'Comfy' V. 'Cowboy' Capitalism; Only the Wishful Expect Help from Old Europe

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 7, 2004 | Go to article overview

'Comfy' V. 'Cowboy' Capitalism; Only the Wishful Expect Help from Old Europe


Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

PARIS - It's not news to stop anyone's press that if Old Europe could vote John Kerry would win in a landslide. In one poll of French preference the senator ran up 90 percent of the vote. Saddam Hussein didn't do much better than that in the bad old days in Baghdad.

But all the reasons why aren't always obvious.

The day after September 11 the Paris newspaper Le Monde famously declared that "Today we are all Americans." That reads now like a dispatch from the War of 1812. Sit down for an espresso in a sidewalk cafe on the Champs Elysee today and you're more likely to hear, "Today we all hate America."

The collapse of the Soviet Union created an intellectual void that has yet to be filled. Socialism was crushed by harsh reality, and there's nothing left to argue with capitalism. The French have their own reasons. (Jacques Chirac habitually sneers at "le Anglo-Saxons.") The Germans, who scorn Americans as mercenary materialists, have been exposed as featherweight thinkers with a welfare-state economy burdened by an unemployment rate that would set off riots in Pittsburgh, Perth Amboy and Peoria. America's economy is growing far, far faster than the German economy. If you're a Frenchman, an Italian or a German, what's not to envy?

Unfortunately, Europeans take ideology a bit more seriously than Americans do, and perceive American capitalism as more rigid than it really is. Europeans have never quite understood the American willingness to find problems, whether with their cars, planes, cuisine or the economy, and fix them. The Americans have a welfare state we are reluctant to call a welfare state. Bill Clinton understood the appeal of the welfare-reform legislation, offering incentives to get people off the dole, and was pleased to steal a reliable Republican campaign issue.

A book by Olaf Gersemann, the Washington correspondent for Wirtschaftswoche, Germany's largest economic and business weekly, stirred disbelief and controversy last year, challenging misconceptions Germans hold about the American economy. Now it's out in an updated edition, challenging those misconceptions in France and Italy as well, and controversy is simmering again.

A lot of the things Europeans, particularly the Germans, know about us aren't so, and it upsets a lot of people here when someone tells them that. Many Europeans, particularly in Berlin, believe that things revealed in "Cowboy Capitalism: European Myths, American Reality," (published in the United States by the Cato Institute), can't possibly be true.

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