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/

“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.” -Craig Coal

Craig, you only need to look at poverty levels in the US compared to Scandinavia or Western Europe to prove your claim wrong. Suggesting that providing a safety net to a nation’s citizens will lead to their poverty is hard to understand.

Posted by J-P | Report as abusive

Along with my libertarian views I have always had a streak of the Anarchist in my belief system and I believe that America is like a living, breathing creature. It was born, has matured, grown old and stagnate, and will pass. Like Rome and unlike an entity, after a period of chaos, it will be re-born. This new nation will be stronger, less fearful, more vibrant, less encumbered by bureaucracy of the past, and more individually independent. God couldn’t care less about America!!!

Posted by Kasado | Report as abusive

Craig,

The U.S. is already structured like that. The wealthy in the U.S. live on incredible wealth, but 90% does not live in “unbelievable poverty.” Obama’s tax policy on the wealthy would contradict your claims. He is trying to spread the wealth to close that gap a little bit. Many view this as socialism, but he is simply trying to fix a flawed system. We can no longer allow corporations to run our economy. We need some government intervention here.—Mike

Posted by Proco | Report as abusive

I think this crisis has come to rescue America. I love America and I want it to succeed. I admire its energy, enterprise and self confidence. But I’ve never believed that the current model is either sustainable or in the best interests of the American people. When America comes back (and it will), I hope its people will have taken a collective deep breath and calmly considered the kind of society they want for themselves. Put whatever political tag you like on it, but personally, I hope America finds balance.

Posted by Rick Maggi | Report as abusive

Individuality is by definition rugged. Take that away and you are fooling yourself about the concept. I might not be well versed in your economist language, but one thing is for sure as far as the value of indivuduality is concerned, the United States of America is the champion of individuality, possibly the only one left in this era. In this era of extreme collectivisation, that country is getting a bad wrap, as would be expected. Be careful of the backlash; society is in desperate need of the great individual and your premiss is the beginning of that great betrayal…

Posted by Le Néandertal | Report as abusive

A society is a group of individuals that live together in harmony with rules they accept and respect.

If individualism is the right to starve and be poor while still accepting the rules and keeping our mouth shut, then no thanks.

Whatever people may say here, the argument of “you like Europe then pack and leave” is so stupid and out of reality : “YOU CANT LEAVE, YOU CAN STAY UP TO 90 DAYS, NO JOB ALLOWED AND THEN GO BACK”, same applies to Europeans lovers of the US liberalism.

We need to listen to everyone’s arguments and take the best of it, we always hear about the heavy European tax system, but first of all there’s not ONE tax system in Europe, some are really heavy some are not. When it comes to small business taxes, in some countries there they pay less taxes than the US companies, in some countries they pay more.

I beleive everyone’s trying to do his best, Europeans like Americans, systems differ but not so much actually. What counts is what isnt going right in the US and what can be corrected and how. It’s not to know that some love European systems and some hate them, we all know that already.
I’ve often heard that these folks loosing their jobs shouldnt be helped cause it’s their fault. Well in such a crisis I see many innocent and good workers being laid. Tomorrow it can be you, me, them and I hope the government will be there to help, even those still having a job and saying nothing should be spent to help…

Posted by Wiz | Report as abusive

let’s consider this problem in a different angle, please.
during the past century, too many straight A graduates are concentrating on private sectors, leaving only a few C grade students to service the public. now the very system is broken…

Posted by jacques n l j w | Report as abusive

Re:
<>

remember that health insurance doesn’t equal health care. We currently have a predicted shortage of between 300 and 3000 physicians, if universal health care is established. “Hillary-care” tried to rectify this somewhat by allocating only so many slots for specialists and forcing med students into general practice fields (internal medicine, family practice, ect.) Furthermore with a party in power that is more concerned with tort than treat, getting students to fill those vacancies with be further complicated. With educational funds scarce and directed towards inner-city highschools and college aid, medical school expenses will balloon and deminished returns will make it even less desirable. Can’t even dream of specializing into a lucrative specialty, have to carry greater liability insurance, seeing lower government reimbursements, further reporting requirements to justify every test and procedure … why go into medicine? And with aging doctors and lets not even get into the nursing shortage issue, who is going to treat all these new entitled patients. Also why show any respect to someone willing to go into medicine to help heal the sick when your told its your right as an American (or an illegal who got passed the porous border) to get free first class health care.

Posted by Stephen Robinson | Report as abusive

US individualism two major phrases:
1) What is here for me?
2) I did this for you!

So, government is thinking the same way as all individualists from private and non profit sector. This is country ideology and belief in invisible hand.

Collectivism two phrases are:
1) What did you do for society today?
2) Society did this for you!

I would say from my experience that collective way of thinking is not natural and requires a lot of efforts. Collectivism ideology is idealistic but is needed to shape civilization. I was burned out to serve society 24/7 and live on starvation level when many people did not serve – just chilled out and took advantage from individuals with high personal responsibilities. I think US is developing a new system where personal responsibilities and individualism should serve more society that personal interest.

Perhaps Germany and France have remained more true to the ideals of the American Colonists, than the US. But the US in mant ways post 1945 is far more communitarian than Britain, while claiming to be less so.

One example that is important today are the bankruptcy laws, and especially that the US does not have “negative equity” of housing in the way we have in England, and I think also in Scotland, though the law is very different there, when those that have their homes repossed are still chased for “debts”.

It is Bismarck’s aristocratic government of Germany that produced a welfare state by 1890, which was being implimented by the Conservative Neville Chamberlain in the 1920s, and completed by War Cabinet of 1940-45. It specified what everyone should eat and wear! The most efficient government ever making do with limited resources to repel Germany.

If Britain and France had listened to the US in 1919, our resources would not have been so limited, and Germany might not have felt impelled to conquer Europe.

All systems, including economic, assume that man will be unfailingly honorable, fair and decent in the execution of each and every system, with minimal and insufficient controls ever established due to unrealistic high expectations of unfailing inherent honor. This glassy-eyed idealism never holds true in actual operation of any manmade system, as man’s basic hard wiring of survival instinct pushes each to get more of the killed meat or dug-up roots than his coworkers get so he will gain superior chances for survival.

That instict is still alive and unchanged within us cavemen many score of millenia down the road, and will always prevent the lasting success of any visionary idealistic system of sharing and giving and placing the common good above all individual interests. Like happiness, human systems are always temporary and thus should be enjoyed for their process, not their conclusions, as all system conclusions, as with permanent and every single minute personal happiness expectations, are failures and can be none other.

If we finally recognize someday in time to save our species that the above is a basic inherent truth and not negative pessimism is when we can start to offset the negative impacts of this truth with a more intelligent and practical understanding and then devise what it would take to control it for superior social results for everyone.

Posted by richard | Report as abusive

When Warren Buffet suggests that “those of us who have benefited the most of capitalism” ought to feel some obligation to plow some of their rich rewards back into the infrastructure, education, and other investments of this nation, I think people should listen.

It’s strange how stock watchers flock to the “Oracle of Omaha” when he has market advice, but merely dismiss his socio-economic views as “leftist” or “loony” when he recognizes the integral function of social safety nets and national investment- what is good for even the least of us (so long as it does not reward laziness), is good for everyone.

You need look no further than the thousands of revolutions and coups to see what happens when the divide between the aristocracy and peasant class gets too wide.

Everyone deserves a decent standard of living in this country which is flush with (albeit concentrated) wealth (and should not be duped into buying things they obviously cannot afford)- so long as laziness is not rewarded. Subprime borrowers may have been foolish or ignorant, but subprime lenders were grossly irresponsible and built the house of cards that is now toppling.

On an unrelated note, I think our American government should do more partnering between staffing firms and unemployment offices to ensure that people who are able to work are offered jobs*- often the “unemployed” are just a hidden job listing away from getting back in the work force.

*this way (if the job search is complimented more by the unemployment office), people will have no excuse not to work (and collect unemployment benefits) if they have been offered a job they turned down.

Posted by MilwaukeeAmerican | Report as abusive

Their Counter-Enlightenment is creating a world that would have been deemed a dystopia a century ago – something so pessimistic that no futurist dared depict a world run by venal and corrupt bankers, protecting as their prime customers the monopolies, real estate speculators and hedge funds whose economic rent, financial gambling and asset-price inflation is turned into a flow of interest in today’s rentier economy. Instead of industrial capitalism increasing capital formation we are seeing finance capitalism strip capital, and instead of the promised world of leisure we are being drawn into one of debt peonage.

the preceding was an excerpt from this article: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?c ontext=va&aid=12418

Posted by Will | Report as abusive

Most rational people acknowledge that quality of life and happiness indexes were created as a deliberate response to the American trump card of world GDP contribution. I do not often line up with the conservatives, but such measures are simply not worth their salt.

Maybe it is time to stop comparing our present situation to the Great Depression and the European social state and start concentrating on how to objectively deal with the unique and real problems at hand. Writing from Germany, I can assure you that the social state has not achieved better economic prospects than those currently enjoyed by those ruthless, individualistic Americans.

In short, stop bitching and start working…there’s always the prospect that one may be paid for the latter.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

It will be very expensive for the U.S. to keep paying for an oversized military when its economy is getting weaker. Even today, if you do the math, you will find that if we Europeans spent the same % of the EU’s combined GDP on military expenses as the U.S. does, the EU would easily be able to mobilize a similar if not larger military force. But why on earth should we? It won’t make us happier. Perhaps more Americans will realize that too.

Posted by Rudiger | Report as abusive

Europe is not just about state intervention and safety nets. I have lived both worlds as a Dutchman,Georgetown Alumn and entrepreneur who lived the American Dream in Europe. I love Americans but do not believe they have the winning system. Ours is one of freedom and responsibility. Individualism is no sin here, greed is.

Europe is an incredible success story. In the past 25 years more than 15 nations have joined the Union voluntarily, replacing their laws with those made in Brussels. The same cannot be said about America.

There is more to the growing situation/crisis than any trite words can help to resolve. This is going to take an awful lot of work by people …. people who will have to work, like it or not. The world economy is a mess because of ‘unfettered’ and ‘unregulated’ actions by those who have held the offices and levers of economic and political power in the ‘Western’ democracies and have intrinsically done what suited their own vested interests for many decades.

The average ‘working people/citizens’ are in need of a large ‘dose’ of education and awareness (something that the ‘vested interests’ certainly will fight to try and obstruct). We all know it bears repeating that “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time — but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”.

Now is the time of action for those who have suffered and have been made poorer by the practitioners and supporting mouthpieces of rampant and excess “Individualism” that has oft been a disguise/cover word paired with the word ‘Freedom’ so that extremely narrow self-interests could be served. People in all corners of society must speak out and castigate and reprove the many vile actions of the wicked and greediest but we must also take positive steps to bring about a healthier climate for civilization to continue.

Leaders will be needed who are steady calm and non-violent and who can educate many about the inherent good of a healthy ‘commonwealth’ and why a broader baseline of secured well being is a requirement if our western democracies are to survive and not drift backward into the malaise of sick confrontational obstructionism and the resulting societal chaos that could ensue world wide.

The world community of nations (especially America) need to act in cooperative concert if our world is to stand a chance of seeing any health, harmony and fairness for the six billion who inhabit the surface of the planet. We cannot continue accepting and supporting by action or inaction the conditions allowing for the disparities whereby humans are expected to passively accept conditions ranging from extreme wealth for a relative few on this planet while the overwhelming majority live in conditions that are marginal or in far to many instances in the direst need.

Every man for himself and ‘survival of the fittest’ is not progressive capitalism … rather it is social and economic barbarity that goes against the deepest moral and ethical precepts of living a ‘human’ life . All of mankind’s most cherished religious and cultural doctrines have spelled this out after centuries of slow struggle up from the quagmire of mass ignorance …. We must avoid slipping back into that pit of ignorance if there is to be a future of any human value for generations as yet unborn.

“Rugged Individualism” takes ‘Courage’ and it is my … and your …. responsibility to find that ‘Courage’ to make the world a better place … so we must each take our own personal inventory before we take the inventory of others and ask ourselves what we are doing these days to make this world a better place …..

“Rugged Individualism” is not a selfish thing …. Indeed Courage, Honesty and Honour that are its core components begin for all of us …. in our own mirrors …. and in our own hearts and minds.

Posted by Barrie O. Ward The Canadian Geezer | Report as abusive

I wonder why most people wish to move to the States and not Scandinavia. I lived in Europe and know that immigrants to Europe hope that it is a bridge to the U.S.A. With so many critics about US being so bad, why have we no seen mass immigration to Europe. One thing the USA has is a good number of retarded.And that is why we now have to go from one bad deficit to creating a solution -a worse deficit. Keep drinking the cool aid.

Posted by mary | Report as abusive

To understand the difference you need to know the difference. none of the polls or organizations to can do the justice of living in one system and coming to another. US is 100% better than Europe or any other countries regardless of the polls. WOuld you like to bribe someone to get a job? or get to university? Would you like to be stuck in the same position for years and years and be laughed at openly? Just because someone does not like you. Would you like to be descirminated because your legs do not look to cute or you are overweight for position of Administrative Assistance?
It’s easy to draw a comparision by polls. Yet, as someone has mentioned, we do not see mass exodus people from US to Europe. Why not? Switzerland has higher living standards than US. So is higher taxes. How about 70% of your wager go to support that higher living. Feels good? And after that you still have to beg and ask social workers to help you out when you need help. It’s not as easy as it seens and not as pretty either.
I agree with goverment help to less fortunate who are not able to help themselves due to their age (children and senior citizens). But I do not agree with the monetary help to people who do not know how to manage their finances and live within their means. I would set up mandatory class Finance 101 for them to pass and demostrate that they can handle bail-out money. Not to give them out $1,000 if they pay their mortgage for a year. Educate!!! Do not make them dependent on goverment hand outs. There is no end to that. Make them learn what they need to do. It’s not easy and takes discipline, but that is the only way to make it better.

Proud American (ex-European)

Posted by Thinker | Report as abusive

I hate to tell everyone that there will ALWAYS be discrimination, poverty, and people that need more help than others, SORRY. Life just isn’t fair, if I’m blind should your government make everyone blind as well? If I’m in a wheelchair-retarded-poor-whatever, come on!
Some people do need help, (mostly in third world countries, the poor I know still have money for cell phones and cable) but I expect greatness even through poverty, or handicap.
I can’t believe how many socialists/communists are coming out of the closet, isn’t there any honorable people left in the world? Shouldn’t we have the expectation that people will strive for greatness?? Or should we dumb-down the expectations so we can all be equally miserable, and kill the Rugged SO American Spirit.

Posted by kansan | Report as abusive

Repubs would ask this question “would you rather stand on the deck of an aircraft carrier or get blow over”?

My answer: “stand on deck, but if I did get blown over, I hope there would be a net there to catch me”.

Posted by Rodney Patterson | Report as abusive

Now where do you go when you don’t want the beg from the government? It used to be the United States. Where do you go to live as you want to live and enjoy the fruits of your labour? It used to be the United States. Where is the land of unlimited opportunity? It used to be the United States.

Words cannot express my sadness.

Posted by eegor | Report as abusive

If we become France I won’t have to move there! Yeah!

Posted by Nursehope | Report as abusive

Oh my God! The great hue and cry of the Republicans during the Great Depression was that the Democrats were robbing America of its rugged individualism. Lot of fools bought into that until the year of the grasshopper plagues in the Dakotas.

Ernie Pyle wrote a thousand word piece that described what the grasshoppers did. He asked in town where to find some ravished fields. Drove out there and couldn’t find them. As far as he could see, he saw nothing but dirt fields. A farmer explained that the grasshoppers devoured everything down to the dirt, even following the roots into the ground.

So, what was the farmer, his wife and children to do: Starve that winter rather than be humiliated by the Republicans and their one-size-philosophy-fits-all situations or go on relief and survive to try again? Wisely, and morally, the farmer accepted relief. Lot of those farms were brought back years later by their owners – especially important when we needed extra food during WW II.

Amazing that senior, experienced Republican politicians are so ignorant they are saying the same crap again, eighty years after it was proven a failure. The U.S. South really is politically deaf and irrelevant, isn’t it.

Posted by Jumper | Report as abusive

Mr. Debusmann has obviously sold his soul to the gods of socialism and the coffers of big-government. I find it ironic that so many people are willing to sell out capitalism in this current economic crisis, but are either too ignorant or too naive to understand that the problems with today’s world have been caused by the enforced-fraternity of big-government. Most choose to ignore the fact that since the Civil War we in America have had a predominately “federalist” (centralized) government that has gradually become the largest waste of resources in the world. Since when did a “good standard of living” become a right? We have forgotten that our fundamental rights are to have “life, liberty and the [PURSUIT] of happiness.” [Emphasis mine] The problem with America today is that we view practically everything as a right: Healthcare is a right. Having a car is a right. Having a house is a right. Having low gas prices is a right. These ideas are inherently inconsistent with what America is (was) all about. It may sound “ruggedly individual” but it is nonetheless true that the great thing about America is that here we have (or at least had) the ability to make our own way on hard work, dedication, and innovation and eventually our reward could be (note the “could”) prosperity. As the centralized government expands and seeks to give all men and women the right to happiness, as opposed to the right to pursue happiness, this core of American values begins to fade. In their stead, we see widespread laziness, inefficiency, complacency, and eventual poverty. Regardless, we fail to recognize the source of the problem and turn again and again to government to solve all our problems because we believe that we have a “right” to a regime that solves all our problems.

But this is not a new problem or one that could not have been prevented. The fundamental problems of large centralized government and forced brotherhood were ideological errors that our Founding Fathers saw in the English system of government and sought to correct with the government formed by the Constitution. That Government (which was fundamentally a coalition “type” of government that provided for the common defense and the settling of conflicts between the States) was designed to keep absolute power at bay and promote liberty. Picture yourself in this sort of model: if you lived in a state that became oppressive, dangerous, or corrupt, you could leave and go to any other state that you wanted (i.e. a better one). That means that if you paid exorbitant taxes on your land or your income check, and your neighbor state didn’t, you could go to that state and be ruled by their laws. This model supported the common good while preserving the individualistic aspects. Besides, small State governments are more in tune with the wishes of their people and more directly able to address real needs. Some argue that this same concept holds true today (and it is true in some minor details it does), but they fail to recognize that the large federal system has created an aggressive uniformity between states that ultimately suppresses liberty. If anyone really disagrees simply observe how the current “hive-mind” of tenured and bickering celebrities (our legislators) have consistently made “sweeping changes” or held federal money over the head of the States. I think they have done a great job wasting away our wealth and the greatness of America. These legislators are much like those in old-Europe: they were an aristocratic society of parliament that was out-of touch with the needs of the people. They lived grand lives with grand parties (fundraisers) and traveled all across the world to discover the problems with it. All the while, they forgot about the people they were supposed to represent. The eventual result was revolution. I hope that isn’t the course we are setting for our children

Posted by Mike Douglass | Report as abusive

Rugged individualism and small government have been code words used by those right wing proponents of unrestricted capitalism as a way to keep America divided and unopposed to those that control the marketplace. Less government was sold as a way to keep government off our backs but in reality it has meant deregulation and a lack of oversight, peanut butter anyone?

The rugged individual in America better be rugged because they are on there own in regard to health care if they lose their job – or sadly even if they have a job in many cases. I have friends who live in the Netherlands, they pay very high taxes. Are they happy? Yes. The last time they worried about being able to afford high quality health care or college costs was – never!

In the global game of Monopoly the ultra capitalist are winning. They can afford the best lobbyists and have been allowed to set their own agenda. There is no issue or group they will not exploit to achieve their ends -profit.

I pray that President Obama and others of conscious can help the majority see the light before is it too late.

Posted by Bob Bieniek | Report as abusive

There is nothing in the constitution about “rugged individualism”. There is plenty about individual liberty and freedom. What you demean as “rugged individualism” is the ability for individuals to associate with whom they choose and take live of their lives in the way they wish. As government gets more powerful it will degrade those freedoms and choices. It will tend to train individuals to not think for themselves and to come to depend on big government. You cannot expect a small cadre of individuals in the Fed govn. (no matter how smart) to be able to make the decisions of 300 mill people and expect those decisions to be efficient or effective. Europe has had lack luster growth for a long time, it is in a slow spiral downwards. Absolutely there is a place and need for government, but primarily to provide security and safety and clamp down on fraud, and yes prompt the markets to do those things that are beyond the business cycle. Centralized power should send the chills down everyones spine.

Posted by Geoff Stevenson | Report as abusive

In this state, social entitlement programs have literally crushed the economy to the point where government can no longer pay any debts. Where, you ask is that? California, of course. Europe became what it is now economically, a mess, within the last 50 years. Largely, the reasons can be attributed to socialization of nearly everything. Countries in the EU without this socialism like Norway and Belgium and to some extent the UK are being crushed under the weight of the EU’s productivity deficit. Look at the social unrest. Did you bury your head in the sand as Paris rioted a couple of months ago? So yes, unfortunately, it would be horrendous to go in that direction. I think that is why we are so vehement and dead set against bank nationalization, and lifting up dead weight companies like GM whom have been stunted by their intractable shortcomings, such as prevailing wages. So keep fighting for Communism Debusman. We will keep kicking you down harder and harder.

The strength of the U.S. economy has historically relied upon individualism and INNOVATION. The concept of collectivism (and labor unions) deters innovation and entrepreneurialism, both reliant upon free will, perseverance and creativity.

America is the most charitable country in the world and has tremendous compassion for the less fortunate; but Americans do not feel the government is better equipped to create solutions to individual problems. A more efficient and effective system relies upon the strength and goodwill of the family and community, not government.

Back to economics…In a global marketplace, competition is the driving force that enhances products and services and improves the quality of life. When is the last time efficiency and customer service were words resonating in your head when talking to an official with lifetime employment in a government agency? Let’s stop butchering individualism for taking risk with the hopes of improving the lives of themselves and their families, communities and even society. The communist ideology of “equal distribution of wealth” has been tested countless times and exemplified a tremendous consistency of failure.

It’s time for the U.S. government to exemplify leadership by GETTING OUT OF THE WAY of our “less-free” market economy and stop exacerbating wealth redistribution! In a global economy, individuals and companies have the choice to locate operations in many different countries and economic systems. Let’s ensure that the American economy remains the world’s foremost haven for intellectuals, entrepreneurs and innovators to evolve the technologies, products and services that will improve our COLLECTIVE quality of life. Only through respect for individualism will the collective ultimately benefit.

Posted by Charlie Miles | Report as abusive

It makes me ill to see all of these weak-spined mambie pambies talking about rugged individualism. Sure its easy to be rugged when you can count on being backed up by collectively financed institutions that ensure national defense, safe streets (kind of), a legal code that allows structured commerce and regulations that ensure food quality. Socialist sympathizers! Whatever happened to “fight for it, kill it, eat it or die!”? Whimps.

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive

As a European who lived in and visited the US for various short periods over a number of years what always struck me as surprising, was not the amount of wealth generated by this great capitalist engine (which from TV I had come to expect), but the amount of poverty that seemed to be pervasive through out all the states, both public and private poverty.
I was struck in particular by the lack of ‘public’ wealth. The lack of things we Europeans take for granted, fine train stations, joined up transport, good public hospitals, and the generally higher standard of finish to even simple things, rails made of stainless steel, steps of granite. Not of course that Europe is made of granite and stainless steel, or that it does not exist in the US, but it is my over all impression that in Europe, ‘we the people’ give the people the best, where possible. And this is not a new tradition as both Milan train station or London’s Victoria will testify, nor is it one that has been lost, as Berlin’s new central station will testify.
In the US it seems the basis of governance is not so much ‘We the people’ as ‘I the individual’ and that has consequences not just for the creation and sharing of ‘public wealth’ but in attitudes held to such issues as the right to bear arms.
The US will become like Europe, but perhaps like Europe, it may take 2,000 years of them beating themselves up, before they reach our still very imperfect level. I hope not, I suspect their innate ingenuity and the odd economic crises will get them there sooner.

Posted by Robert Baker | Report as abusive

I have no problem with a social safety net –

The problem is government allows a reasonable program that provides a safety net for people in need to turn into a hammock.

Most government programs rely on an income test – if you make less than $xx,xxx you qualify –

So should the guy that

Dropped out of high school – never held an honest job in his life – and by any reasonable measure is a lazy worthless turd –

Be treated the same as

A person who worked hard all his life – but has lost his job because of a poor economy.

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive

What are you Europe-haters talking about? Socialism? what socialism? Socialism died in 1989 people. The state takes care of healthcare and social security, infrastructure and policing and you call this “socialism”? That’s just smart government. Keeps society intact. The Europe-haters are in need of a very fundamental lesson on how Europe works. First of all, if it wasn’t for the US bank induced mortgage crisis, Iceland wouldn’t have defaulted and England wouldn’t be in such deep trouble. The French are the French. They’ll protest anything just because thy can. God bless them.

Where I live, in the Czech Republic, we’ve seen growth rates of around 5% for the last 15 years. It’s slowed down to -1% because of the crisis. It’s not because this is not a land of innovators of entrepreneurs. It’s because we’re we’re a net-exporter country and no one is buying anything right now. Government plays little role in business except that of taxing us a flat 15% rate. We like many European countries use a flat, non-progressive income tax. Add 14% for health and social insurance and that’s it. Before you go on about “Oh my God you get taxed 29%” remember that if I need to go to the doctor for a checkup or major surgery, it’s already paid for. Also, as an American living here for 5 years I’m already entitled to Social Security payments.

If I want to buy anything, I can walk out of my house, get in my car (or take a tram since we’ve got excellent public transportation) go to the mall (YES we have malls) and buy it. The state doesn’t tell me if I can or can’t. If I want to open a business (and I already have) I get the necessaary paperwork done and voila! I Have a business.

The point is, don’t bash Europe. America’s a great place. I was born there. I love going home to see family. But to make Europe sound like such a backwards place as the majority of you here make it to be is wrong. Most of you making these lofty idealogical bashings of Europe have not even been here. Unfortunately you’re just repeating repeating what you’re hearing on the radio talk shows and cable TV, so please keep the babble down.

Posted by Sanan Phutrakul | Report as abusive

Look at the history of the Roman Empire. It will give you the reasons why European style of government causes all the riots. Appeasement of self, of populace and the dependancy that results leads to bratty behaviour even by self-styled grown-ups.

There is a saying that “nothing is new under the sun” and truly history is replete with examples of what we are, have and will be going through for a very, very long time (I mean millennia).

Posted by ClementW | Report as abusive

Ahh, the endless discussion about the balance of free market and government.
I am 40 and have lived in Germany and the US for about equal amounts in my life. I am about to become a dual citizen of Germany and the US. And believe me I have thought about this topic of degrees of individualism and the collective a lot over the years. The answer is (drumroll) : BOTH !
Yes, we are individuals and yes, we are all ONE! We will look out for our own, our voice and ego, and yet we cannot survive without others, without our family, friends, tribes and the amazing diversity that even makes life possible on this planet.
That is a deeply human condition, and understanding that means understanding the dualism of the one and the group. I believe that the most incredible human accomplishments have always been a matter of “rugged individuals” AND the awareness and love for our collective existence, history and responsibility for our environment of living beings. The answer then is in finding the balance between both. In Germany they call it social market economy. Knowing that you can express yourself while knowing that you will be supported in your essential human needs especially regarding health, food, shelter and human dignity.

Why have just one, if you can, or in fact NEED to have both?

Posted by Matthias | Report as abusive

Plenty of unintended consequences of what has been and remains the largest economy in the world becoming a socialist economy. This wouldn’t just affect America, but all of Europe in a rather negative way. Europe has benefited from our more open market policies of trade. In a socialist economy we would have to become much more protectionist as Europe has been. We would also need to reevaluate our more open and transparent government, relative to European governments. We would need to prop up industry and put in speed bumps for foreign companies looking to do business in the U.S. We would also need to sharply curtail immigration. These are hard consequences of socialism. The reason is largely because we are choosing a more progressive method of taxation that stifles domestic innovation. This will slow job creation in the country, raise natural regular unemployment rates and produce an ever growing desire to restrict immigration due to our much higher unemployment. If America turned to a Euro style solution, it wouldn’t be long before Europe comes to the conclusion that they can no longer survive with their socialist policies. France and Germany already have been experiencing the pains of their socialist experiment. These two leading European nations have chronically high unemployment, and an ever older average age. They can see the view and it isn’t good. They can also see the difficulty of reversing policies that become built into the economy. Witness the union strikes in France, and the inability to attract foreign companies to invest long term in their nations.

Posted by Duude | Report as abusive

The Golden Mean has become the Golden Mediocracy.

I gave the United States of America the Quantum Unified Theory of Lattice Quantum Dynamics (Em/Q) the most important advance in Science and I have to listen to a bunch of retirees and unemployed persons complain about the size of their government checks while I can not get a response from the SBA, Wachovia or JPMorgan.

FOR OVER A YEAR.

My formula and my property which can be used for more efficient calculations by supercomputer platforms have already burgeoned Applications Research around the Globe. With no ROYALTY PAYMENT or RESPECT for my $880,000.00 in RESEARCH COSTS.

I receive no government benefits and am living on stale corn flakes.

Russia at least paid Grisha. If you’re an innovator in the United States, you’re going to spend more time teaching a bunch of idiots by filling out an endless stream of forms that allow all the bureaucrats (and your competitiors) all the time in the world.

Which is exactly why in the New Economy, the United States will go BANKRUPT, if it does not pick up the pace in FUNDING SMALL BUSINESS.

Doubt what I say, I called Systemic Failure on MYSPACE.com/jimmyjamesgenius EXACTLY on the day BSC failed over 2 months in ADVANCE.

Begin a Brilliant American in the Era of the GOLDEN MEDIOCRACY is the worst fate you can be born to.

I wish every day I were born a stupid cow. At least then I could have been an Investment Banker.

Here’s what I know about “rugged individualism”. I spent 12 years in the United States Marine Corps. One of the premire fighting forces in human history. I didn’t hear the term once. We heard “gung ho” a lot. It’s chinese for all pull together. We were taught to work as a team, from the fire team level all the way up through Division and Expeditionary Force levels. We were taught that you don’t ever leave another Marine behind. If you come out at all you come out with your wounded and your dead.
We hear a great deal lately about the “geatest generation” who won the second world war. Every private soldier in that war was in grade school or junior high in 1929. Every one of them grew up under the New Deal. Every one of them was raised under what the right likes to call a “socialist” government. That was the America that conquered the world. The one brought up to recognize a social compact between the individual and the society and government. “Rugged Individualist” in Marine Grunt translates into “hurry for me and fuck you”. We called those guys shitbirds and nobody wanted to serve with them.

Posted by IaintBacchus | Report as abusive

Public Health care is not an option – it is a necessity.
Every employer contributes to each employee’s health care payments. To free employers from this massive expense would do so much good to small, medium and even large companies, who would have one less reason to outsource jobs and they’d be free to hire more employees at home and invest in new technologies. Why pay health insurance companies for anything?
There is absolutely no reason to completely imitate the loopholes that allow a public health care system to be abused. By the contrary, with the examples provided by France, just to mention one, the US should know the pittfalls beforehand and avoid them altogether (or at least, keep them to a minimum).
Employees will have a weight off their backs if they know that, if they lose their job, at least they can get the health care they need without going bankrupt. How many people do you think have lifelong illnesses and injuries due to the very nature of the work they’ve always performed, from the computer wiz at the desk with carpal tunnel, to the cleaning lady handling hazmats?
Public Health care is not a means to enslave the american public. Why not, in the wealthiest nation in the world, can’t there be Public Health care?
Is it because of the expense? I don’t think so: See how easy it is to perpetuate a useless war in Iraq? Or how easy and how fast it is give away hundreds of billions of dollars to banks?
The banks are not going to help me pay for my hospital bills. They’ll lend the money and then I’ll owe them. With interest.
As far as paying hundreds of dollars on health insurance every month, it’s a rapacious activity and the insurance companies suffer from the exact same greed and lack of good ethics that banks do. If anybody remembers the insurance issues with the hurricane Katrina victims, they’ll see my point.
Right now, I don’t see rugged individualism. I see corporate lobbies completely dominating the individual by deciding everything about the individual’s life. Why should employees and their respective employers be forced to pay such high price for health and have no option besides none?
In the future, though, I see more pride as a nation to be independent of private health care and private insurance and not be so willing to grovel to private institutions when things go wrong (and they always go wrong sometime).
Right now, the United States is a nation of beggars and cut-throats, if that is what you call rugged individualism because there is no option available to anybody except to pay up and shut up.
Health insurance companies rule the rooster. Their fees pervade every aspect of the american business.
One more thing: public health care is not synonymous to obliterating private health care but it’s a welcome respite from the struggle many have to keep themselves afloat. What’s it got to do with centuries old ideologies anyway? This is today, the here-here-and-now.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

Hehe, this article is seeking the best from US and Europe model. Stop searching at the wrong place, it is time to Canadize USA.

Posted by Fliujniligui | Report as abusive

I have had “State” sponsored medicare all my life (I’m in my 60′s) and have two grown children. Everything about our medical care has been covered by “The State” by way of my income taxes and I have NO complaints. I was raised on a farm in some poverty in the early fifties but I am well to do now by way of my lifetime of work as an educator and my husbands lifetime of work and paying our own way. In addition both of our children have college degrees and are well employed and have complete medical service coverage.

We live in Saskatchewan the ‘Birthplace’ of MEDICARE and I suggest that the ill educated right wing “Rugged Individuals” who are posting comments in here (that are frankly grossly ignorant) do a bit of research. MEDICARE works and does not cost more than what Americans are paying – it costs less!

The secret of MEDICARES success is that it is universal in coverage and is supported by compulsory income taxation – better to pay taxes for health than for many other foolish things.

I defy any nay sayer in here to challenge my assertaions about medicare in Saskatchewan – come here and observe and learn!

PS: Poster IaintBacchus says it like it si … he is a Marine and a man who understands why there is need for a return to “The Social Compact” in America.

Posted by Elisabeth W. | Report as abusive

I have had “State” sponsored medicare all my life (I’m in my 60′s) and have two grown children. Everything about our medical care has been covered by “The State” by way of my income taxes and I have NO complaints. I was raised on a farm in some poverty in the early fifties but I am well to do now by way of my lifetime of work as an educator and my husbands lifetime of work and paying our own way. In addition both of our children have college degrees and are well employed and have complete medical service coverage.

We live in Saskatchewan the ‘Birthplace’ of MEDICARE and I suggest that the ill educated right wing “Rugged Individuals” who are posting comments in here (that are frankly grossly ignorant) do a bit of research. MEDICARE works and does not cost more than what Americans are paying – it costs less!

The secret of MEDICARES success is that it is universal in coverage and is supported by compulsory income taxation – better to pay taxes for health than for many other foolish things.

I defy any naysayer in here to challenge my assertions about medicare in Saskatchewan – come here and observe and learn!

PS: Poster IaintBacchus says it like it is … he is a Marine and a man who understands why there is need for a return to “The Social Compact” in America.

Posted by Elisabeth W. | Report as abusive

It is simply a fact that in most western European countries people live in cities were the well-being of each individual is emphasized, modern infrastructure is maintained, culture is valued, and everyone is given a chance for a dignified life in comfort and security. Modern healthcare is accessible to everyone, without the notion of a 2nd class citizen that just didn\’t work hard enough to deserve their basic human needs covered. With less extreme polarization in salaries, even the lower pay scale allows for a respectful life, families to be raised with fewer worries, and many dreams fulfilled. In short, Europe is were the American Dream is lived.

Posted by Eurodream | Report as abusive

Medicare or Government health care, whatever you want to call it is always second rate. If you disagree, explain why the U.S. had MRI machines in every city with a population above 50K for years while the country of Canada had one machine. Socialism never works for the people.

Posted by South Dakota | Report as abusive

It makes me laugh all the comments I hear from U.S Republicans about European socialism. When have they ever lived in any off these ‘European countries’ they talk about? When have they analyzed in depth the differences between the macro-economic policies of such countries? I heard the other day a guy on Fox News claiming that if universal healthcare was introduced in the U.S (as it is in the UK) he would have to wait for hours to be seen by a doctor and could not choose his doctor. This is just fallacious. In the UK (as anyone who has bothered to make even a cursory examination of the healthcare system in the UK would know – i.e. not the guy on Fox News) one still has the option of seeking private healthcare in the UK and most people who get healthcare through their employer do just that every day of the year. And you can choose whomever you want to treat you. The problem of the American right is simply ignorance and a great example of the rule that in the U.S if you shout long enough and hard enough then your views will prevail, no matter how wrong or dangerous those views. It is a great fraud by the American-right being perpetrated on the average working American. You should call out these idiot right-wing commentators to confirm their ill-researched facts more, but I suppose as they only ever seem to interview each other then that would be difficult to do! Land of free speech? What a load of rubbish. I would move back to the UK in a heartbeat (were it not for the fact that my U.S-born wife wants to live here). The U.S has no soul. And no – for the record I am not some social-security-scrounging soap-avoider. I probably earn several times what the guy on Fox News does through my various businesses. I am a social-liberal and fiscal conservative. I just don’t like the idea of a country where if a car hits you the medics are looking through your wallet for your insurance card before they try to restart your heart!!! I would gladly give up my third range-rover and pay slightly higher taxes for universal healthcare so some poor chap would not be subjected to this inhumane treatment.

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

We are not all “rugged individuals” nor do we aspire to be? But we don’t all trust government’s ability to avoid corruption and do what’s best for itself rather than for the system. We believe people in government too long, start “stealing” from us and we have much proof of that. And we don’t like what we see and hear about certain European countries: In France the power of the Unions frequently brings the country to a halt. and in the UK (a country I dearly love…it’s my family history, after all), it appears that there’s an even greater degradation of culture (than ours), an alarming and growing minority power, and a less than satisfactory health care system. I watch British TV and even the Brits joke about their health care. And with the Internet we can read about the various problems there, from shortages of MRIs to lack of good administration in many of the hospitals. America is many times bigger in both population and size, so whatever problems you face there, we are likely to face on a larger scale.

Posted by Jennifer | Report as abusive

My wife has relatives in the Netherlands-
I’ve been there 4 times in the last 16 years.
their health care is so bad that she doesn’t know how most of here family died recently, because of the system’s quality. My in-laws have had such bad health care over there that in the US they had most of the teeth pulled out and major orthodontia done so they can live normally.

that IS proof from current EUROPE that Gov’t run healthcare doesn’t work, nor the model we’re adopting here. anyone that runs a business (most libs and soc’s doen’t) are well aware that a big bureaucracy is never efficient.
And most of all-all proponents here are in dire need of a history lesson:
FDR made all the same mistakes the Barack hu’s-insane Obama and his Clintonites are making:
spending our way out of a crisis with debt, caused by spending in debting people with money for houses they can’t afford. It is a fact that unemployment went up more under the ‘New Deal’ and the depression worsened.
Wake up people, and learn the lessons. History is the great teacher. Stop panicking and think logically.

Posted by John thinking logical-not emotional | Report as abusive

Mr. Debusmann, you ask why Europeanization is such a bad thing and contend that the standard of living is higher in Europe citing statistics from the United Nation’s annual Human Development Index. I contend that the UN Index is not a true measurement of standard of living. It is instead a measure of only those attributes that the UN values. My spouse is an immigrant from Europe who left because of her perception that the standard of living in her native Italy was declining. She was escaping the European nanny state. I don’t believe she is alone. In fact, the USA supports more legal immigrants than any other nation in the world. Each year there are over 75,000 people that decide to leave Europe for the USA. (http://www.migrationpolicy.org/Factshee t_102904.pdf)

Is it not a higher standard of living that these people are seeking as they define it?

Josh

Posted by Josh | Report as abusive

Let me lay out some plain facts. My wife and I are productive individuals. We work 4 jobs between us. We own 2 businesses. Because of bureaucracy and taxes, at the end of this year, only I will be employed working 8-5 for a corporation. The businesses will be dissolved and we will not longer pay fees/taxes/licenses to govt or hire employees. (If people are not working, it is going to be hard to collect taxes!) I may be one of the first to opt out of the system, but experience has taught me I am never the last. There is no longer any incentive for us to work hard if we cannot keep what we earn or retain the autonomy to act in the client’s best interest. We can better use the time to produce things for ourselves that we now buy and earn income “on paper” rather than by actually doing some thing or producing some thing useful. Govt needs people like us much more than we need govt.

I understand that the state can steal and confiscate my money without my permission. Taking what does not belong to you is still stealing. (Thou shalt not steal. Any one remember hearing that? It does not say “except for govt”.) If it is mandated that every one will “participate” in the socialized health care program, I want to know how it will be done. Will they haul me in in handcuffs and truss me up or drug me to force me to submit to an annual medical exam? Or is it just my money they are after? This is not the kind of medical care I need or want, so why should I pay for it? I know what I am talking about because I have seen the legislation. The sheeple who believe they will get some thing for nothing do not understand that it will be controlled by special interests who intend to profit.

By the way, one of the businesses I will close is medical. The best and brightest have opportunities else where. They will evacuate first, leaving only workers who have no better opportunities.

We do not need more govt intrusion into every aspect of our lives. We need many of the programs and laws already in existence repealed.

I suuggest govt just leave people alone.
What a revolutionary concept!

Posted by Joe | Report as abusive

In Oregon there is a Baby at OHSU, that needs a heart transplant. The babies parents have insurance, but it won’t cover the Million++ price tags the Dr.s require to do the surgery and replace the heart. So the baby dies. This is happening everywhere, many many children are taken off the list, due to the economic statis of their parents. What i want to know is, will Medicare / Socialized Medical coverage end the needless death of our children. The system now rewards the insurance companies, including the Dr’s who are content with bankrupting hard working Americans. This issue is from bottom up, not top down. Obviously you that speak against medicare such as what Canada has, haven’t lost a precious baby or child, who other wise could have lived a productive life, if they recieved treatment.Show me a Insurance company who cares, there’s not one…Why do you think Lieberman hangs on the outside, he has been in the big Insurance companies pocket for years, right along with many Republicans. Look at ther voting records. I know in my heart, the young people who came out to vote get this. If they have anything to do with it, the old system will die, and a system that helps all, from the bottom up will come to light…the dross is floating to the top