Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age
Host: Daniel Kelemen, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for European Studies, Rutgers University.
We’ve all heard of the ‘American Way’, but is there a ‘European Way’? In Europe’s Promise, Steven Hill explores European approaches to a range of contemporary policy challenges – from economic policy, to social policy, to health care, to climate change, to foreign policy – and shows that there is a distinctive ‘European Way’. He also argues convincingly that Americans have much to learn from it.
Part one of the book describes Europe’s social capitalism. The discussion is far ranging, as Hill takes us from the post-War roots of labor-management relations policies in Germany to European reactions to the 2008-09 financial crisis. Throughout this section, Hill makes it clear that European countries have established a distinctive approach to capitalism that combines the pursuit of economic growth with a far greater commitment to social cohesion than America’s ‘Wall Street Capitalism’ allows. Along the way, he reveals the economic advantages of labor ‘co-determination’ and ‘flexicurity’ policies and highlights how European social policies and childcare policies provide support to European families and reflect real ‘family values’. Of course, generous social policies have to be paid for. But Steven Hill shows that the idea that Europeans are taxed to death to support the welfare state is a myth. Rather, he shows first that differences in tax rates in Europe and the US are modest when all forms of taxes are considered and second that most Americans are forced to pay out of pocket for many services – from health, to education, to elderly care – that are financed by tax revenues in Europe.
After discussing Europe’s social capitalism in general terms, Hill turns to an in depth discussion of health care. Again, he dispels myths and caricatures. While many Americans equate ‘socialized medicine’ with the British National Health Service, Hill shows that France, Germany and other European countries have achieved universal, quality healthcare without a ‘government takeover’ of the health care system.
Next Hill explores ‘Sustainable Europe’, focusing on energy and transport policies. For those who recall America’s role as a leader on environmental issues in the 1970s, these chapters may make for depressing reading. Europe has become a global leader in renewable energy and fuel efficient transport while the US has lagged.
Having surveyed a range of domestic policies, Hill looks at the emerging role of the European Union on the world stage. He shows that the increasing integration of Europe has given the member states of the EU a new kind of influence on the world stage. While the EU lacks the military might of the US, it is a superpower in other respects and has enormous influence across a range of issues from global trade talks, to development aid, to democracy promotion.
Hill concludes the book by looking at a number of the major challenges to the ‘European Way’. Two demographic challenges stand out. Substantial increases in immigration to western Europe have created strains, as countries wrestle with questions of how to integrate new immigrants groups. And while there is much political and social resistance to increased immigration, Europe actually needs more people! Indeed, immigration has been one of the few trends counteracting the population decline in Europe. For the European model to be sustained into the future, countries with extremely low birthrates – such as Germany and Italy – will have to introduce policies to encourage greater fertility.
Europe’s Promise will be an eye opening read for many Americans. As Hill shows, much of the American media coverage of Europe is slanted to reinforce caricatures of the ‘Old Continent’ – that European economies are inefficient, overtaxed and uncompetitive, and that Europe is deeply divided politically. Instead, he demonstrates that the economically advanced democracies of Europe have developed a model of social capitalism and a wide range of public policies that may serve as models for American reformers.