"Just keep to the left," says the ticket seller at the Hampton
Court palace maze. "There are a couple of dead ends but once you've
got through those, you'll get out OK in the end."
If only it was as simple for European leaders, who will gather
here Thursday to discuss adapting their fraying social benefits
models to the information age. In the labyrinth of the globalized
world, the 25 European Union member states look increasingly like a
gaggle of tourists, arguing about how to negotiate the blind alleys.
Some, like the Scandinavian countries with their supergenerous
state welfare, may be happy to "keep left." But others, particularly
Britain with its center-right traditions, are warning that Europe
won't be able to afford such largess and still compete in the global
What some Britons have in mind is the kind of painful reform
already pioneered in Britain in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher,
which cemented the "Anglo-Saxon" model and its emphasis on free
markets, private enterprise, and smaller government.
At the time, Thatcherism was heresy to Jeremy Rix, a rebellious
teenager with a flair for languages and art. He was so outraged by
state cutbacks and miserly welfare that he joined street
demonstrations, grew his hair long, and argued about politics with
But now, as a 35-year-old company director with a family, Mr. Rix
is far more appreciative of how social reform rejuvenated Britain
and bequeathed his generation a country that is more dynamic than
most in Europe.
"[Mrs. Thatcher] completely reinvented the UK in my view. We're
still living with the legacy of that - free market, flexibility,
greater wealth," says Rix, who runs his own market research and
intelligence consultancy, Metro Research.
"As a teenager I was a bit of a hippie and went on the antiloans
marches [protesting against government cuts to student loans]," he
adds. But in retrospect, he sees the decade as one of "increasing
wealth and freedom."
The upshot is that Britain, according to the World Bank, is the
second-easiest European country (after Romania) in which to start a
business. In addition, hiring and firing is relatively
straightforward compared to countries like France and Germany. At a
recent conference in Munich, Rix heard envious mutterings from
continental associates who appreciated how free he is to operate.
"There definitely is a flexibility in the UK market that you don't
have elsewhere," says Rix.
All of this, he says, does not necessarily come at the expense of
social protection. True, if you lose your job, the state will not
pay you 80 percent of your salary for months as it does,
expensively, in some parts of Europe. But a robust job market that
enables you to find another post quickly provides a similar "safety
"If something awful happened to my business, I know I could go
and get another pretty good job quite easily," says Rix.
While some conservatives in Europe say a hearty helping of
Thatcherism would revive the Continent's flagging economies, most
are still suspicious of the Anglo-Saxon model. Its relatively low
taxes and stingy welfare payments have proven generally good for
jobs and business, but have done little for poverty and equality.
One current of European thought, which favors greater regulation and
social protection, scoffingly portrays the Anglo-Saxon model as good
only for free-market buccaneers. Another, popular in Scandinavia, is
generally appalled by the neglect of the underclass.
Aware of Britain's poor record on social justice, Tony Blair has
sought since he was elected in 1997 to remold various aspects of the
British system to make it more compassionate, though not less
dynamic. In this "Anglo-social" model, steadily increasing taxes
fund health-service spending; tax revenues are channeled to poor
families and to every newborn child; back-to-work programs help the
unemployed; and a minimum wage gives greater succor to unskilled