taken at the macro level.”

This is only true if you value comfort and absence of pain over freedom. Freedom is not for the faint of heart, for we must confront alongside the light the shadows of our liberties, and the inevitable darkness that results from the freedom of evil alongside the freedom of good. The free man must pay daily the price of his liberty; the comfortable man must only obey.

If we only debate which options will make our lives the most comfortable, our civil liberties will slowly vanish over the next century, for liberties by their nature cause discomfort. I personally would rather live naked in a desert eating scorpions for the rest of my life as a free man than suckle from the teat of mother government, like a poor defenseless child who can’t feed himself, but that is a choice we all must make for ourselves.

Posted by Chris W | Report as abusive

Bill H: And when you or others fail, do we pick you up or let you starve????

Posted by Dale Kooyman | Report as abusive

This Country was created by The Constitution of The United States. It was brought to life by LEADERS and stakeholers who put everything they had into it. This document speaks to the best part of us. I suggest all you people read it again. It wants us to determine the value and effectiveness of OUR government. If the government has not followed the principals set forth, it calls on us, from 230 years ago, to CHANGE THE GOVERNMENT.

Posted by George W. | Report as abusive

February, 18th 23:28 GMT.
It amuse me to read different reaction about the article.
Whether America will nanny state or remain rugged individualist typed society is not urgent at the moment for debating.
Economic damages done by unregulated and unfettered speculators to feed their greed and to flatter their egos is the main reason for this sorry state.
In fact it has logically proved that Unfettered capitalism to dangerous for human society.
What is there to think about merits and demerits about capitalism under the present circumstances.
We should be concentrating on what bankers are thinking and planning to do about pulling out recession fast and soon!!
This should be our top priority.Any system of economic principles whether Capitalism or Socialism that helps pull us out of recession will ultimately be proved successful economic principle and will be cherished by all.

Posted by Jagdish Joshi | Report as abusive

Don’t worry what the Republicans in this country say! – We stop listening to them months ago! :-)

Posted by Marc Glez | Report as abusive

At every stage of American history, Americans have always been at their core a practical people, not an ideological people. Ideology, whether Western European socialist ideology or homegrown neoconservative ideology, is really inimical to the American spirit, which in many ways remains the spirit of the family farmer. In the end, Americans want to be able to follow leaders who appear to be offering something that will work, not something that is ideologically correct. This, and only this, is the source of President Obama’s popularity. Those politicians, especially in the House of Representative, who are exercising themselves to take a stand against him sound (to me) like they are talking only to themselves and not to the majority of Americans.

Posted by Bob | Report as abusive

Here are some points you might consider in favor of America’s emphasis on the individual, but you might as well refer to the founding fathers, the reasons aren’t much different, only the players are. First of all, we don’t believe that the excess fruits of our labors belong to the state. And that has worked well for us, and the world. We’ve defeated the villains; we’ve educated your people; we’ve paid for your defense; we’ve developed leading technologies. We became the strongest, richest nation in the world. And we did this while passing only 10 to 20 percent on average during the 20th century of our GDP through the government’s hands. This nation respects the right of the individual to protect himself, with lethal force if necessary, rather than sacrifice himself for the falacy of the greater good. We are the hardest working nation on the planet. In fact, while our nation carried to load, Europe became soft, fat, and complacent, while your governments preyed upon their citizen’s wealth (currently 50 to 55% of GDP is claimed by European states) to pass to their blueblood friends and family members. We enabled Europe to pursue leisurely lifestyles, park-like settings, transit systems, and then, when a villain shows up on the world landscape, we take care of them for you. Remember Yugoslavia? Yugoslavia could have beaten, or at least fought to a draw, the best armies of Europe. Germany was shaking in her boots. Europe is nothing without the United States, can’t you see? I wouldn’t relish in our difficulties if I were you. To become European is to become weak; a has-been; to have settled; to have abdicated. Watership Down. Becoming European is our country’s greatest fear. Unfortunately, we have a European minded president that aspires to that vision and is mortgaging our nation’s future. We have been fooled. Hopefully our people will soon wake up. Long Live Liberty!

Posted by Dennis | Report as abusive

‘We have met the enemy and he is us!’ Canada’s is doing great!

Yup, I’m a rugged individualist Amurrican.

But in return for “europeanization,” i.e centralization of many elements
of our financial system, would we get not only a return to a healthy
economic state but also
+ good schools?
+ womb-to-tomb health care?
+ highways repaired within a reasonable time after pot holes appear?
+ more than two weeks’ vacation a year?
+ a sensible length of paid maternity and paternity leave with a
guarantee of return to our original jobs?
+ conservation of our artistic heritage?
+ subsidies of our musical and dramatic arts?

If so, I’ll urge my senators and representative in the House to vote for
it.

Posted by S. Klee | Report as abusive

Westerners,particularly americans, are:
eating more than producing;
fukking,dancing,drinking and whatever else 100%;
work zero%. So what do you expect? Now see the economy is
in trillions without having to work !30 years ago there
were hardly any billionaires to be heard about; now there
are plenty, thanks to wasteful spending??
US seem to living off the world and yet projecting image
that it is a saviour of the world and helping.
Man,get the FOOH

Posted by jjmk4546 | Report as abusive

I’m am an American and I have been living in Europe for the past 14 years. As an American I still balk and twitch at the forced compliance that the various European social systems I encounter impose. I also see the amazing benefits that can be realized when something as massive and well financed as “A Government” takes responsibility for it’s peoples well-being. There is an exploitavie nature to free markets that only benefit the top of the food chain, and the top of the food chain will always resist what they see as encroachment into there profit zone. That exploitive nature puts corporate profit before health and well being of the individual. I have always seen that the only way to a strong society is through strong individuals and individualism. To have storng individuals you need healthy and safe individuals. The GOP cries “Socialism” when they are actually saying, “That’s our profit zone”. I enjoy my 100% health care for $65.00 per month.

Posted by Doc Ellis | Report as abusive

People still can’t distinguish between economic and social system. Democracy is still working, its the Capitalism that’s broken. Well… that’s not true either because what we currently have is not a Capitalism… nobody has capital but mountain of debt. If we actually go back to Capitalism, it would actually work.
Ethics… has disappeared. Reagan was the beginning of the end with his stupid trickle down economy and “market knows best” BS. We should all thank Reagan for Bernie Madoff and Stanford. With ethics gone, we have no option but to rely on government regulation and oversight. Is that socialism? Who cares how you label it as long as it works.
If nothing else, please adopt the metric system.

I’ve felt for quite a few years now that maybe the Europeans had some good ideas when it comes to taking care of their citizens. Until recently I didn’t have medical or vision insurance, that’s why I’ve been wearing the same pair of glasses since 2000. In the next few days I will finally have new glasses.

If it weren’t for a couple of public institutions I wouldn’t have a job now. One of those institutions was the Workforce Center and the other was the public library. Without them I wouldn’t have had access to the internet to submit applications, resumes or take the necessary tests. Some of those Republican congressman really are clueless.

Posted by Brian Bigelow | Report as abusive

Chris W,
You sir, have only proven my point.

‘Rugged Individualism’ is meaningless and pointless. The concept has nothing to do with the running of a good government, or what resources should be delivered to whom and when. These are serious questions with very different answers depending on what particular situation we are currently looking at.

Outliers is a great book that helps dispel the myth of the ‘self made man’. I personally always thought that this myth was the perfect excuse to treat poor people shabbily – if we are fully responsible for our own destinies, then others poverty is fully their own fault, and is no responsibility of mine.

At the end of the day, it’s not rich vs poor, or capitalists vs communists, or individualists vs nanny staters – none of these dichotomies make any sense outside of pubs. When you get down to the micro level, where real decisions are made, you have to have strategy, best practices in place, checks and balances, and most important of all; smart and talented people – all trying to make the best fit of limited resources to unlimited needs. And yes, some people need a kick in the butt to be productive, but others need a helping hand. And these people may switch positions relative to where they are in life.

Life is hard, and life is complicated, and as nice and hollywood as these distinctions are, they really belong only in pulp fiction.

Posted by James Perly | Report as abusive

As a citizen of the United Kingdom I find it hilarious how completely most Americans that have posted comments here misunderstand the way government works in most European states.

Firstly, Socialism Communism. Log onto Wikipedia, or, if you have some strange Republican notion that it has been written by the ‘elitist liberal media’ then dig out an old encyclopaedia, and actually READ the definitions of socialism and communism.

Secondly – MATTHEW L, 60% of my income DOES NOT go to the government with ‘very little return on investment’, and, even though around 30% of my $25,000 equivalent salary does go to the government, this covers my healthcare provision, unemployment benefit when I am out of work, (contrary to what the newspapers in the UK state) excellent and affordable public transport, affordable loans for higher education and more. In Scandinavia where the tax rates are even higher (close to 50%), they enjoy one of the highest standards of living – right across the population – in the world. FAR higher than in the US.

Those who believe in unfettered capitalism often talk at length about how the proceeds of growth ‘trickle down’, that the best way to increase the individual’s standard of living is hard graft in a completely free marketplace. This is (quite obviously if you actually look at what takes place in the real world – not in some fictional ‘America’ you like to believe exists) a fallacy. The motive of corporations is to increase profits.

In response to ANDY – it was not the ‘commie conspiracy to break the economy by applying for loans that they full-well knew they could not pay off’ that broke the system, it was the greed of those bankers and mortgage lenders who were paid bonuses based on the number of deals they closed, irrespective of how likely those loans were to be eventually paid off. Where has all the money gone? Into the pockets of rich individuals, the same believers in deregulated markets. Why do they favour deregulation? Because it allows them to ‘suck’ money out of the economy. These financial institutions do not exist to add value to the economy. They perform no ‘work’ to generate wealth. They generate wealth by speculating, and by encouraging market volatility. And then, when the plates can no-longer be kept spinning in the air, the classic plea of the big bankers “we can’t be allowed to fail, you will all be screwed”, and yet again, privatisation of profits and socialisation of losses.

That is why in critical fields, that in Europe are referred to as ‘Public services’, fields that are considered essential to the quality of life of the public, such as public transport, healthcare, education, power generation and key utilities, it has been demonstrated that state-run services perform better. They do not perform better when the metric by which you evaluate them is COST, or profit, but when the metric is ‘QUALITY OF SERVICE’, they are superior. The reason is simple – motive. The state-run services are there to provide a service, for the benefit of the populace, paid for by the populace. The privately run services are there, first and foremost, to make more money. Where nationalised industries in the UK have been privatised, quality and availability of service have decreased.

You rarely hear the less well-off talking about the ‘trickling down’ of the proceeds of growth. And although some on here say it, I honestly don’t believe that many people would be happier free, free to starve.

Posted by seb sikora | Report as abusive

Dennis, posting at 7:55 GMT, is the most intelligent, grounded individual reading this article. He is the only person who has a firm grasp on what it means to be self sufficient and provide for one’s own well being, whatever that takes. He is the only person who hasn’t sighted revisionist history to support his opinion and he’s the only person who sees a problem with healthy, hard working people, like us, forking over a goodly portion of their hard earned salaries to “lift up the downtrodden”, whomsoever that may be, when those people have not done anything to deserve it. For you see, he is the only person reading this article who understands that “the government” is US. The American citizenry. WE are the ones who will spend our treasure financing the lifestyles of those who can’t or won’t work, not some unseen, all powerful national entity that simply manufactures money out of thin air. He knows, as do I, that WE are the people who pay for all those wonderfully European social programs. That’s why I wonder why either of us are reading this ridiculous socialist crap.

Posted by Orionsbow | Report as abusive

What kind of a name is “Bernd” anyway? Might we have one of those European intellectual interlopers in our midst as we speak?

Posted by Winchester73 | Report as abusive

The rationalization for Rugged Individualism disappears quickly when one thinks about disappearing jobs, high cost of education and ridiculous medical costs. It is a feel-good concept when times are good. But, when times go bad even the giant corporations run to the government for a bailout. These big insurance companies have triggered (to some extent) the turn of events.

Example: If one wants to buy a pair of spectacles without insurance, then the minumum cost for a decent pair is $100. The frame is made in China and shouldnt cost more than $5 (cheap plastic or simple metallic). Why are prices bumped up 20x? Why are companies charging extra money for something that was manufactured at $1? $100 is the montly income for many people in the world. Insurance companies charge a dear premium from the customers and sellers charge a dear price from them. People who have insurance dont feel the jacked up price, but the unfortunate ones land up paying $100 for something that shouldnt be more than $5 or $10. This applies to doctors, dentists and almost everything else. Prices are jacked up several times.

Posted by Sharad Yadav | Report as abusive

Dale Kooyman: What do you mean by ‘starve’.

If you starve, then go do the hard jobs.
Remember, 30 mil Mexicans who work hard everyday, risking their lives coming to the US to do those hard jobs. Are they ‘starved’ ?

It’s sick that a lot of people think being born in the US (or being a naturalized US citizen) is a privilege that God gave them. So that they can do a mediocre job and hope to live a dream life in big house (with sub prime loan money), driving SUV (on a 5 year finance) , going to a poor tropical countries for vacation every year (on credit card), etc…

As the above is the current version of ‘the American dream’. No doubt the whole economy is collapsing.

The real version of ‘the American dream’ should be that people work hard and earn a good life (just like the first generation immigrants).

It’s also sick that we have people partying their lives into a mess during youth time and demanding the government to deliver the good life, bailing them out both medically and financially later in life (or live the twisted version of the American dream I mentioned above, it’s just as bad)

Posted by Tony | Report as abusive

I had thought there was a general consensus that while the New Deal did not end the Depression, it helped reduce its effects on many individuals, and that what did end the Depression was World War II.

Since wars are destructive and not productive, though, that means that governments could end depressions if they thought it was worth the effort.

If it’s possible for entities to be “too big to fail”, such as Wal-Mart & Ford, then is that to say government is too big to fail also? The reason economies keep crashing throughout history is because a monetary fund is not a stable concept to base an economy or civilization around. Similar to building a card castle with bent cards every time. Government has outlived it’s purpose in life. Civilizations can’t grow without restrictions with the government constantly holding our hands, reaching into our pockets, and peeping into our lives. Money and government are not too big to fail, and they have failed. Americanizaqtion, Europeanization, it’s all the same hierarchy. One person cannot be an equally effective representative for 3 billion + people. The global economy is spiraling the toilet and we must clench our dying global civilization, unite, and push back the oppressing governments.

Posted by Dan W. | Report as abusive

“Rugged Individualism” is some notion straight out of a Hollywood Clint Eastwood cowboy movie. Or John Wayne liberating Iwo Jima.

What rugged individualism? America has become the Instant Gratification Society binging on cheap money that has woken up, the morning after, with a pounding migraine. Nobody is shedding tears over what has happened to America.

They had it coming. Especially for their consummate cupidity that foisted fraudulent financial engineering upon the world.

Posted by Paul Harris | Report as abusive

As one patriot said a long time ago, when this country was under attack by people who wanted to put an end to our “individualism”……
“Give me Liberty or give me death’!
But there again, Mr. Debusmann, I don’t guess you and the rest of the socialist underground would understand that, would you?!

Posted by Sandy St.John | Report as abusive

If you want the security of a safety net, you ought to go to a country that already offers the security of a safety net. The United States is the competitive country that drives the innovation used around the world. We ought to leave it as is, let the weak fail, and encourage this competition. For those who can’t hack it, we offer Europe.

Bust is the driving force of the boom in economics. It is these busts that not only provide the cheap capital (as in equipment) that provides profit for the successors. These profits are then re-invested in the spirit of competition and innovation until competition drives the profits to zero and the cycle starts over. By putting a safety net under the bust, we are preventing this progression from taking place.

We should open all borders, not only to let the hard-working immigrants in, but to also allow the fat cats, who want their entitlement, out.

Greed is good. Investors will stop taking unnecessary risks when they learn they will not be bailed out. Stakeholders will be less affected when they start educating themselves as opposed to being sheep. These are the hard lessons of life that cannot be learned under a nanny state.

Posted by Adrien | Report as abusive

Excellent article and very very interesting posts. Obviously an emotional bullseye. America is in a deep identity crisis, much like the UK and Western Europe after WWII. China is gradually assuming the role America had in the last century — the world’s dominant industrial power and Creditor-in-Chief of the World. Just as the dollar overtook the pound as world reserve currency, perhaps one day, the Chinese yuan will do the same. In this toggle of roles, China regards America much like America regards Europe — as something to measure its own progress against, to admire while you’re on the way up and to despise once you’ve overtaken them. For America, China’s (re)ascendance as a great power is not nearly as phychologically frustrating as the feeling of being overtaken by the Europeans on the way down.

Posted by Benyamin | Report as abusive

Why is this socialism so bad? Easy, If you accept the Kant, Hegel, Marx based German philosophical ideals, you have lost the freedom allowed by true Christianity and the US constitution.

For over 200 years, this country has been able to maintain that specific relation ship and freedom. Now those bent of philosophy are twisting the United states toward its ever evil claws.

We are the last remaining nation in the entire world that had not accepted German idealistic, Greek based philosophy. Now we are being forced by our Congress and President to embrace their false beliefs that a world bound the world together under socialists international and in their opinion eliminate any opposition between ethnic groups, countries and religious organizations.

This is the same idealistic one world order that is spoken of in Revelation, and we are the last to be assimilated into it as a nation. It is the most destructive force known to man, it has gobbled up in its wake every individual and individualism. It has removed the private ownership and private individualism and replaced it with the tyranny of State control and forced the free individual into a comradeship in the community.
It will turn quickly into a one world governmental system under the control of the United Nations.

The individual and the nation has turned their back on the God of Israel and placed their faith and trust in an ideology of State
They turn to the State for their solutions
They turn to the State for their well being
They turn to the State for their food and shelter
The State has just become their god, and its tyrannical leaders their messiah
They worship the great State and bow to its leaders as if gods

All that is left to do is wash “in God we trust” from all of our currency and public buildings and places. We have been so successful spitting in his face in the educational system, I expect the fairness doctrine will require that churches which teach Christianity also be required to teach Islam. Or why don’t we do like the Russians did when they switched to the German ideology based on philosophy and just nail the doors of the churches shut?

Posted by Bobby Hawk | Report as abusive

Another commentator of this article said that US leads innovation of the world. However, UK, Canada, New Zeland and Costa Rica have, according to health economy experts the most advanced health systems in the world.

I was talking to an American principal of a school recently and he says that Costa Rican students are achieving better grades in international math championships and that makes him feel frustrated.

How good is innovation, if it does not benefit population? Costa Rica is a third world country, by the way…

This US principal said that the situation of many americans is desperate, and he can see it at school. And he believes that to get out of the crisis, US will have to go against many beliefs and behaviors that led US to be in this crisis. Denial of problems is not an option anymore. If you hide problems, they won’t be solved, they will grow bigger. Not my words, but his.

Posted by Pablo | Report as abusive

“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works…”

-Barak Obama, inauguration speech 01/20/2009

Posted by Reader | Report as abusive

Yeah, American pride is taking a knock – and the smarter of the leaders admit it. Such as Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, who told a hearong on February 13: “The widely held perce[ption that excesses in US financial markets and inadequate regulation were responsible (for the global crisis) has increased criticism of free market policies which may make it difficult to achieve long-time US objectives such as the opening of national capital markets…It has already increased questioning of US stewardship of the global economy and the international financial structure.”

US stewardship? That’s yesterday’s story.

Posted by Rufus | Report as abusive

It’s about what you call individualism:

As a soldier (e.g somebody who kills other people for the “benefit” of other people for money) you are an individual when you kill your counterpart with a knife instead of a bullet.

As a clerk you are an individual when you drink your coffee without sugar, and your boss with sugar & milk.

The days are due that so called individualism (which never existed) will be a reason to see (or hear) dead man walking.

Do you individuals not see that USA is going down the drain in a year or less, and taking the rest of the so called civilised world with it? what is the point of being individual than?

What a non issue.

Oh by the way, when you didn’t notice it yet:
I’m an european

Posted by Me | Report as abusive

I am a democrat and the Government does not know best. It’s not capitalism if the Government regulates it at the rate we are going. This citizens of this great country are loosing freedom at the same rate Hugo is taking it from his people. People who support this article are the people who don’t want childrens sports to have a winner or loser because we may cause emotional trauma to the child. Teaching competition and feeling pain from a mistake (financial or physical) is the best way to improve. Less regulation and tax (yes I am a democrat) will again allow this country to flourish.

Posted by Andrew | Report as abusive