Friday, May 15, 2009

Riding in our own Slipstream

America specializes in taking risk.  We do it better than anyone else.  Our culture applauds and rewards it, our corporate and bankruptcy laws cushion it, and the world benefits from it.  I mean, where do all those cheap drugs in Canada come from if not American entrepreneurship? 

We also specialize in military preparedness.  Where would NATO’s other members be without our military might?  Or, to put it another way, would the world be a better place if the US military were as potent as that of the European Community?  (The issue is actually the subject of some debate.)

Economists have long attributed Japan’s post-war economy to its not having to raise, feed, and equip an army, to its not having to develop nuclear weaponry.  All of western Europe has enjoyed a similar benefit, if not so starkly.  America has taken the financial and security risk for the “Free World,” enabling it to stay free.   And the rest of the planet has, to the extent it wished, come along for the ride.

But, as Brutus observed,

…‘tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round.
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.

Our European friends don’t like how they got to be so socialistically, pacifistically happy on our capitalist, militarist nickel.  We, it turns out, are those rough men walking their walls, and they are ashamed of themselves.  So, being the children that we have made them, they are angry at us. 

Now, it turns out, our own people have forgotten that we got where we are by being like ourselves, and not by being like the Europeans.  They see cyclists riding in the slipstream of our bus, hardly pedaling, and they want the same privilege.  Thus, defenses of the administration’s spending plans seem always to refer to Western European ratios of spending or deficit or debt to GDP.  If they can do it, why can’t we?  Those arguments fail to account for the differences in our national roles in the world’s economy.  We can’t devote so much money to government spending because we have to devote it to being the place that creates the wealth that everyone else is so egalitarian with. 

What happens when we provide the same compensation for achievement as our European friends do?  I mean, what happens globally?  How do we spend as much as Europe on healthcare when we spend more than they do on defense?  How do we divert as much of our labor force to health care as universal coverage would demand when the world needs us to continue to invent stuff? 

No answers yet.  Just questions.  Maybe some answers later.

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