David Brooks seems to think Americans have actually thought this "government is too big" thing through
Through most of its history, the narrative begins, the United States was a limited government nation, with restrained central power and an independent citizenry. But over the years, forces have arisen that seek to change America’s essential nature. These forces would replace America’s traditional free enterprise system with a European-style cradle-to-grave social democracy.
These statist forces are more powerful than ever in the age of Obama. So it is the duty for those who believe in the traditional American system to stand up and defend the Constitution. There is no middle ground. Every small new government program puts us on the slippery slope toward a smothering nanny state.
What statist forces? Aside from the requirement to buy health insurance from greedy companies that really generate nothing toward the public good -- the part of health care "reform" on which liberals and conservatives agree, what part of the Obama "agenda" (which from this side of the fence seems to consist mostly of appeasing Republicans) would put us in a "nanny state"?
And would a European-style social democracy really be all that terrible?
It may seem strange for a Jewish-American to be praising Germany. God knows my mother finds it disturbing. But at a time of global economic trauma, Germany seems to be doing quite well. A recent Mercer survey conducted by City Mayors shows three German cities (Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, and Munich) among the top ten livable cities in the world in terms of quality of life.
Yes, in a few parts of Germany around a quarter of the citizenry lives in poverty
. But are we significantly better? In the U.S., 51% of Americans will live in poverty at some point before reaching age 65
-- giving lie to the "hard work and free markets will allow anyone to get into the rich guys' club". And Germany has weathered the economic crisis
better than almost any other country in the world.
Now, Germans don't live the way we do. They don't go into debt to buy Hummers and they don't lease BMWs when they really can only afford a Corolla. Look at a corporate parking lot in Germany and you'll see small cars. In Germany, many people have a flat, not a 9-bedroom house for a family of four. They often don't get paid what their U.S. equivalents do, but they aren't asked to work 100-hour weeks to show their dedication and they get far more vacation time. They take their vacation, and they don't bring laptops and Blackberries to show how indispensable they are -- because their employers don't lead them to believe that if they don't want to work themselves into an early grave, someone else will want to. Granite countertops and stainless appliance and styrofoam crown moldings really don't matter. Germans also have something called job security. German companies (and I happen to work for one) don't turn to jettisoning people the minute things get tough. I started with the company just about two years ago, before everything went to shit -- and not one employee has been laid off. One of my colleagues has been a contractor for a year -- and was just converted to full-time.
In Germany the 8:37 S6 train out of Cologne arrives in the station promptly at 8:37. Every day. On weekends the cafës are filled with people drinking beer, and there isn't so much as a cigarette butt on the streets. Your taxi driver will do his best to get you exactly where you're going, by the most direct route.
I'm not trying to make Germany sound like a paradise. My German colleagues don't talk politics much, even when I was over there for two weeks last summer. I'm sure there are things they don't like much, and the cost of health insurance goes up for them too (though not as much as here). A growing anti-Muslim movement in Germany echoes that here
. But overall, looking at Germany and then looking at what people like David Brooks continue to call "free market" capitalism here, it's hard to see why a "European-style social democracy" would be such a terrible thing, especially when compared to our crumbling infrastructure, willfully ignorant population, growing income inequality, and declining job base.
Labels: Germany, social policy