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

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Mr. Choi, I agree that most people here in the US who do not have a college degree seem to blur economic systems with political systems.

For those of you, who think this is a democratic society, think again. You live in a Republic where the people you vote into office are not obliged to vote the way you want or even the way the majority of their district wants but the way their contributors want. Why, because you have allowed them to believe that it does not matter what you want as long as they have enough money they can persuade you to think their way. Why you really don’t even vote for the President. The Electoral College elects the President. Even though this nation has had the ability and the technology to move toward a more democratic political system, such a move is deemed counter productive given the level of intelligence of the common citizen. That is not me speaking but various Washington Think Tanks. Me, I am for democracy and all the responsibility it brings to each of us but, I won’t get into that now. Let’s just say that I am a Constitutionalist who thinks the people are smart enough or will be in a very short time if given the responsibility.

For those of you who think this country economic system is capitalism, think again. We are a hybrid. Pure capitalism does not work. Neither does any other economic system. Capitalism must have market expansion to survive. No market is infinite. The current condition is a prime example. Capitalism left unchecked leads to oligopolies and monopolies which destroys the entire theory of Free Market economics. The Auto Industry is a case in point. The US auto industry was(is) an oligopoly in this country until Japan broke into the market and when that happened suddenly our cars (on average) started lasting over 100k miles. Look at Chrysler and the slant six engines. It was known for lasting over 100k and they stopped production and when Japan moved in it took Iacocca to slap them upside the head and start producing them again. Today we have the TBTFs. That smacks of Capitalism gone wild and we are feeling the pain. I agree with those that say we should have let them fail. I think the TARP and the Stimulus packages should have pumped money into the social individual safety nets and started a WPA style job program and opened Civil Service to absorb those displaced. This would have allowed the markets to adjust while the government protected the workers of those markets. Let’s face it, it is not the workers that took the risks and made the big bucks for all those years. But this government decided to bail out the big boys and go light on the little guy. Maybe if this government would have not allowed these TBTFs in the first place and would have had better watchdogs monitoring the creation of questionable financial instruments maybe we would not be in the fix we are currently in.

Now this is how the two relate. Guess who runs Congress? Not the workers who just happen to be the majority of the voters. That’s right the very small minority called the Wealthy. And you wondered why we bailed out those big financial institutions and the Auto Industry. And for those that will come back and say that by saving those TBTFs they save millions of jobs for those workers. That is true but, all that means is that these wealthy have taken a page from the Terrorist hand book and are protecting themselves by using the little guy as a shield. And it is my opinion that the government should do that through safety nets like unemployment benefits and Cobra and others that should be implemented to safeguard the working class of the US. Let the entrepreneurs take the risks. But protect the workers, who had no say in the direction those entrepreneurs took, from the darker side of Capitalism.

How does all this relate to the EU style governments? We are all hybrids of some sort. We are all trying to find the best fit.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

Unfortunately, we in for at least a decade of ragged individualism.

Posted by D Sakarya | Report as abusive

Well, I agree with you mostly Mr. Free but I do believe pure Capitalism works. The current economic system we have, needs market expansion to survive. Pure Capitalism does depend on growth as well but at much slower rate. We’re just accelerating, or bubbling that growth with debt in current system. And with current growth of population which is estimated to be 6.5 million per month, there’s plenty of market expansion for pure Capitalism.
At this point, it seems impossible to go back to pure Capitalism as that’s what Ron Paul proposed and evidently, not enough voters agreed with him.

ikea was the anti-spam word i had to enter when posting this comment. which brings to mind the FACT that Ikea accepts Visa and Mastercard, but not liberty or Liberty. it can’t be eaten. it accounts for none of the GDP of any nation and is reduced to the choice between Coke v. Pepsi, Privacy v. Imposed Morality, and Higher Culturally Inflated Standard of Living Those Willing to Accrue Massive Debt v. My Right to Thumb My Nose at Global Concerns. Liberties are taken by individuals, but are given by whom exactly? which of our liberties would diminish of our GDP was spent on something like… health care? we could just go back to pissing it into the winds of credit markets. ‘cuz that what rugged means!
if you give people money, guess what? they’ll spend it. and you know where it goes? you. your boss. the housing market. the drug industry. the automobile industry and with a little luck, maybe even an interest bearing account. roads don’t build themselves and buses don’t grow on trees. and even if they did, you’d bet we’d subsidize them and insure better working condition for those who pick them and a fare market value for its export.
less is less. more is more. that’s something rugged individualism does not teach you. i’ll outsource the upward motion of my boot straps to Prada, and my atomization to CERN thank you very much. as an individual, community member and resident of the planet Earth; i’ll gladly pay more for more.

Posted by carmella | Report as abusive

EXCELLENT article, Bernd!

Not what some American “conservative” ideologists want to hear, but too friggin bad! ;-)

Seriously, how some of the posters here, and their idiot mouthpieces like Boehner, and the various media clowns that both speak and think for them, can continue to preach the “greed is good” mantra is beyond me.

Maybe they haven’t eaten enough salmonella contaminated peanut butter …

No Western European country has 300+ million people like the United States. No Western European country has over 9,000,000 sq km of land with associated infrastructure like the United States does. No country in the world has as sophisticated a military industrial complex as the United States of America. No country in the world has Federalist system of government as integral as the United States with 50 mostly independent states united by one central government.

By the figures cited in this article, the amount of money spent in the United States by government is very close to the amount spent by European governments especially when state and local government spending are factored in, yet the structure of the social programs in the U.S. is nothing like the structure in Europe.

The European system works in Europe. The United States of America is not Europe. There is no evidence to suggest that it is even possible to make a European type system work in the United States.

Posted by James | Report as abusive

As a republican for the last 20 years I was in love with capitalism and was all the way gung ho with all the pundits supporting it on the radio, you know who I ‘m talking about. But as we have scene with all these swindlers falling out of a box of rat traps in this recent eceonomic downfall you really have to be taking advantage of 99.9% of the people to really take advantage of it. The rest of us who still continue to support it are really uneducated and lack understanding of what is happening here. Radio talk show hosts live on thsi stuff, this is their bread and butter. They have a motivation to make you think capitalism in raw form is still the way to go. If you still don’t trust me, take a reality check and think about how you have actually benfited from capitalism and do europeans still get the same benefits we do and and more.

Capitalism is like that girlfriend or boyfriend that we really wanted when we were younger, but knew they weren’t good for us. Let’s grow up and think about what has this done for me lately. And look furhter down the future and see what it has in store for you. I’m thinking particularly about helath care. Think about what your actually going to retire on and consider inflation. Do you really think your going to afford health care. My wife and I are upper middle class and we have relatives who own technology businesses; none of us can see being able to pay for health care after retirement without the government waiting for us to spend all our saved money ebfore they help us. I would rather pay into a national health care system and give everyone health care, rather than pay some CEO several million dollars so he can have several mansions and a yacht. Why shouldn’t everyone get health care?? Why should we let executives at HMO treat us at their mercy? No one should have to beg for health care. That is not a civilized society.

Posted by Rich | Report as abusive

Bernd, I think your opinion is in the same direction as mine! I also like Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, but in reality the self-attained equilibrium in the free market is a rarity and when it happens is volatile and lasts a short period of time. With no other rules to follow “greed” will rule sending economies into recession any day. With the time the volatility may actually have an adverse effect over the “rugged American individualism” in question, as businesses close doors in the thousands and those that survive feel the pain and are bruised in a recession.

I feel like a character in Animal Farm. It will slowly creep up on us until we are just used to it..kinda like gas prices

Posted by Debbie | Report as abusive

One thing should be restated about the current economic crisis: The Republicans had the ball and they dropped it. Greed and corruption and plain incompetence has marked the last 8 years of government.

While not taking one bit of urgency and horror away from terrorist acts, the greatest and most sacred trust of any government in the United is to make sure the people have their Constitutional rights. Now, these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It doesn’t say right to work or right to education or right to health care. But the Constitution was written in a different time. Wise as the founding fathers were, they would be the first, I believe, to suggest some additions to this document.
Having expressed this opinion, we still have not had the frank words from any politician right or left. I only hope someone has the guts, the fortitude and the common sense to speak up and say to all of us:
“Get real. Tighten your belts. Get off your butts. This is how bad it really is.”

Wouldn’t that be amazing? I believe this country can do anything. But if we don’t understand the problems in full and know how much trouble we are really in, we can’t do anything about it. We need our leaders to treat us as partners, not children.

Posted by erin Van Tassel | Report as abusive

Capitalism is changed and became more socialistic.
Europe got this change first and US is just getting it. The same story with socialism in Russia – socialism became capitalistic. Individualism is a myth everywhere. Individualism is not a freedom to select a T-shirt from different stores with different sentence on it!
If you have TV in your home, you cannot be individualist – everything prepacked and put into your mind. So, whatever you think is made for you in the morning by FOX or CNN.
If someone thinks differently from the majority, it can be really dangerous. Who dares and who cares. Majority rules.

Those who fight our “socialization” so desperately do so by considering themselves “Federalists,” which refers to “a member of a major political party in the early years of the United Statess favoring a STRONG CENTRALIZED GOVERNMENT,” actually closer to what we have now but not quite our beloved “Democracy.”

Unfortunately, for the last 8 years the United States took on a decidedly FASCIST flavor; which means, “A political philosophy, movement or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition; a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control.”

Look at the “definitions,” folks. Federalists they are not. Where were all the “Federalists” when this entire mess was being created the last 8 years. When you lose your earnings in your 401K or your stock portfolio blame “the last one.” Iraq was his baby, a war of choice, that cost us billions of dollars and thousands of wasted lives. Where were any of you then? Amazing!

Posted by Julia Cochran | Report as abusive

This stuff about “rugged individualism” is a bit off, apparently as a result of some sort of mythology about Americans accepted by Europeans. That’s cool; everyone in the United States watches way too much television, too. In fact what is happening now is a sloughing off of the Ronald Reagan concept that “government is the problem” and something of a return [with a makeover] of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt concept that “it’s our government, let’s use it”. Everybody here in America are still VERY much believers in individualism; we call it “freedom,” or “U.S. citizenship,” or “one man, one vote” (one person, actually) or “government of/by/for the people.” And most Americans, while amazingly parochial (they don’t get out of the States much), are also an amazingly good-natured, trusting, friendly, and generous people –in stark contrast with the regime of the Christian Caligula [GWBush], and don’t have poor opinions of Europeans, generally. Consolt your own history instead of watching mivies and television and listening to over – paid, under – educated, self – absorbed creatures of INFOTAINMENT (journalism being obsolete). You know, more important than any of this folderol is the fact that Afghanistan has again become a colossal producer of the morphines from which HEROIN is made: heroin gere, in suburban Massachusetts, is 97% pure (compared to 4% in 1975) and so cheap (cheaper than beer) that users don’t show up overdosed in the hospital emergency rooms (which is how the various Departments of Health and law enforcement track the extent of the problem) because rather than injecting heroin they can SMOKE it (which was inconceivable 20 years ago). Personally I think if everyone in the EU, or NATO, or somebody, would just fly intoAfghanistan with a lot of NAPALM, the whole world would be very much better off, because it isn’t the druggies and stoners and losers using heroin now, it’s the valedictorians and honors students…

Posted by James H. McCann | Report as abusive

Davion,

I have to disagree with your comment partially, because of one glaring and important mistake.

Americans (US & Canada) are (mostly) Europeans. They left because they felt like they were being persecuted by both the government and the cultural majorities.

The US was designed as an “anti-Europe” in some ways specifically for that reason, during a time when monarchy was still pretty significant in many European nations.

Also, westernized Europe has developed into its modern day version during the same time period that the US matured. To say that Britain today is the same Britain from 300 years ago is completely ignorant. And comparing Britain 300 years ago to Britain 600 years ago would be a similar leap.

It would still be wise to cross-exchange the most potent ideas in governing between the EU and US, but to say that the US is a “younger” nation is leaving out many details about who originally settled North America. On that note, I’m not referring to the natives. Had they been the sole creators of the nations existing in the Americas, you would be completely right.

Posted by steve | Report as abusive

We here in the Rust Belt already have a “nanny state” – one (leftist) party rule, high taxes, onerous regulations, & very powerful labor and government leaders, well-armed with lots of power, lots of votes, and lots of laws.

And despite eye watering taxes and huge government expenditures, we’ve had for many years double-digit unemployment, low incomes, rotting infrastructure, and shrinking, aging populations.

The histories of all nations and states with planned economies are similar, be they Socialist Britain or Soviet Russia.

To say otherwise betrays the deepest ignorance of both history and economics. (I do not consider modern Keynesianism a valid form of economic inquiry.)

Posted by Drew | Report as abusive

Okay, I get it. There are groups in America that have fundamentally different views on the role of government. Democrats favor larger government. Republicans claim to support less government, yet in practice, they support larger government with conservative agendas. Then, there are the Libertarians who support less government. What I don’t understand is how some groups, i.e., liberals, think that it is within their rights to legislate a larger government, which costs everyone more money in the form of taxes. Liberals think it is in their rights to dictate that role of government. However, they could accomplish their agenda by collectively forming charities, donating to existing charities, etc. Why do you think it’s within your rights to make me pay more when I don’t want to? I don’t think it’s within my rights to take away government services that you’ve had for over 50 years that you depend on, even though I disagree with it AND I’m trying to SAVE you money.

This debate is retarded and selfish on YOUR part. This country was not founded on the principles of everyman is FORCED to help every other man. It was founded on HELP YOUR SELF. I work 80+ hours a week to give 30% of it to the government, yet I hardly use a single government service, other than roads, police, etc.

Posted by Cam | Report as abusive

Individualism is over. The planet doesn’t have enough resources to keep feeding the superfluous greed of the few.

Credit upon credit upon credit, spending like there is no tomorrow, wasting like there is nobody else in this world, having no responsibility or consequences for ones actions it’s not right! Nanny-states? Yes, regulation is necessary!

What does this child with no boundaries become? Free? Smart? Think again.

“Civilized” is not a synonym of “Comfortable”. It’s about making sacrifices that I dare to say the majority of US citizens are NOT willing to make.

Spare me the jungle law about the stronger and the smarter and all the rewards for the fittest. It is visceral and primitive, not (r)evolutionary.

Posted by Liberty and Responsibility | Report as abusive

It’s simple really. Communism doesn’t work (take the USSR as a good example of that), totalitarian dictatorships don’t work (like Hitler’s Germany), monarchies aren’t any better since the power is all in the hands of one family (like Saudi Arabia)or a theological government (like Iran) is not so great for anyone who doesn’t follow the state sponsored religion or disagrees with it’s leaders since their is no dissent permitted. So a free market, capitalist society with some Socialist safety thrown in seems to be the best way to go in terms of proven success. China is seeing some success with the mix of Communism and Capitalism, but citizens still like their freedom and Communism doesn’t provide any.

Posted by Ben F. | Report as abusive

WOW – I suggest those of you that think Europe is such a great place, pack your bags up and move there. My America and the America of our Founding Fathers is a far different view of what we’ve turned into today. The Congress has usurped authority through taxation and turned our country into something that was never meant to be – a group of whinney, snot nose, screaming little girlie men that thinks the “government” (which by the way is We the People) owes them something. By feeding the people their “drug” of “everyone should be treated the same and wealth belongs to everyone” line of BS – the week minded flock of sheep now believe that it’s true. We are all guaranteed the same rights under our Constitution, but we’re NOT guaranteed the same results. Our society has become so lazy and complacent lacking any sense of self responsibility that everyone has become a “sheep” flocking to the same folks in government that are preparing the shackles for their feet. I don’t need the government for anything in my personal life. They can go back to National Sercurity and ensuring our rights are protected. Maybe it would do these Dems good to sit down and start reading some of the Founding Fathers documents so they would understand why they’re really in Washington.

Posted by Roundup_Logan | Report as abusive

CAM : First of all your tone would have been lot different if the company where you work 80 hours a week had decided to hand pink slips because of the current crisis AND NOT BECAUSE YOU ARE INCOMPETENT. Its callous of those who think that millions losing job every month are INCAPABLE and should not be helped. In your opinion it is justified to help BANKS AND CEOS who led us all to this drain but not those who have become victims with no social cover. Its time to go back to the most basic meaning of society and why societies were formed in the first place. And anyways I have no sympathies about you working 80+ hours as financial engineers and CEOs also claimed the same while digging the grave for everyone else across the world.

Having some social inclination will not do any harm to this nation but the country will turn out better citizens who think about society before acting. It is America’s culture of ‘me and only me’ where individualism has been praised to the extent that people while pursuing their insatiable greed do not even consider the impact on others of their actions.

And why degrade Europe when some European economies are amongst the best in the world.Just think why Europeans dont crib about paying high taxes and all, maybe after two world wars they have realised the true meaning of society. America do not stand anywhere when it comes to prosperity, quality of life and contentment. And can anyone even define individualism by which Americans swore-by. Your brains have been muddled by the Corporate designed information that is feeded to you daily through your media and your education system.

Moreover for those who think poeple who took sub prime loans were at fault think again. Think about the predatory leanding by these financial institutions who offered incentives like no down-payment, no payment at all in the first year and initial payments at low rates and add to that the assurance given by these bankers that their loans will be refinanced. Who will not be lured by such rosy offering. What these bankers wanted was to suck money out of everyone take huge bonuses in the present and then who cares if the system fail afterwards.They will have taken millions of dollars with them already and left millions others to pay the price. This is your individualism. Banks and big corporations, are they individualistic in begging money from governments. You people sacrifice conciousness on the altar of individualism. Even today these banks and corporations are holding government to ransom by pointing their guns to the head of their employees who do not have adequate safety net, had it been possible if there were adequate social services and safety net for unemployed. Americans will ultimately loose more money, competitiveness and moral fibre while helping these good for nothing organisations and financial institutions in the long run than it would have spend on developing adequate security net for those who ultimately become victims of an over greedy system.

When we are told that we are 15th on the United Nations Annual Development Index is the fact that millions of people come into this country every year to enjoy the benefits of being an American taken into consideration.
A large percentage of these good folks come from countries where folks are poor and have bad health. These millions of people have a great affect on our statistics. They come here for the most part because they too are individualist and want to be with the rest of us.
I think it is ridiculous that we should become like Europeans because of UN statistics, I speak with many Europeans and compare notes and overall the average American is(was) much better than the average European. We take things for granted that many other developed countries still consider luxuries. Such as: driving our own car across the country, helping each other out of bad spots, having central heat and a/c and having the ability to start our own business when we decide that our current job is not adequate for our needs, either monetary or emotional. Of course, many of our politicians want to take some of these things away from us so we can be more like Europeans.
The dictionary needs to still define an American as an individualist. You will see over the next few years the answer to the energy crisis coming out of American garages not government labs. You will see that the fix to the financial crisis will come from the individualist that can see the world clear rather than from banks that have already proved that they only love money. We The People make this country great and always have. We The People are individualist.

Posted by Craig Coal | Report as abusive

AH, again, we swerve from the debate to name calling. “If you don’t like it, move”…so if you’re so firmly committed to capitalism, why aren’t you packing your bags to China or UAE or any of the other myriad of places that practice a much purer form of that golden system. PS, don’t mind the poverty…it’s part of the ticket price. And the “I hardly use a single government service, other than roads, police, etc.” Let me guess, you plan to shred your social security and medicare checks when you retire. Wait, they are by far the largest chunk of federal spending, followed by the military…oh, wait, want that, too. Lets you create a new business whenever you like. By the time we find the things we really do want to cut, we’re talking about a rounding error in the federal budget.

We the People do decide what the government is. That is what the Founding Fathers set out to do. Do we want abject poverty? Do we want to see seniors evicted from their homes or denied medical care? Do we want toxic rivers and soot filled air? No, we’re not that committed to capitalism. Do we disavow hard work or begrudge others for working hard? No, we’re not becoming a welfare state. Maybe we need to believe that our government, voted on by us, might actually be the apparatus that creates that mix that does make us rugged individualists. Maybe we should believe that the government does adapt to the times to provide the right amount of services. And it we don’t, maybe it’s time to move beyond nationalism, and then we really can stop blaming government for trying to fix things.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

I’m 68 years old and an ex Republican turned Democrat. I own a small business and always believed in the Capitalistic experiment. I’ve done well for myself living in a million dollar home, have a couple of airplanes one of which is eight place and drive a 500 series Mercedes. I’m not complaining. After watching over the last 30 years how our system has not taken care of its people and realizing just how harsh it is on many I now agree with Mr. Debusmann’s argument.

It’s interesting observing all the remarks made by so many who’ve most likely never lived overseas. I’ve lived in the Middle East, South America and Europe and let me tell you they are not a group of communists. My son lived in Europe for 17 years and died of liver cancer. He was cared for by two world renowned oncologists and his health care was provided by his country of residence.

If you think living in Europe is being under a communist rule then you’re view is based on a lack of understanding or knowledge and fear has overtaken emotions.

We live in a country where we’ve become accustomed to the cruelties that our economic system can render. It’s all we know and everyone has learned to scratch and fight to get a small piece, myself included. I’m not condemning the system but simply stating what’s often overlooked or concealed. It’s fine if you or I accept the rules of this game but many overlook that peoples of other countries sometimes don’t want any part of it.

We try to dictate our rules on others, like the people of the Middle East, under the cloak of democracy. They’ve managed to survive many generations under their systems and many are doing well financially so they don’t want to risk their comfort zone with a change. They are now watching how greed has inflicted damage to our standard of living. We in this country need to learn more about the human existence related to society. We don’t live alone.

Thus, give the man some slack and listen to his argument from the perspective of being a little tolerant and less myopic.

Thanks for the opportunity to express another view.

Posted by George H | Report as abusive

The idea of a rugged American individualism is basically a mis-managed perception by the other countries that hate and envy our nation at the same time. America is more than a nation…we are an idea of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We need to stop being compared to Europe…our westernly cousins didn’t mature into socialism…they had little option. America has been lazy and needs to pay the price for our actions. We consumed more resources that the rest of the world. We allowed ourselves to shirk funding for education. We allowed ourselves to believe every American required a mortagage. We allowed ourselved to develop into a culture that toils more hours than it spends at rest/play. Capatalism doesnt work so well when you have unfair trade, one of the world’s smallest traded departments and unregulated tyrants plundering the markets. We should embrace lesson’s learned from Europe’s history…and continue showing the world the marvels we accomplish when we are united with good leadership. Watch us build.

Posted by CWilson | Report as abusive

When you people embrace socialism – where do you think the government gets the money it simply gives away to whomever it chooses? Of course it’s from the successful individuals and business in the free market – the citizens. (or it prints it!)

The government cannot create wealth – it only takes from one individual and gives to another. It’s so simple it hurts.

And who is the government? Mostly career politicians who have little experience in the real world – in actual businesses – no, they’re earning a living from the state. I simply cannot trust them to utilize MY money better than myself. Why do you want to willing hand over your right to earn a living and live your life without someone else’s rule?

How can the bureaucracy effectively manage our lives and money – has the government done it consistently up to this point? No, the government IS the problem – living off the state robs all ambition, initiative and greatness – mediocrity and entitlement set in.

Posted by Jojo BoZley | Report as abusive

Damn the Federal Government. They created this mess and all so they could then claim that to fix this mess they need more power. State government is 100% what our founding fathers wanted when they set up America. Only thing the Federal Government should do is forign policy. Leave the local government to us whom live in the locality.

Posted by Steven | Report as abusive

I lived for nearly 10 years in England. Having done so i observed the Socialized system crumbling under the weight of skyrocketing costs and dwindling taxe revenue. What had once been the model for all socialized health has long waiting lists and yes rationed health care. i think we as a Country should learn there must be a common ground for this to work for us. We can’t rely soley on the Government to provide this care. It will have to be a joint effort between both private and government sectors. We will also not be able to provide free care to non-citisens without some sort of reimbursment system that pays back costs accrued. rushing into a intitlement based society is a reciept for disaster. Learning from past failures so we may implement a workable healtcare profile is the only answer. Conservative,independent and liberal input will be needed to achieve a broad consensus that is workable for all concerned. W Puette

Europe has its problems too don\’t be fooled and \”socialism\” or the concept of \”socialism\” isn\’t as great in Europe as it might appear to be here in the US. Don\’t forget someone funds socialism and that\’s the people in the form of high taxes.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/con tent/article/2005/06/14/AR2005061401340. html

http://satyagraha.wordpress.com/2008/12/ 31/will-europe-run-the-21st-century-not- with-high-taxes/

And another view on high taxes and its affect (this written before Obama became Pres.):

http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=533 5

Posted by jandcraw | Report as abusive

Just because something works in Europe does not mean it will work in America! The United States is much more diverse than any country in Europe. It is MUCH harder to apply the same levels of regulation and government on a very ethnically diverse population.

The federal government is too big! PERIOD. Now Obama is telling the mayors how to spend the money. The federal government has NO RIGHT to micromanage local government and shove printed money down the throats of states that don’t even want it.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

For many decades American are involved with WARs which is nothing to do with their own borders, but they do because their politician are major beneficiaries of these wars. Now every individual American is suffering from their sins. This is the right time for American peoples to come on street and ask these spoilled politician to stop was business and get start working for the benefit of American nation.

Posted by Al Baloushi | Report as abusive

“For many decades American are involved with WARs which is nothing to do with their own borders, but they do because their politician are major beneficiaries of these wars. Now every individual American is suffering from their sins. This is the right time for American peoples to come on street and ask these spoilled politician to stop was business and get start working for the benefit of American nation” – al baloushi

Thanks for your educated comment on what America should do. I hope our leaders are wise enough to adopt the politics of someone who has probably never been to the US: one whose comment has abolutely nothing to do with topic of the article. Bravo. You tell ‘em.

Posted by doctherooster | Report as abusive

I sympathise with those Americans of a certain age who feel their country is changing way too fast all around them and who look back on the America of their youth , a nation that proudly gazed across at a largely backward looking and impoverished Europe , as the beacon of democracy in a heroic golden age of opportunity , advancement and certainty but the world cannot rotate around the nostalgic self comforting thoughts of people who have basically lived their lives – no matter how passionately they believe in the ideas of the past or how patriotic or well intentioned they think they are – as those ideas of America and what it means to be an American have not stood the test of time , they have failed Americans and the world abysmally as notions like rugged individualism and the individual pursuit of happiness have been taken to extremes with horrific lasting consequences that now have to be dealt with and paid for by everyone at the full market rate of change.

Here’s the heart of the matter: For the past eight years the Republicans aggressively controlled the Executive Branch. For six of those eight, they controlled Congress, and in the final two years held a blocking minority in the Senate. After those eight ‘ruggedly individualistic’ years the economy is in shambles. President Obama has been in office a scant month, and from the day after he was sworn in, the Republican Party has been tearing him down, ad hominem and politically, and now slam the stimulus packege — the ink’s still damp — for not having instilled ‘more confidence’ and for turning us down the some vaguely pinko path. Why are we paying them any mind at all?

Posted by William Crane | Report as abusive

Frightfully it seems that most of the current conversations about ‘America’ and all that ails our country center on the narcissistic bent of those who have a very narrow view of the world.

The vast majority of the American public are to be pitied for allowing the ignorance of our average citizen to become so ingrained for so long a period in our history. The idea of “Rugged American Individualism” is a constantly perpetuated myth that ill serves evident the “Obese American Narcissism” I see so frequently in my Medical practice …. I feel sorry for our generally ill-educated and duped masses who have had a morally bereft group of “Robber Baron” supporting politicians who have basically ‘raped’ the public treasury and shorn a majority of my countries wealth off for the benefit of very few.

Given the wealth generated by American workers over the past two centuries the nation is rightfully seen as a pathetic world example in its over all standing in general well being of the public in a majority of spheres of human endeavor.

During the ‘Great Depression’ Franklin Delano Roosevelt said he saw a nation that was for a large part Ill-Fed and Ill-Housed to which many of us now can add the obvious rejoinder “Ill-literate and just plain Ill”.

I have a sister-in-law who is a Canadian teacher who is healthier (They have a superior State run Medical System) and a longer life expectancy rate, wealthier (They have a more equitable distribution of their National Wealth) with a superior Employment Insurance system and wiser (They have higher Literacy rates) and a sounder banking system. I envy her good fortune and lifestyle and asked her what the secret was in that country … She said that it came from having a few thoughtful people looking around their country (and the rest of world) and seeing what works and changing and adapting policies ….. She said that Canada does not shy from ‘Capitalism with a human face’ (We call that socialism) and that they have state intervention and control in many areas of their national life where they have learned that ‘Private’ control/ownership only historically leads to a monopoly that ill served the public good.

We in America could/should do the same as the Canadians and not be gulled by the false pride of empty rhetoric and boastful right wing narcissistic ideologues and do the same thing – look for solutions that can work and apply them.

Posted by Charles H. Townsend | Report as abusive

Great civilizations are comparable to living organisms. After being born, they grow, mature, age and then die as the Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilizations. Whatever politicians may interpret the decline of the so-called great nations, this is the way it is

OK if you want the Goverment to take care of all then you are asking for too much, Look at what got us into this mess in the first place.We the people expected that the goverment was working in our best interest and looking out for the bad guy so to speak, but when we where not looking they dropped the ball and we had all of these funny money men come in and make all kinds of ways of making money that was never used before and we are seeing why they where never used in the first place
like this ponzi that B.MadeOff with your money and all the time he was doing this where was the goverment who is supposed to protect us from the bad men like this?
Sitting back and giving themselfs raises and not careing one bit as to what is going on to the small people,Who are the ones who put there fat behinds in to office in the first place and they have forgotten just who put them there and WHY.IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO GREED, Until you remove the greed nothing can or will be done that is the reason we are here in this mess the rich get richer and middle class keeps on being taxed to death and there will be no middle class left but just the rich and the poor, That is what big Goverment will do for you. Who will pay for all of this bailout and why do we the people have to suffer because of these people who did all of this shady funny money stuff and brought our country to its knees.I think that they are no different then some one who went into a bank and robbed them at gun point I think all should go to jail. AND NOT GET A BONUS CHECK FOR MILLIONS FOR DOING A BAD JOB ALL OF YOU SHOULD PAY BACK EVERY PENNY YOU RCEIEVED AND GO TO JAIL.
You cant tell me that these people did not see this comeing they knew what they where doing and had hoped that they would be long gone before this came to the light. I SAY SEND EVERY LAST ONE OF THOSE FINANCIAL WIZZARDS TO JAIL.

Posted by Uman | Report as abusive

Personal freedoms, liberty and knowing your country is acting within the best interests of it’s citizens is what I would like to see more of. That’s why I support the Republic and the Constitution. The best government is one that is closest to it’s people and a responsible Republican form of government does it best as it ties the hands of tyrants who seek to manipulate it to their own ends. People argue that America is becoming more “socialistic” in how it is governed. I certainly agree that that has been the case since before any of us was born. But socialism is not where we’re headed friends. We are headed towards globalism and international governments and we are not being allowed any say in the matter. We are being manipulated into surrendering control over ourselves to the federal government who in turn surrenders it to international governments, international trade treaties and international bankers and it’s being funded with our own money(debt) and blood. That’s not socialism. That’s fraud and breech of contract. It’s bad enough that our current federal government decides what is safe for consumption in the U.S. imagine if that decision was being made by some “global government” on the other side of the globe from you, setting the standards of operations around the world and coining the value of their currency and determining your worth to society? Hard enough getting your own neighbors willing to represent you lawfully let alone people on the other side of the world. Do you believe they will act within the best interests of their citizens? Do you really think that they will hear and address the concerns of those miles away from them? I sure don’t believe it. I remember reading about winning our independence for just that type of reason. Over 20 states are drawing up resolutions declaring state sovereignty because they realize how much the federal government is out of control. The States constituted the union and it’ll be up to them to fix it. I’m sure you have to be quite “rugged” to protect your freedom. Although I don’t think people today have ever experienced it yet, history seems to be full of it. We’ll see if Americans are up for it. Time to get off of our lazy butts and send the fed’s and their international treaties, governments, and banks to the unemployment lines and get back to a Constitutional rule of law that nobody is above.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

I will tell you of a country that made the world take notice and made them jelous it was a country that had a strong middle class and jobs that payed a worker a propper days pay that had a strong industry and textile
that surpassed all.And greed stept in and jobs where stolen yes stolen from hard working Americans under the guise of out sorceing where our birth rite was taken and sent abroad and when I say birth rite just who created this industry for us but our Great Great Grand Parents
who busted there fingers to the bone with blood sweat and many tears so they could pass on the fruit of there labor to there future generations of family so that they may enjoy what was create to help there advancement in this great country. I say shame on you who made this once great country stumble and drop to its knee but unless people take responsibility for there actions our GREAT NATION Will drop the rest of the way down.And who is able to raise this nation from the floor

Posted by Uman | Report as abusive

Hi ‘doctherooster’

How can you say that my comments were not related to the topic. I think you needs some mathematic lessons. So far your nation had spent one trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghan wars. If that money was in American treasury it could have solved many of your nation problems. You said “who has probably never been to the US” come on guy I traveled to your country thrice during last one and half decades. In my recent visit I saw in DC people were asking for help on streets which are very next to the White House itself.

YOU WERE A GREAT NATION, BUT IT WAS IN THE PAST.

Posted by Al Baloushi | Report as abusive

The author conveniently forgets to mention how the current crisis started in the first place. It was government’s intervention in lending the spurred banks to make risky loans to people with little ability to pay them back. Fannie and Freddie Mac lowered their standards for loans they would buy from originators with the goal of increasing home ownership. Turns out it was a bad idea. If the government had stayed out of it in the first place, banks would have continued to make loans only to qualified borrowers like they’ve always done.

Wake up America! We cannot allow others weak minded individuals convince us to surrender our rights to our Government. Why would anyone place all their faith in government? Have they ever, ever solved one thing? Has our government ever, ever created a social program that worked? How about our government making a profit and not just print money, NO! Any coward, weak minded, liberal that wants the government care for them fine, but I say let us keep our American FREE and unfettered with government bureaucracy, waste, fraud, corruption, ineptness, inefficiency and just plain does not work. I say we Conservatives must carry the burden for those that cannot and refuse to see the pink elephant in the room. We must take back what is our God given right to care for ourselves as individuals with individual rights and responsibilities. These liberals are like 30 year old sons living with their parents today, lazy, dimwits who just want a cozy lifestyle and think European thoughts of grandeur. I say let us pour the tea in the harbor again and refuse this nonsense. The only reason some people want government intervention because they made poor decision, too lazy to work hard and take chances from opportunity or they have ties with the government and they know they are government “lifers.” I for one don’t want or need the government holding my hand, feeding me, providing subsidies, freebies, health care or anything. I remember a time when they did just that and it never made anyone feel better or improve their lives or motivated them to work. If Europe is so great, then get a plane or boat ticket and go no one is stopping you, but I would be willing to bet you won’t take me up on that (wonder why?). If the government is so great, then those who want social medicine go to a country that has it, but you won’t because you know it does not work and don’t tell me Canada social health care works, because it does not and there is a gluttony of publications and many people who travel south of Canada for health care to prove it, just take the time to research it and not take the quick liberal word of a journalist. “Give me liberty or give me death,” not handouts, control on first and second amendments of our Constitution. Once you open the door to allow our Government to provide for your every need, there will be cost, because nothing is free! Slowly and ever so gradually we will lose our Founding Father intent of being a free, independent thinking nation that was, is and will continue to be the envy of the world DO NOT allow anyone to tell you differently, if they do you can be very certain they do not like our way of life, our Constitution and our freedoms for that you can be certain, for if they did they too would be clamoring about just how great our Nation still is and what we can do to fix it within the parameters of our Constitution. I need to hear our government give money back to our citizens, where the true innovative and creativeness begins to help stimulate our economy back, not big business that cannot be trusted and got us into this mess. I say, Europe is Europe, but isn’t American the place that for as long as I can remember and more so the last 10 plus years people have been swimming oceans in bathtubs to get too, running borders hungry, dirty and in cases dying to get to American – not Europe! So, don’t give me any of that hog wash of what America was and quit putting our great Country down and just get out of our way because we American are going to survive, we’ve done it before and this great generation will do it again! God Bless America!

Posted by Kent | Report as abusive

O for heaven’s sake.

Watching the disgusting rush for bailout of credit card/banks/CEOs/car companies etc. amply proves that those screeching proponents of “rugged individualism” have always been consciously promoting a lie — ridiculous to think otherwise.

give it up.

grow up.

Europeans are grownups.

Posted by AYGEEBIERCE | Report as abusive

To Charles Townsend: You fail to realize that Canada has the luxury of having a small population relative to its size and the GREAT benefit of having the US next door to ensure it’s defense, they’d have been swallowed long ago, and by far the world’s greatest and most dynamic economy – all fueled by an individualist mentality, not a socialist one. Ask yourself what kind of nation Canada would be if it did not share its border and an open trading relationship with the US. This is no knock on Canada. But they are lucky to have the US as its neighbor.

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive

Rugged Individualism? Anarchy is more the word for it, in America we have the bullies out front crying for survival of the fittest. Propaganda and fear mongering have carried the day so far but as homelessness and hunger spread I think you’ll find the true American spirit in the streets taking back our share of the American Dream. To expect that 60% of our population will go quietly into poverty and third world living conditions because you fear socialism is a little much to ask. You’ve got the guns but we’ve got the numbers!

Posted by Dwight | Report as abusive

I am somewhat amazed at what I am reading in the comments. Do some of you really believe that capitalism equals poverty and a government safety net equals wealth and security?
What I see too many of you saying is that government is the solution and free markets are the problem. In all of history as government gets more centralized and powerful it tends to favor one small group of people over all of the rest resulting in time to about 10% of the people living in unbelievable wealth and 90% living in unbelievable poverty.
Our founding fathers understood that government is not the solution to people’s problems but uncontrolled government is the source of the problems. This is why the Bill Of Rights is such a necessary part of the Constitution of the United States.
Investigate what is happening; look further than the words that are spoken. Where is the great wealth coming from that we are being promised?
Who is providing the labor? Who is going to benefit?
When you look at the names of those that profited from the failure of so many financial institutions it reads like a Who’s Who in Washington.
These folks are taking huge fortunes while the rest of us our seeing our retirement fund drops to less than half.
I say wake up, or we along with the folks in Europe will be like the third world, being ruled by the wealthy 10% and having to serve them for our livelihoods.
Capitalism, when based on sound principles does not need bail-outs because its’ foundation is strong. But once government controls an economy a bail-out will always be necessary every few years because the foundation begins to crumble.
Capitalism working on a firm foundation creates individualist and individualist creates capitalism. Government needs to step back and let the system work rather than to continue to kill the geese that lay the golden eggs.

Posted by Craig Coal | Report as abusive

Poster Bill has stated … “But they are lucky to have the US as its neighbor.”

Well I’m truly sorry Bill but I see the situation somewhat differently than you do for when I survey the larger world I would say that we are rather lucky to have Canada as our neighbour setting a better example in the global community. From what I’ve seen their yard and property is cleaner and they seem to be educating and taking care of their wife and kids health far better than we are …. and please remember that they too doing it in a “Capitalist” society …. A capitalist society that does have armed forces (They are among a few nations deployed in Afghanistan supporting our efforts there) … and since I read history the last time we picked a fight with them they occupied New York and the White House and burned the Capitol (War of 1812 [Washington Burned] – Check it out!!).

Enough about our northern neighbour that does not have its citizens trying to crash our borders.

You say that we are “the world’s greatest and most dynamic economy – all fueled by an individualist mentality” …. That is now … and actually always has been …. an empty boast fueled by ignorance of how parasitic empires and economies (Including America’s) work …. Namely by exploiting the rest of the world for the importation of materials and cheaply produced goods …. Check history (Roman, Ottoman, Mongol, British Empires) and also lesser attempts by (France, Portugal, Spain etc ).

The “Rugged Individual” is a bad cigarette advertisement myth … for indeed the true “Rugged Individual” is more likely to be some poor laborer on an assembly line or harvesting fruit or rice in the third world.

We are at the start of what is likely the greatest ‘Depression’ in our history and it ill serves us to be as arrogant and prideful as a strutting peacock and not see that indeed other countries and other people have had some pretty sound ideas about what makes for a society that functions and is ‘fair’ to the majority of its citizens … The Scandinavian countries and indeed Canada have ready examples we could learn from and I for one refuse to say “We Americans know more than the rest of the worlds people” for that is an obvious lie … a lie historically … and a lie right now.

“Rugged Individualism” does not have to mean “Gross Ignorance”.

Posted by Charles H. Townsend | Report as abusive

To Bill: Yes, Canada is lucky to have the US beneath us. But the US is lucky to have a much larger country above them with the resources that the US needs. Not to mention a lot of third party demonstrations of things that the US is seriously considering.

Why some Americans seem to think they are such the wonderful thing is beyond me. Canadians often have critical words about how the US treats its own people. Many Canadians find it a scary place. Those that knock Canada are simply trained to hate everybody outside the US borders, and that is a pure sign of ignorance.

Onto the article: I disagree on the article’s stance. The US is going through the growing pains of success, which has caused the global economy. Is it any surprise that India and China are now producing cars? That technology is sent to low cost countries? The Maquilladoras were a sign of what was to come. But the US didn’t move with the trend and is still pushing out horrible products in its automotive sector, and employing centuries-old unions. Then the ass fell out of the pants recently.

Individualism is what started McDonald’s, Starbucks, Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart…let’s not forget every bit of capitalism, originated from individualism. At the end of the day, you can’t do business with yourself. You can invent all you want, but eventually, you’re going to either be copied, or you’ve won the world’s potential for business.

Posted by Rich | Report as abusive

I have lived both in US and Europe. Europe is not the solution. Europe has been in recession (economic, invention…) since 1948. When was it last time some invention came from Europe? Yes they do have welfare offices ( they call them social safety nets) but government takes up to 60% of people’s hard earned money to provide them. US does have its issues but it will always come out ahead exactly because government does not “take care of” everyone and strangle people’s individualism and lust to succeed.

At least the europeans get free health care and heavily subsidized education and fantastic retirement benefits. All America gets is a Hugh bloated Military that consumes 600+ Billion a year. A military that has the audacity to claim it needs a jet fighter that cost 1.5 billion each. There is a resolution to our problem, it is called a sane military policy.

Posted by blog | Report as abusive