German Economist: America Is Becoming Too European

I found this piece from the English-language edition of Der Spiegel by University of Hamburg economics professor Thomas Straughaar very interest, in part because it reads very much as written by someone who is looking at American history and culture from the outside, yet trying to understand it for what it is. A key passage from the second page:

This raises a crucial question: Is the US economy perhaps suffering less from an economic downturn and more from a serious structural problem? It seems plausible that the American economy has lost its belief in American principles. People no longer have confidence in the self-healing forces of the private sector, and the reliance on self-help and self-regulation to solve problems no longer exists.

The opposite strategy, one that seeks to treat the American patient with more government, is risky — because it does not fit in with America’s image of itself.

In Europe, the state is the result of centuries of struggle by relatively homogeneous societies and it has always played a major role in European societies. Therefore, a broad majority of the population supports economic policies based on government intervention, especially in difficult times. And Germany’s current successes in dealing with the crisis suggest that the Europeans are probably right in their approach. The German economy will probably grow more this year than the American one. In Europe, government-prescribed medicine goes down well.

But what is good for Europe and Germany does not automatically work for the US. The settlers of the New World rejected everything, which included throwing out anything with a semblance of state authority. They fled Europe to find freedom. The sole shared goal of the settlers was to obtain individual freedom and live independently, which included the freedom to say what they wanted, believe what they wanted and write what they wanted. The state was seen as a way to facilitate this goal. The state should not interfere in people’s lives, aside from securing freedom, peace and security. Economic prosperity was seen as the responsibility of the individual.

If you take this belief away from Americans, you are destroying the binds which interlink America’s heterogeneous society. Removing this belief could lead to conflicts between different sections of society, clashes which have long bubbled beneath the surface.

The questions he brings up are interesting, and it’s also interesting just reading his perceptions of what the US is and how it is different from European societies.