On this episode of High Noon, Inez Stepman interviews National Review senior writer David Harsanyi, author of the new book Eurotrash: Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent.
Harsanyi busts some common American myths about the superiority of European healthcare systems, welfare state payments, and tolerance of diverse newcomers with hard facts that compare apples to apples, warning that America risks not only its success but the heart of its distinctive culture if it follows the European path.
High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. Inviting interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.
Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. David Harsanyi is a senior writer at National Review and a syndicated columnist. But today, we’re going to discuss his new book, Eurotrash: Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent.
I’m going to ask him about some of the most pervasive myths of European superiority vis-à-vis America, mostly coming from the left but perhaps a little bit now in the last few years coming from the right as well. We’ll get into a little bit of that as well. So welcome, David, to High Noon.
Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Let’s go through, right off the bat here, some of the most common unfavorable comparisons that people hear about America vis-à-vis European countries. Let’s start with healthcare. We hear that the American life expectancy is lower, that our infant mortality stats are higher, and that we spend more of our GDP on healthcare for dubiously not as good results, at least according to those two stats. Why is that the wrong way to compare these two systems?
Well, those are the three big arguments we hear most of the time. First of all, the argument about life expectancy. There is no real evidence that life expectancy is lower in the United States because of healthcare delivery. It has to do with lifestyle choices. Granted, a lot of Americans are more unhealthy or they eat more unhealthy. We have a lot of obesity; this is just how it is.
Now, those are personal choices people make but also driving. We drive far more than Europeans. We live in the suburbs, we drive, we have many more vehicular deaths. Now, you may think vehicular deaths are a terrible thing. I do, of course, think it’s a risk that people take when they drive. But that has nothing to do with healthcare delivery.
We also live much more rugged lifestyles in many places in the United States than others do. And these choices that we make. It has nothing to do with healthcare delivery. The infant mortality is a little different. This happens all the time where every country has its own statistics and its own standards that they measure these infant mortality or whatever, what by.
Frankly, we have… We, in the United States, try to save every premature baby no matter how premature. We count all those deaths. We try to save hopeless cases and we count those as deaths as well. That doesn’t really… Europeans don’t do that. Germans or French, I forget exactly which countries, but they have different standards in how they calculate those deaths.
We are also a country that, even with the influx of immigrants that are going on right now in Europe in the last few years, we’re still taking more immigrants, and we typically take in more immigrants from places of poverty. When you have these statistics sort of first-generation that are worse — health-wise, for instance — they get better generationally.
The third thing you mentioned is spending. We do. We spend a lot more and we are in the lead in almost every technological advancement that you could come up with when it comes to medical care. Medical care costs a lot of money. Europeans pay for it as well, they just pay it through taxation, high taxation; they pay it through different ways. We pay for it out of our pockets, so it seems like it’s more expensive in many ways. Though, it’s not.
Now, I just quickly want to say, different European countries have different systems; some are better than others, some are less socialistic than others. Britain is a great example of how you don’t want to have healthcare. It’s just essentially a socialist system where the government runs the hospitals, etc. That’s why rich people don’t stay in Britain for their surgeries, they often get on planes and come here to have them. Those are just some of the reasons.
To drill down on this a little more, you’re essentially seeing the populations that are going into healthcare and using healthcare system or resources in, let’s say, Britain or France versus the United States are going in with different underlying conditions but that the healthcare system itself is performing better given the issues of the folks who are going into it underlying. Is that correct?
Yes. For instance, if you look at survival rates of cancer, just almost any cancer, we do better than European countries. These are statistics, I think, that matter more than simply looking at life expectancy because life expectancy can be… There are numerous factors that go into that. When you look at survival rates of breast cancer or prostate cancer or things like that — I list them in the book, there are many. I think we outperform almost all European nations on almost all of those.
Detection, we outperform Europe when it comes to cancer and other things. Again, European’s a wealthy place, I’m not contending that they have bad healthcare. My argument is that their system, their policies, their underlying policies, socialized medicine for the most part, but different sorts of systems don’t outperform us in any real way.
What about something that makes me personally crazy and we talked about this a little bit before we started recording, what about the tolerance of people in, let’s say, a France or a Germany versus the United States to people who might have a different ethnic background, different religion.
Because just anecdotally, and I’ll let you fill it in with the real data that you lay out in your book, but anecdotally, it seems to me that people who say that the United States is a more racist place than, say, France, are just people who have not spent a lot of time in Europe or interacted at length with Europeans in a way that isn’t just as a tourist in a cafe because, just anecdotally, that seems completely opposite to my experience. I’ll let you fill in the actual argument underneath my prejudices.
Let me just quickly preface all of this by saying that America is not only the most tolerant place right now in the world, or more tolerant than Europe, it’s the most tolerant place that’s ever existed in the history of mankind. People mock me for saying that. They’ll bring up slavery and this and that. I’m just saying that there are people who live around me here in D.C. in the area who would be killing themselves in any other situation, who have been enemies for centuries, sometimes 1,000 years, who live here in peace. They send their kids to the same schools, they’re friends and they do the same sorts of things.
We assimilate people really well here. Let’s just set aside illegal immigration, which is problematic because it doesn’t allow for assimilations in a organic or a healthy way. Structurally, because these places have existed for so long, they have a hard time even living next — they ‘ve had a hard time until the last 70 years, even being bordering each other, much less living together in any sort of peaceful way.
The idea, there are generational slums and ghettos in France, where people from North Africa or from other Islamic nations don’t assimilate. It’s a problem of the people who won’t for reasons we can get into, but also the structure and system and belief system of these countries that they don’t demand of those people, language, culture, and those sorts of acclamation in that sort of way.
But yeah, just anecdotally, I gave a bunch of… Actually, I quantify a bunch of polls. You can believe that or not, but in Europe, most nations have far higher levels of discrimination against newcomers, for instance, or even minorities in hiring, in wanting to live next to someone who isn’t like you and all of those areas. But anecdotally, I have a bunch of students, for instance, who are African Americans who went to Europe thinking that it was going to be this Utopia — where they had to deal with much more physical, real-world, real-life racism, not just comments but actually being denied service, things of that nature.
Anyone who’s been to Europe enough and didn’t just hang out at the tourist spots, they would probably notice this sort of thing, especially obviously if they’re a minority.
Why do you think Americans are so open to newcomers? Is it just because we are historically a nation that accepts immigrants from a large variety of peoples? Is it our prosperity that allows us to be more welcoming to people?
This is obviously speculation, but what do you think the psychological traits are of Americans that have been developed over our history that we are — and I know that there are people on the left listening to this and scoffing, “Oh, Americans are more open to newcomers?” But you really make a good case in this book that Americans are the most open people in the world.
We are. When people get mad on Twitter and yell at me, I just ask for examples. Why? I think we’re built for it, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t Nativists out there, it doesn’t mean that we’re perfect in how when the Irish came or the Italians came or the Jews came. Obviously, there are people who are not welcoming of them. We’re imperfect, of course. But in the end, there’s just no place that has brought in as many different kinds of religions and creeds and ethnicities and allowed people to live together.
The great thing about it is that they’re successful. I think prosperity does have something to do with it. If we were really struggling, we would be less inclined to welcome newcomers, I think. But you take any minority group in the world, and you compare how they do, wherever they come from, to here, and they always do better here, economically.
I keep throwing the stat around. But if the British were stayed in the United States, we would be the second poorest state after Mississippi per capita. I don’t know if people here realize how much wealth we do have. But you can take Somalis, Nigerians, Hungarians, the Swedes, even Scandinavians do far better here than they do there. That’s part of it.
But I just think that, and to be fair to Europe, we’re built for that. We are open to other kinds of people, because we’re all at some point newcomers here, and my own parents are immigrants. I think that that culture of being open to other types of people, because everyone’s a different type of person around you, really. It works. But it only works, of course, it’s not… It only works if we all accept the same foundational ideas about the world.
We can bring some of our culture, but there are certain ideas we have to share to live like this, which I think the left has been corroding with identitarian politics and class-based politics. These are European things, mostly. Americans have never been obsessed with class in the same way because they believe in meritocracy, I think, in general; and they can move from class to class. Those are important factors, I think, in why we’re open to newcomers.
Yeah. There really is both a carrot and a stick in America. Sometimes I think, for example, Britain has no assimilatory stick. France, for example, has no assimilatory carrot. In the sense that, in America, at least, prior to what you’re talking about, the identitarianism that seems to have swept the country from the left, there was the expectation that you would assimilate, that you would learn English, that you would sort of participate in American holidays like Thanksgiving, that you would assimilate in sort of a public way even if you kept your culture in a private way.
But on the other hand, that acceptance, that real American acceptance of being treated just like every other American citizen really is on offer here in a way that it isn’t… In France, for example, you have third-generation French people whose families came, let’s say, their grandparents or their great grandparents came from another country, and they’re not considered French even though they know no other life, no other language, but you can see that there’s still this huge divide between people who are even three generations in and people considered ethnically French.
Whereas Britain, I think, doesn’t demand assimilation at all from a lot of its immigrants. They found that to be discriminatory in some ways. I really think that’s true. But let’s return to the question of prosperity and wealth here for a minute.
Some of the stats you cite are, I think, shocking. Even to me, somebody like me, who is aware or was previously aware of American wealth vis-à-vis even Western European nations. But what are the real wealth disparities between the way that the average German or Frenchman, or even Brit, lives in comparison to the United States?
How does that wealth manifest in living a better life?
Right. Or household income or purchasing power, things like that.
Yeah, yeah. I don’t have the stats all memorized but our household income per year is far higher and even median income. Almost any statistic you look at, other than a few like Luxembourg and Monaco and these city-states where everyone’s rich. But more than that — and this is what the left, many left or urban leftists look down at — we live in suburbs, in mansions. The European would look at that and say, “That’s a mansion.” They’re I think on average like 1,000 — I might be off on this a little bit — but I think our average house is like 1,000 square foot bigger.
If you go to Europe, if you go to these countries and you use the shower or you just live life there for a while, not in a fancy hotel, but in the real world, you would see what the difference is and comfort level. Now, many sophisticated people look at that and they think it’s nefarious for people to be using so much energy and having these giant cars and using these roads and having huge houses with big lawns. I think it’s wonderful. I don’t think we should feel any guilt over it.
I think those are the way. But there’s something else. I feel like…. Sometimes I’m made fun of for romanticizing America in this way, but I believe it. It’s not just… Even if we became like Europe, we would still be rich, probably; we would still basically have most freedoms, I guess; but it would be an insipid place because Europe is an insipid place. There’s no creativity, there’s very little entrepreneurship in the way that you think about it here.
People are scared to take risk. People are more docile, people are more pliant. You ask them, “Would you rather have a job for life or would you rather be able to achieve your dream?” Huge numbers of Europeans just want a safe job. This is because people came here to risk. The idea of taking risk is embedded in American lore. Almost every famous CEO or whatever always has failure on his resume, even if he makes it up. Everyone has to… Failure is not thought of as an end, it’s thought of as just a step to whatever you’re going to be and do. You can do anything.
Now, these are sometimes idealized… It’s an idealized or a mythology about America. No place is perfect. We are a meritocracy. But obviously, some people are born into situations that are much harder than others. But the idea that you can do that sort of thing, I think, is what makes us very different.
In Europe, I don’t… I have stats or polls to back this up but most Europeans don’t even believe a poor person can pull themselves out of poverty with hard work. Here, it’s like 80% of people think you can. That’s, I think, an important difference. I don’t know what question you asked because I just wandered way off topic but I just wanted to make those points.
I think that’s really a good point about how, and you make the sum in the book, but how these societies end up being self-reinforcing. Or the ideas, if you talk about how the majority of people in European countries don’t believe that they can pull themselves out of poverty, it may be that it’s more difficult within a socialized system, where you have a very, very comfortable and regulated life for employees that are already in the system, but as you point out in this book, very high on unemployment for young people, very difficult to break into the system at the bottom.
I think of it as actually something similar to the way that, for example, teachers’ unions work in the United States. It’s last in, first out. You don’t advance through merit or by being a truly excellent teacher, producing good scores or happy parents. You advance through a union-created system that is very comfortable once you’re sitting in it. But it’s really, really tough to advance up into from the bottom. That may be just like a self-reinforcing loop, don’t you think? That it’s harder to get out of it, that people consequently become more fatalistic about their position in society?
Oh, no. I think that’s exactly right. I think that you have this kind of systems where… Listen, there is cultural forces as well. Scandinavians are very communal, they work very hard. Not to say Italians don’t work hard, but they don’t, they don’t work as hard as the German, for instance. Because they have different lifestyles and a different cultural identity and things like that. But I think that, yes, I think you have a structure where people are comfortable, and that’s what they want to be, and they don’t want to break out of that.
Yeah. Teachers’ unions are a perfect example of the safety that Europeans aspire to in their world, where Americans don’t really want that most of the time. There’ll be a piece in The Atlantic or some New York Times and the headline will be like, “Can you believe how many hours Americans work compared to Europeans? They work 10 hours more a week.” Whatever.
This is supposed to be something that we’re horrified by. We should be working less, we should have a four-day workweek or we should be like the French who aren’t allowed to work on weekends. But we’re not like that. I think that we gain a lot of our identity through our work, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’m not saying people should be overworked. But we don’t frown on work. We don’t look at it and say, “Oh my god. I don’t think we need a four-day workweek and government needs to compel the companies to do this or that.”
I think more and more, we are like that, but we shouldn’t be. That wasn’t the American identity in the past, I don’t think. People looked at work and celebrated success and wealth and things of that nature. Not that it’s always wealth, by the way. I also want to throw that in. It’s about how you live your life. In America, you could live your life in a million different sorts of ways. You could go out to the desert, you could go geographically, but you can have the lifestyle you want. It just depends where you live and the things you want to do. You have a lot more choices here.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the American attitude towards work and life meaning. You hear folks like Andrew Yang, who I generally actually find to be an interesting character on the left, but advancing something like a universal basic income in the United States and saying that, in fact, it’ll free people to do exactly the sort of intrapreneurial and interesting and artistic things that you’re talking about.
Do you think that, if America institutes something like a UBI — because you even get some libertarians making this argument, that it would free people towards more creativity, more entrepreneurship, more creative endeavors — or do you think that we would end up with people who suffer a malaise of meaning in much the same way as we’ve seen with manufacturing leaving the rust belt, where people turn to welfarism and also to drug addiction and they end up… Suicide and other deaths of despair and going through the roof, that there is some inherent, even if it’s an American cultural thing or maybe it’s an inherent human thing, connection between work and dignity and meaning here, that perhaps Europeans don’t either have the same kind of cultural connection or maybe they do and they’re suffering some of the same consequences.
I think that there are some similar problems there with manufacturing and things like that, though my view is that manufacturing goes away because of creative destruction. There’s not much you can do about that. I don’t think there’s any sort of policy prescription for that. But I think that a universal basic income would be far better idea than a giant welfare state because welfare state makes you dependent in different sorts of ways. It disincentivizes work in general. At least I think it disincentivizes having a family and living your life a certain way.
Whereas a basic income granted that we get rid of the welfare state, which will never have, this is why we’re never going to have a basic income, but is a better idea. I’d rather give people cash to live than this ridiculous system where they have to answer that they’re incentivized not to work, basically. That’s a little more complicated a question. I think that that does happen in Europe, because you have this giant bureaucracy, that not only people who are struggling are dependent on the welfare state, everyone is dependent on the welfare state in Scandinavian countries.
They say, “Hey, we get free healthcare, we get free this, we get free that.” Yeah, but the state is telling you exactly what you’re going to get. To me, I just find that to be an un-American idea. First of all, it eliminates a lot of the choices you have in the world. Once you’re dependent, it undermines risk-taking, again, entrepreneurship. If that happens in a Scandinavian country where Scandinavians are incredibly successful people, imagine what it would do to other populations. I think it saps the will… Like I said, I think it just creates an insipid place, that it only cares about safety and things like that.
Also, this is a little broader, but having giant bureaucracies is dangerous for freedom in general. I’ll give you an example. Donald Trump becomes president, there’s a giant bureaucracy in the state department. They decide he’s not going to be president. They’re going to run the country. We have a pandemic, the CDC decides it’s going to run the country. It issues eviction moratoriums. This is dangerous for freedom.
But the bureaucracy is so big, it’s almost impossible to fight it, and that’s what happens when you have in Europe, layers of bureaucracy, the European Union, then you have the nation-state bureaucracies and then even local ones. To me, that giant welfare state, the bureaucracies that come with that are the most dangerous European idea that could be exported here.
But interestingly… I agree and I don’t because I think European bureaucracy, if we leave aside the EU for a moment in Brussels, oftentimes kind of basic services like getting this document or that document seems to function marginally better in Europe, and maybe it’s because of… The best and brightest of America don’t become bureaucrats. There’s so many other opportunities for people to advance and to do well for themselves and other fields that going up through the government and becoming a sort of compliance bureaucrat is not very high on the list.
But it does seem like, even though they have these layers of bureaucracy, the bureaucracy that the United States has is more incompetent. I’m thinking about the withdrawal, for example, from Afghanistan and the way that the Pentagon seems to have handled that. And then just the experiences with the DMV or needing to get some sanitation department thing done in an American city, these things are actually more difficult.
They’re the ones that have… It’s very, very difficult to get anybody to pay attention to what you need. It’s totally incompetent. You have to go back multiple times because people are unclear about what needs to be done. That’s one thing I will say in some of these European countries’ favor, that at least they have plenty of bureaucracy, but it seems to be more functioning.
No, I think that’s right. I don’t have a ton of experience with that, but I think that it’s clear that they’re better at running these bureaucracies than in the United States, where it’s very messy because of localism and who’s in charge of what and this sort of thing. It’s true, as well that Europeans can… They can pull it together and build a high-speed rail or a train from one city to the next. As someone pointed out to me today, part of that is that the whole continent was leveled after World War II, so it’s easier to build new transportation hubs and things like that.
But still, that’s true. Going back to the Prussians and to the Austro-Hungarian empire, they already had bureaucracies, they came up with the idea of social security in Germany, etc. So they’re better at that sort of thing. But the thing is, I don’t want bureaucracy here, I want it to be messy because I don’t want it to exist.
It’s messier, just as politics is messier here. In general, all our politics is messier because of the diversity we have. In the book, I have a stat about the Finnish and how 91% of them are always supportive of the government, no matter who’s running the government. They’re just much more inclined to be part of that system as you mentioned. To get ahead in these countries, because of the giant welfare of state and bureaucracies that they have, they probably do get better people. Most people here who want to be successful who want to make money or invent something, they don’t go to the government to do it. They go on to the private sector.
Yeah, I’m thinking here about the show, The Americans, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but the difference in spy quality between the Soviet Union and the United States, sort of the bumbling FBI and CIA, but at the end of the day, that great American middle and the enormous productivity of Americans and enormous freedom of Americans defeated the Soviet Union even though, in this administrative way or even in these kinds of when you go toe to toe with the Soviet spies, I think there was a large element of truth, the way that the Americans portrayed that.
I have to say, over the last few years, there has not been a bureaucracy that hasn’t failed us. I try to think about what in American government works, and I don’t see much that does from our armed forces, frankly, to the FBI to the CDC, and on and on.
The thing is we were successful in spite of them. My defense of America is not a defense of our bureaucracies, which I think are terrible. In the age of Twitter, we get a glimpse of the people who are actually running it, which is horrifying. But I suspect that European, there are plenty of terrible people within European bureaucracies as well.
Scandinavia keeps coming up. I think that’s one of the enduring kind of a white-whale shimmering city on the hill — sorry I’m mixing metaphors here — but myths for a certain type of leftist in America, that they have an enormous welfare state, they have long maternity and paternity leaves, they have a higher taxes and very generous benefits from the state. They always point to the surveys that these are the happiest people in the world. How much of that is true and how much of it is a lack of understanding of how the Swedish or Finnish or Norwegian system actually works?
[inaudible 00:29:16] Say happiness is overrated in the sense that people ask those questions. First of all, it’s very difficult to quantify what happiness really even means to people. Scandinavians are always happy, they’re very content all the time, no matter what’s going on. That’s the type of people they are. Those polls are always kind of ridiculous.
Well, first of all, scaling that kind of system to United States would mean building the biggest bureaucracy that’s ever existed in the history of mankind. It would be just immense. We’re talking about countries with four or five, 9 million people here. One of them — country like Norway is actually just an oil petrol state which gives out money, gives out checks for its oil, from its oil profits. It’s a very different setup. But more than that, what really bugs me about progressives is they talk about the welfare state there, and then they pretend it’s a socialist place, which it’s not.
Denmark, for instance, is a capitalist place that props up this welfare state. They all have lower levels of regulation and more free trade than we do, probably. And then people want this welfare state, that’s fine. But people pay 60% of their salaries, at least, in taxation. Liberals here are progressives. They want to have that welfare state, but they don’t really want to pay for it.
In Denmark, they pay for it. Everyone pays for it, they have a wide tax base and they pay for it. Now, I don’t think it would work here anyway. But the very idea that they’re pretending they want to import that system here but they don’t, really. They want just rich people to pay for print money. That is not how it works there.
Also, it doesn’t… It’s not as rosy in general as they make out. For them, again, free healthcare, free college, all these things are important. But I think that that adds in such a big country is this, there’s moral hazards that come with that as well. But it also would just make us less competitive and less entrepreneurial and all of those things.
Scandinavian societies have… One, they’re more homogenous, as you point out, but they have really high levels of social trust and trust in their government. I often think, even if one were willing to lay aside the financial considerations of building that kind of welfare state, can you imagine the American welfare state that would be built?
It would be administered by the same people that we were just talking about, the incompetent bureaucrats who can’t figure out how to secure an airbase on the way out of Afghanistan or can’t figure it out. Or I keep thinking about the Hawaiian bureaucrat who accidentally launched a missile alert across the entire islands. The idea that Americans would competently administer that kind of massive welfare state, I think would require a total transformation in the kind of people that we are.
Yeah. That’s exactly right. Scandinavians have high levels of trust in their bureaucracy, their government, their politicians, within their communities. They’re small countries. Scandinavians are very successful in the United States as well. They’re more successful here than they are in Scandinavia. There’s a famous quote where a economist told Milton Friedman, “We have no poor people in Scandinavia.” He’s like, “That’s interesting, because we have no poor Scandinavians in the United States either.”
But people are very… It’s weird how identitarian people are but when you point out something like that, they get very offended. But the truth of the matter is Scandinavians are successful people, they’re not like Americans. I’m not saying we’re not successful, but they have a very different sort of society and levels of government that they would accept in general, would work there.
But more than that, our system is not built for that. We have a federal system where states are supposed to be in charge of most things. We don’t have a top-down centralized state that they would like to have, that the Paul Krugmans would like to have here. But Paul Krugman wants to pay with a trillion-dollar coin or whatever he’s up to now, rather than expanding the tax base to everyone, including the poor paying 60% of their salaries.
Overwhelmingly, I was just hearing — as I actually listened to this on Audible, I didn’t read it — but I was listening to your book, especially, and we chatted a little bit about this beforehand: similar kind of background, immigrant parents from Eastern Europe. So much of us is so true, but I guess the part of it that I found myself kind of doubting or pushing back on as I was listening to it, is this overly — two points — this overly rosy picture of America, in terms of America in 2021, as opposed to… I think I would have agreed more with your assessment of America as opposed to Europe in, let’s say, 2010 or 2008 than I do now, reading this book.
We’ll get to that in just a moment. But one of the things that kept jumping out at me was your endorsement of American meritocracy. It’s not that I disagree with your idea of American meritocracy, I think America was a very robust meritocracy, possibly the most robust meritocracy in the world. But I really am starting to doubt that. One stat that kind of slapped me across the face that I’ve mentioned on this podcast before comes from a book that Michael Lind wrote. That is that you are more likely to graduate from university today with a four-year degree if you have bottom-half math scores but top-half income than the other way around.
How do you factor in this growing credentialism and adding to that, not just the university credentialism but the growing dead weight and fat and American companies that is around compliance, bureaucracy, diversity and inclusion? Six-figure jobs are like… I always think about Michelle Obama’s six-figure job in a hospital: $400,000 a year, working on diversity and inclusion for a hospital system. How does all of that — and it seems to me to be growing stronger, not weaker in America — square with your vision in this book of America as a robust meritocracy?
First of all, is anyone under the impression that those things don’t exist in Europe in the same way? There’s credentialism there as well. I’m sure that companies there have compliance officers and all kinds of deadweight going on, just as in the United States.
I think, also, when we talk about this and we talk about Michelle Obama, it’s a fine example. But how many of those people actually exist? I would say, it’s probably not huge. I don’t know what that’s… I think that our college… This is a complicated topic, obviously. I think our college system is injected with moral hazard because the government backs loans which lets people get dumb degrees or lets rich people get dumb degrees and all of that. I shouldn’t say dumb degree. Degrees that are—
You can say dumb degrees here. We are a pro-college [crosstalk 00:36:43]-
I’m a journalist, so I’m in no position to mock anyone’s career, but you know what I mean. That we have more people in school now majoring in psychology than engineering, let’s say, and we don’t need… We need engineers, etc. But I don’t know. I still think we’re a robust meritocracy. This is a big argument I’ve had.
Phil Kline, who I work with, wrote a book about young people and socialism. I wrote, pushing back, chapter at the end, where I make the argument I think that young people today have it better than young people that ever had it in the United States. I don’t really understand where this angst always comes from. I understand that manufacturing has declined, well, at least jobs have declined in the Midwest and things of that nature because technology has sometimes overtaken those sectors. But that’s happened always in American history in various industries.
People are wealthier today, they’re safer today, they live longer today until very recently, there’s been a slight decline. Crime until very recently was at all-time lows, basically, in the United States. I just don’t understand… That’s not speak to the kind of choices we have in jobs. In the ’70s, do you think people had more choices and the things that they can do in the world? I just feel like a young person today has a far wide open… Has more sort of professions of vocations that they can go into than they used to be able to go into.
I understand that every generation sees itself and they don’t contextualize it, contextualize the whole thing in history and elsewhere, but I just don’t understand why young people think it’s worse in America today than it was 30, 40, 50 years ago. I think it’s better for them in most ways. If you have a particular stat, you disagree with it in some way, I’d be happy to focus in on it.
Yeah. I think in one economic sense, you’re right. Although, I would say that, total uncertainty, there are probably some number of people who prefer, even in America, perhaps not the European model, but something closer to the Japanese model where there is a long-standing relationship between a company and its employees and that there’s a lot of stress associated with, for example, the gig economy or…
Not everybody wants to be an entrepreneur. Not everybody wants to have the stress of not knowing whether their paycheck will come in regardless of how hard they work. That’s the economic piece of it. But I think the biggest piece of it is our family lives and our communities are completely collapsed to one company compared to 20, 30, 40 years ago. Far more young people today grew up in a household without two married parents. While I agree with you, and sometimes push back on some elements of the right when they talk about sort of the economic difficulties that families face today, I always say, “Well, yeah. They faced a lot worse… Economic families face a lot worse, economic difficulties in the Great Depression, but they stayed together as families for the most part.”
Are divorce rates higher today than they were in the ’70s?
I would say-
I think it’s more likely that people are less [inaudible 00:40:12].
So people aren’t getting married. What is true is that, in 1970, fewer children were born into a situation where their two biological parents were not married and together in the same home. I reversed all the words there. But you know what I’m saying, that you’re much more likely today as a child born, let’s say, in 1995, you’re much more likely to have been born to unmarried parents and not to have both your biological parents in the home. I would say that that’s actually a really huge deficit in a young person’s life, perhaps more than any graph that points to having higher purchasing power and more electronics in their house.
But two things. First of all, Europe has similar problems, plus they have even fewer children than we do in general. I think, when I say that continent’s dying, I mean, literally, it’s dying. Germany is the second oldest country to Japan, which where they also don’t have children. I’m not sure… I don’t have all the numbers in front of me as to how many children are born into single-parent families and things like that. I don’t understand… I always feel like a certain kind of conservative believes that it’s the wealth that does this to families.
I just speak that characterization as well, to be clear. I don’t think there is a direct line between the wealth or, let’s say, the difficulty in making your way in the world from a financial perspective and the collapse of families. I dispute that link as well. Just to be clear.
I’m not an expert on why this is going on in American culture. I think sometimes people exaggerate how bad it is. But it certainly is a problem. Probably in some sense has to do with a lack of, in my view, a lack of people losing faith in general. I think people are religious, tend to stay married longer, tend to be divorced less, I think, and tend to have more children, I know. So those are important factors.
We’re on the same trajectory. We’re not on the same trajectory as Europe, but it’s pretty bad in this country. But we were talking about meritocracy. So I don’t think that that’s connected to why people aren’t having family. But let’s go back to you did say there are a lot of people who don’t like the risk of a gig economy job or things like that, and I understand that.
I just feel like when you have technological advances that disrupt society, and we do have that; the internet did that in many ways, I think, and automation does that. There’s no way to… We can’t be Luddites about it. We just have to figure out different ways to re-educate people or to find different things for people to do. I always think that, one day, we’re going to have a post-scarcity economy and then I don’t know what people are going to do.
We’re just going to have mass suicides, because people do find meaning in their work, and that helps them have a family and gives them confidence and things like that. But I don’t really blame that on… I don’t think anyone in Europe has a better handle on that. I know Hungary and those kinds of countries are trying to do that, but they still have pretty low birth rates. I think Hungary has a lower birth rate than the United States still. I’m not sure.
Anyway, I don’t really understand always how those two things are supposed to be connected. I’m not saying you’re saying that, but that’s been an argument out there, I think.
Well, let’s talk about… Because you do have quite a bit on these comparative fertility rates in this book. You point to it as a vote of lack of confidence in society’s future, the fact that birth rates are dropping, both in America but even more so in most European countries. Why do you think that is, first of all, if it’s not connected exactly to economic trends or to….
Because I think you’ve made a convincing case that it’s not, for example, what the left says, Scandinavia has a bigger welfare state and more supports for maternity leave, paternity leave, more kind of financial benefits from the state for young families. But you make a pretty convincing case that those really haven’t done much to help the birth rate in those countries vis-à-vis America.
One of the big arguments is that, listen, basically almost a conservative argument that you should be able to live on one salary and if mom wants to stay at home or dad wants to stay in with the kids, that should be available to them, paternity leave, all those kinds of things. Yet in Scandinavian countries, a lot of people are having more kids now because they have that backup from the state.
Whereas, in some Eastern European countries where they have far less backup from the state, they have more kids in some spots. Generally, Europe across the board is having just very few children. The thing is, the stats I have in my book, since after I wrote it in that and when it was in production we had…. I forgot what the poll, who…. Maybe it was the census, actually. We learned that actually our birth rate had gone down even more. So we’re almost at like European levels, which is quite bad.
I think it had directly to do with the pandemic, though. If we’re talking about—
I think it was over a longer [inaudible 00:45:49], but I’m not sure.
It might have been. It might have been. It might have been. But however you slice it, it’s not a good trend, I think when you have a younger country or you have a more vibrant country, a bit more… You have a population that’s more involved in the… Cares more about the future, frankly and you just have newer people, new blood, and a lot going on. Whereas, in European culture, you don’t have much of that. I do actually think it has something to do with wealth.
As you get wealthier, you have fewer kids. I think that that’s how it used to be in the United States. The wealthier… If you were in a higher class, strata of economic class, you would have probably two kids instead of three or four. In Europe, Islamic immigrants have the most kids, and people who were there don’t. But it’s a bad trend. We can blame it on economics, but in Eastern Europe, where people are poorer than Western Europe, they also don’t have children.
Every kind of system in the West, no matter what you’re doing, childbirths are going down. It must be something else that’s going on, not any sort of system that incentivizes people or disincentivizes people to have kids. I just don’t buy that, if you give someone a tax break, for instance, they’re going to have more kids. It might help you if you have kids, but I don’t think anyone’s saying, “Wow, $1,000. I’ll have a kid.” Hungary gives you lots of incentives to have kids but they barely move the needle, really. Maybe long-term, it’ll prove to be more successful, but I haven’t seen it be that successful yet.
Let me ask you a last question before I let you go here. Is European slow decline possible for America, even laying aside all of your concerns about what the consequences of that kind of safe and low-growth, welfare-heavy kind of safety-ism whatever with a thumb on the scale more towards stability and safety than entrepreneurship and risk, is that even possible for America? What would happen if we implemented something similar to, say, the French system or the German system in the United States?
Again, I think we’d remain wealthy and all of that. We’d just be less creative and less innovative. Also, there are… The difference here is there are still big parts of the country where people don’t want that. People are horrified by the idea of government telling them what to do in the way that they do Europeans. Problem there is… Not a problem, people talk now about splitting up and this sort of thing.
I just think that it’s more of an urban against rural and maybe suburban kind of thing where you can’t really split up, it doesn’t work that way. We’re too interconnected. Not that I want to, I’m just… That’s an argument that’s been out there. What I think would happen is that… I just don’t think it can happen in the same way. But I still think that a really strong federal government… We saw it during the pandemic, the pandemic really made me nervous in a way that I haven’t been in a long time. I’ve been basically positive about our future, because I always kind of trust that the American people won’t go for it in the long run.
But the way we had governors through [inaudible 00:49:19 fiat], unilaterally shutting down a church and everyone’s like, “Okay. Yeah, basically.” Courts are like, “Okay.” I think that that and shutting down the entire economy in that way without any debate, without any vote, I think that that portends poorly for the future in many ways.
Now, that’s changed a little bit. I feel a little bit better about things, but I was talking to someone else about that Ruth Marcus story where, I don’t know if you saw that, where she’s in the elevator and she didn’t wear her mask… She was wearing a mask and some dude wasn’t and she said, “I think you should wear your mask. This is really wrong.” And he said, “I don’t care what you think.”
I don’t care what you think to me is a good American credo, really. I think too many people think that way to allow a European-style of bureaucratic state to exist. But there are enough voters now, unfortunately, to try it. I think it would even be worse than Europe in a way because, like I said, we don’t really want to pay for these things. As you pointed out, the way we run bureaucracy is pretty bad and incompetent because that’s not what we’re supposed to have here.
All those things, I think, would make it really ugly and messy in ways that would have severe political blowback in some places. So I don’t know how it plays out. I don’t think it would be exactly like the European system. But I think that implementing those sorts of things could be bad. It’s always mission creep. It’s like, right now, Biden, they wanted to pass 3.5 trillion European-style created cradle-to-grave welfare bill. So now they’re like 1.5 trillion, but it’s always incremental. It’s always mission creep. It’s always…
Whatever they can get down, they want to get down, and it grows and grows. It’s distressing because it almost never… Maybe twice in the 20th century, it’s been and 21st century, there’s been some pushback, maybe during the 20s and maybe Reagan and even that was barely much in the real world. There’s just been a long generational move towards being more like Europe. Lately, I think it’s accelerated, and I think that’s pretty scary.
Well certainly, when folks read your book, they will see all of the downsides of a European-style system and society that — I think you’re totally right, we don’t talk about particularly on the left, but even on the right — that we would lose a lot of ourselves as Americans and even things that folks on the left like about themselves as Americans are kind of incompatible with the way that European systems function. But, David, thank you so much for coming on High Noon. Can you tell folks where they can buy your book, Eurotrash?
Thank you. Thanks for having me. Any place books are sold, I hope; Amazon and Barnes Noble, places like that.
Thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving a comment or a review on Apple Podcast, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.