An interesting commentary on “Der Spiegel” by Jakob Augstein gives the insight of what many Europeans may think: despite all our differences, we, Europeans, share an understanding of politics, the role of the state, democracy and equality, some sort of common sense that doesn’t seem so common on the other side of the Atlantic, what also used to be considered Western world but, according to Jakob's criteria, cannot be included in it anymore.
What’s the reason for such a categorical statement? Recent negotiations to raise debt ceiling in the US have shown that a right wing extremist minority has the ability and, far worse, the willingness to blackmail the government of its own country and put international financial stability at risk to enforce its own policies without any compromise. As Jakob states, it’s not everything about this political mood though. Social inequality and government inability to raise taxes are some of the peculiar features that makes the US different to Europe. I’m not saying that raising taxes is necessarily a solution, especially in Europe, but I think I don’t misunderstand Jakob’s words when I see astonished how only 1 % of the Americans make 25 % of the national income despite this percentage involved 12 % just 25 years ago and would be even higher if we looked at the late 60’s figures.
As I learned from “The Conscience of a Liberal” by Paul Krugman, social inequality has been a problem in the US since the conservative movement took over US politics since Ronald Reagan in the 80’s. The conservative agenda included, among other things, diminishing the power of unions in the companies through regulation and this increasing less relevance of Unions within the enterprises in the US led to a decrease in salaries in real terms over the years. This, combined with taxes reductions that only targeted high income tax-payers, has been one of the main drivers of this concerning increase in social inequality. Growth, unlike in the post-war period, didn’t have the same effect as it didn’t really reached the majority of the families, those middle classes that are, more than ever, in risk of extinction.
What lessons must be learned then after this recent episode in American politics put in context of conservative movement and this new brand "Tea Party". On this side of the Atlantic, things don’t seem to go better. I rather see Jakob’s view a bit optimistic, probably enhanced by the point that he's living in Germany. It’s true that the largest EU economy is doing well but the reality is that our European model, despite pursuing the right goals, seems to fail because of an excessive intervention. Back to how politics must be done, there’s something to be taken into account though: we should avoid extremism as seen in the US, keep supporting the values that make us Europeans and, in these times of uncertainty, demand more transparency and a down-to-earth economic reform that enhance growth through more opened markets whilst increasing social equality, mainly, through public education and health systems, which should be kept at all cost.
I apologise for any mistake as English is my second language
Regarding this post:
Der Spiegel, 4 August 2011
The New York Times, 31 July 2011
On this site:
The Concience of a Liberal (Spanish), 3 January 2011