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.

4 Responses to German Economist: America Is Becoming Too European

  • I’d say the author has a better understanding of this country than many Americans do.

    The author fears that if America adopts European ways, “the American age will have really come to an end.”

    But the good professor fears this because he, unlike large numbers of leftists both here and in Europe, actually likes America. He sees the “The American Age” as a positive. The end of the American Age is precisely the result the left is after and when you look at it from that perspective, Obama’s not doing a bad job.

    America is evil in leftist eyes because – oh, heck, all you have to do is read Vox Nova and you’ll have the reasons. The secular left would add a few other reasons to loathe the US – far too many “Christianist” yokels who have silly qualms about abortion and gay marriage. These people never seem to ask themselves if the American Era might be preferable to a Chinese Era, or an era in which there is no superpower at all, just an ineffectual UN in thrall to states like North Korea and Iran and state-funded terrorist groups.

    Unless we get a grip on ourselves and steer back from the cliff’s edge, we may indeed find ourselves living out one of those 2 scenarios. And my bet is that many lives – not just American lives by any means – would once again become nasty, brutish and short, and the world would find itself yearning for the good old days of the American era.

    Another thing: I have noticed that Euro-admiring lefties are pretty good at ignoring aspects of Europe they disagree with. They’ll tout Europe’s smaller cars (it would be pretty difficult to maneuver a Explorer through narrow medieval streets) and railway system, but not, say, France’s nuclear energy program. Or they’ll praise more relaxed attitudes about adulterous politicians or public nudity, but when you mention that no European country allows partial birth abortions – well, that’s one example of American “exceptionalism” they don’t mind at all.

  • B…b…b….but Paul Krugman says …

  • I’m always weary of these cultural arguments. How’s homogeneous state-friendly Greece doing?

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