Wednesday, November 17, 2004 Books | Welcome to the new cold war

Just one more a ton of new reasons to move to Europe...

If the EU has no intention of confronting America's military supremacy, that, Rifkin and Reid would agree, is actually Europe's ace in the hole. Let the Americans pour endless billions in taxpayer dollars down the Pentagon's money sink, the Europeans reason. As they see it, the key to future peace and prosperity lies elsewhere, in constructing complex webs of social interaction and economic cooperation that will undermine nationalism and fundamentalism of all stripes. While the United States foots the bill for the intractable conflict in Iraq and piles up huge budget and trade deficits, Europe has spent money on other priorities.

Whatever your intellectual and emotional responses may be to this burgeoning transatlantic conflict, it's difficult for any American to read Rifkin's book and not feel ashamed. The U.S. has fallen significantly behind the EU's Western European nations in infant mortality and life expectancy, despite spending more on healthcare per capita than any of them. (While 40 million Americans are uninsured, no one in Europe -- I repeat, not a single person -- lacks some form of healthcare coverage.)

European children are consistently better educated; the United States would rank ninth in the EU in reading, ninth in scientific literacy, and 13th in math. Twenty-two percent of American children grow up in poverty, which means that our country ranks 22nd out of the 23 industrialized nations, ahead of only Mexico and behind all 15 of the pre-2004 EU countries. What's more horrifying: the statistic itself or the fact that no American politician to the right of Dennis Kucinich would ever address it?

Perhaps more surprisingly, European business has not been strangled by the EU welfare state; in fact, quite the opposite is true. Europe has surpassed the United States in several high-tech and financial sectors, including wireless technology, grid computing and the insurance industry. The EU has a higher proportion of small businesses than the U.S., and their success rate is higher. American capitalists have begun to pay attention to all this. In Reid's book, Ford Motor Co. chairman Bill Ford explains that the company's Volvo subsidiary is more profitable than its U.S. manufacturing operation, even though wages and benefits are significantly higher in Sweden. Government-subsidized healthcare, child care, pensions and other social supports, Ford says, more than make up for the difference


While Rifkin and Reid are unabashed Euro-boosters, both would urge Kerry voters rendered starry-eyed by the EU dream to ponder long and hard before pleading for asylum at the nearest consulate or scouring your family tree for relevant European ancestry. (Speaking as a dual-passport holder myself, I'm sticking it out -- at least for now.) For all the grandeur of its new vision, Europe still has relatively high unemployment and relatively sluggish economic growth. The continent faces major structural problems, most notably a declining birth rate and a long-standing hostility to immigration, which has led to a population that is aging much faster than America's. While the European welfare state is certain to remain generous by American standards, significant renegotiation of rights and benefits will be necessary unless this demographic time bomb can somehow be defused.

Of course, you could say the exact same thing about the USA under Bush.



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