Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The mirror image across the Atlantic

Hendrik Hertzberg on what American liberals and conservatives see in European states and the European Union:
Paul Krugman has worried all along that Obama’s response to the credit crisis is inadequate. But he writes today that “America’s actions dwarf anything the Europeans are doing.” With his usual lucidity, he explains what’s behind the difference:

Europe’s economic and monetary integration has run too far ahead of its political institutions. The economies of Europe’s many nations are almost as tightly linked as the economies of America’s many states—and most of Europe shares a common currency. But unlike America, Europe doesn’t have the kind of continentwide institutions needed to deal with a continentwide crisis.

This is a major reason for the lack of fiscal action: there’s no government in a position to take responsibility for the European economy as a whole. What Europe has, instead, are national governments, each of which is reluctant to run up large debts to finance a stimulus that will convey many if not most of its benefits to voters in other countries.

Most of Europe’s individual “states” have governments that are not just democratic but also energetic and powerful. Hence the “European socialism”—i.e., universal health care, greater economic equality, low crime rates, fast trains, good road signage, excellent broadband—that American conservatives are so scared of. But Europe’s federal government—the European Union—is like the post-independence U.S. government under the Articles of Confederation: it’s weak, it’s atomized, it has feeble powers of taxation, and it can’t act without unanimity or something close to it among its several states. It’s as if South Carolina were a sovereign country within a loose confederation, and Barack Obama and Congress needed Mark Sanford’s permission to design and shape a stimulus package.

This, by the way, is also why “Europe’s” foreign policy is so often limp and pathetic. If Berlin, Paris, and London are rough models for American liberals, the rough model for American conservatives is—Brussels. There’s “states rights” and “small government” for you, if that’s what you want.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

And that comes from years of each European nation taking a purely insular focus and making no attempt whatsoever to acknowledge its role in a Greater Europe.

The EU is a marriage of convenience and unless there's less fear that each nation will lose its unique identity, a stronger confederation will not be created.