For the right in the US and here, ”Europe” is more than a continent. It is a condition – one of failure and stagnation, a cautionary tale. With Greece in flames and Italy and Spain in serious difficulty, there has been plenty of scope to make that case in the US. Yet it is not these states that are the targets of their ire. Instead what they take to represent ”decadence” is northern Europe and France – the countries where state economic planning, collective benefits and a social welfare system have become entrenched.
This assessment, widespread in the US and Britain, is remarkable. Not only do those countries have a far from glittering record, but the assessment of Europe is the reverse of the truth. While the Anglosphere has spent three decades cultivating rising inequality and living costs, industrial decline, and an increasingly precarious existence, northern Europe has steadily reinvested in its own society and economic base.
While Britain swapped its manufacturing sector for financial ”services”, and the US swapped production for consumption, Germany, Sweden and others used manufacturing as a base to develop high-tech industry, value-added by free higher education.
The results are obvious – exports account for up to a third of national output for such countries, while Britain and the US run trade deficits that average 5 per cent of GDP.
Poverty rates in these parts of Europe range from 5 to 11 per cent, whereas they are north of 20 per cent in Britain and the US. Household savings rates are stable, at about 12 per cent, more than triple that of the Anglosphere, which is dependent on breakneck consumer spending to keep the wheels moving. Medical coverage is universal, affordable public housing is widespread, yet budgets are -balanced (save for Germany’s, whose deficit is nevertheless a fifth the size of the US).
When the neoliberal cheer-squad in the Anglosphere have no choice but to acknowledge these facts, they often claim that such conditions have negative effects. It’s often suggested that social democracies lack an appetite for risk. That’s usually suggested while the commentator is sitting at an IKEA desk, typing on a Linux-driven computer, having driven to the office in a Volvo.