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[political] Europeans/Americans

 
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EUROPE: WORLDS APART
For people with generally similar value systems, it seems there are often great divides between Europeans and Americans, and this article tries to address some of that. While it is a little bit of a biting commentary (well it is from the NY Post), are any of its points valid?

For Europeans - excluding the Brits, who are more like us than they sometimes find comfortable - "freedom" means freedom from things: from social and economic risk, from workplace insecurity and personal responsibility, from too much competition in the marketplace or too much scrutiny of governing elites.
Socialism, a doctrine born in Europe, struck very deep roots. The collective takes priority over the individual. The European social contract amounts to this: We will not let the talented rise too high, and we will not let the lazy fall too low. "Equality" doesn't mean equal opportunities, but equal limitations.
For Americans, freedom means the freedom to do: To make our own way, to struggle, achieve, to rise (to climb social, educational or economic ladders), to move beyond our parents' lot in life and give our children better chances still.


I see a bit of this contrasting view of freedom reflected in some recent court cases in this country, particularly where religion is involved. Is it any wonder then that US Supreme Court is now letting European society influence its decisions? (See Supreme Court internationalists, A Coup by the Courts, and (U.S.) European Supreme Court for more on this.)

We elevate the individual; Europeans worship the group.


Any truth to this? I guess this is a bit self-evident given the US form of capitalism versus the European "social capitalism".

In Europe, there's little provision for late bloomers. The placement tests the student takes as a teenager determine his or her academic, economic and social fate to an extent that would spark another revolution in America.
Here, attending Harvard is no guarantee that you'll succeed in life - it just gives you a head start out of the gate. On the other hand, beginning your academic career at a community college doesn't mean you can't climb to the highest income levels.


If you are European, to what extent is one's future academic, economic and social outcome affected by these placement tests?

Most Americans would be astonished if they understood how few opportunities there are for Europeans to pursue adult education, to change careers, to learn new skills - or to recreate their lives. It's an adult version of being forced to retain your identity in junior high school forever.


This is relevant to the previous quote. Any comments on this?

Strategically, Europe is in danger of becoming the greatest impediment to positive change in the world. Europe clings to the international status quo, no matter how dreadful, simply because risk has been bred out of its culture. This leaves the United States (and Britain) with the choice of doing that which is necessary and just without Europe's support, or accepting the rules that made the 20th century history's bloodiest.


I personally don't agree that Europe is in danger of becoming the greatest impediment to postitive change in the world. But about risk being "bred out of its culture", isn't that what socialism ultimately does?
I didn't comment on some of the more inflammatory comments made in this op-ed, but this should not be construed as either my support or my disagreement with these comments, merely that I'll leave them to others to address.
[ August 30, 2003: Message edited by: Jason Menard ]
 
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how few opportunities there are for Europeans to pursue adult education, to change careers, to learn new skills - or to recreate their lives. It's an adult version of being forced to retain your identity in junior high school forever.


This so true in Britain unfortunately. You very rarely see people change direction unless it is to downsize to live in small holdings being self sufficient. Given the property price differentials this is too common.
A broom cupboard squat in Central London is equivalent to a small estate in Scotland. But regional property prices are shooting upwards. So the only way is out currently. Property prices across Europe are also spiralling with the influx of rich cross-border buyers.

Another thing that is surprising is that Germany spends the lowest on University education (c 30%), Britain (c 60%) and Finland the highest (c 74%) if I remember correctly. This imbalance is being addressed by initiatives like the Association of European Universities , cross-border Degree and Masters programmes by top Universities like City University of London.
regards
[ August 31, 2003: Message edited by: HS Thomas ]
 
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Jason,
ideology gives warm, fuzzy feelings and has very little to do with reality . And the tree outside of my window is in Europe. My current working contract is based 30% on revenue. Me and the company are thinking heavily about my skill-building. Many europeans do have similar contracts. Before I was even starting to build up my own business with some other guys. Our socialist state gives some support if you decide to become entrepeneur. There might have been a market niche big enough for us and there were some interest from the client side, but I dropped, because hmm of this lack of hands-on-attitude and way too much "no, I can't do this, you do that, I am doing that" of those german idiots (who are still my friends).
The european middle class lives under the same incertainities as the american middle class. At least in Germany we don't even have elite universities like Harvard or MIT. Even if you have a very "clean" curriculum vitae, its no guarantee that you succees and vice versa. I personally know quite a few dot.com and general consulting bubble cadavers here with very clean curriculum vitaes who have a lot of problems now. Some of them were employed in a big, global non-IT company. I am not that very clean, but I am pursuing more skillset-upgrading. My sister do have an extremly clean curriculum vitae. Currently she's a little bit better off than me, but even in here department there were lots of fear that they loose jobs. Only person they employed in the last year is a 50 year old man without university diploma.

If we would be the true successors of soviet style non-free market economies, why do we have still quite a bit success with our exports?
I wasn't able to find figures, but the average german company is much smaller than the average american company. This places much more responsability on the individual employee.
The situation a west-european faces is very different depending on the single countries. In France there is more elite-University and very kid-friendly policy. In Spain there is more difficulty for young people to enter the market. In the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden there is very little unemployment. In Germany there is more unemployment.
Here's free market economy. Don't believe this guy. He's just distorting reality to sell his stuff. I would call it plain populism like latin americans saying "El gringo tiene m�s plata pero nosotros como gente tenemos m�s calor" or germans thinking that we are so god given greater than others in organizing things (the good thing of crisis is that this stupidity is eroding).
Axel
[ August 31, 2003: Message edited by: Axel Janssen ]
 
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In Europe, there's little provision for late bloomers. The placement tests the student takes as a teenager determine his or her academic, economic and social fate to an extent that would spark another revolution in America.


This seems to be true, at least in the formal economy. In Italy and France there is a thriving underground economy in which some people seem to thrive despite early disadvantages. Italy in particular. I cannot say for Germany, Belgium, or the Netherlands. Iberia strikes me as being looser as well.

Here, attending Harvard is no guarantee that you'll succeed in life - it just gives you a head start out of the gate. On the other hand, beginning your academic career at a community college doesn't mean you can't climb to the highest income levels.


In Germany, France, and to a much lesser extent the UK a degree from a top school tends to mean you cannot fail very hard, I think. This is gradually falling away in the UK, but the graduates of the public schools retain what seems to be a permanent advantage.

Most Americans would be astonished if they understood how few opportunities there are for Europeans to pursue adult education, to change careers, to learn new skills - or to recreate their lives. It's an adult version of being forced to retain your identity in junior high school forever.


I was utterly astonished to learn the degree to which this is true. I was expecting London to have an adult education infrastructure similar to that in New York. At least in the technical subjects it is not there, It's no better than I would expect in any medium sized city in the US. Languages are very good, as are cultural studies, it must be admitted. And the Open University is one of the great distance learning schools on the planet. But there is a dearth of local efforts.
For example, I moved into a neighborhood immediately next door to Brunell University, one of the UK's good technological schools. I called them up to get the brochure for their night course program. There was none. No continuing ed except for masters programs. Nada. This blind spot seems to be widely shared among UK universities. Proper universities only train undergrads and full time graduate students it would seem.
Shocking. And blind.
 
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Axel,
What is a 'clean' CV?
 
Axel Janssen
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Originally posted by Alfred Neumann:

This seems to be true, at least in the formal economy. In Italy and France there is a thriving underground economy in which some people seem to thrive despite early disadvantages. Italy in particular. I cannot say for Germany, Belgium, or the Netherlands. Iberia strikes me as being looser as well.


Its the growing sector of our economy. Has to do with high income taxes and extraordinary high payroll deductions for social security. They had the *great* idea to finance german re-unifications through that chanel, which is crazy.

Originally posted by Alfred Neumann:

I was utterly astonished to learn the degree to which this is true. I was expecting London to have an adult education infrastructure similar to that in New York. At least in the technical subjects it is not there, It's no better than I would expect in any medium sized city in the US.


At least in Germany a lot of retraining activity is paid by the state. So it might be less visible. They don't have to advertise heavily to get customers. Of course this statal financed retraining is problematic, too. They offer a lot of crap.
There is an open discussion to integrate our public universities (98% of them are public) in retraining activities. We might need a change of mentality inside german university to get to this point.

Originally posted by Alfred Neumann:

In Germany, France, and to a much lesser extent the UK a degree from a top school tends to mean you cannot fail very hard, I think. This is gradually falling away in the UK, but the graduates of the public schools retain what seems to be a permanent advantage.


This is true for France. But in no way for Germany. We simply don't have this concept of top universities.

Originally posted by Alfred Neumann:

What is a 'clean' CV?


Some people decide very early on what they'll do in their professional life and they pursue this goal and have some luck along the way. Those cases are quite rare. My sister for example wanted to start in business studies from the age of 14. Worked for the marketing department of a french automobile company during holidays. They gave here jobs with more and more responsability every holyday she worked there. She specialized in marketing in her studies. She got her diploma in time. She started to work for a dutch importing company of an automobile company in Detroit. This company was bought by a automobile company from Stuttgart.
I have diploma in economics and am in programming/consulting. Works too. My personal self-education in Java, J2EE and Websphere plus experience results in opportunities on the job market despite crisis. You tend to paint a very black and white picture of the situation in europe. There are much more shades of grey in reality. They talk a lot about the importance of re-training in the media. When I gave Websphere courses for corporate developers I often thought that "those Lotus Domino guys are really lacking effort to make switch to Websphere programmers", but people reported similar things about american corporate developers. Also it might have been my lack of experience as trainer and it really wasn't that bad.
A lot of things have to change and will change here, but its not that simple as presented in the article.
Regards Axel
 
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sounds like truth mixed with pro-american propaganda. :roll:
 
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Lots of assumptions in the article and he seems to have as many out of date ideas about Europe as Europeans have about the US. His comment about taking criticism was the best - like US commentators are less "spluttering" when countering comments along the lines of "you shouldn't do that, do it like this!". I like reading these things though, but only after I've finished my lunch for fear of choking!
As for your questions Jason, I can only speak as a Brit from Europe ...
Freedom
Freedom from poverty and lack of opportunity etc seems to be a basic theme in European of politics, at least in theory. No real debate there. We'd would call it social justice The variation in styles of state welfare support between countries is massive though, and all have weaknesses and strengths. In the UK we seem more dedicated to the health services, or rather, that (and education) receive the greatest criticism/media coverage. Its one of the biggest political footballs. Measures to tackle poverty per se are less conspicuous.
The European social contract amounts to this: We will not let the talented rise too high, and we will not let the lazy fall too low. "Equality" doesn't mean equal opportunities, but equal limitations. ... This is a very telling assumption. To succeed you must have talent, to not succeed means you're lazy! We all know this isn't necessarily true either side of the Atlantic ... Here, attending Harvard is no guarantee that you'll succeed in life - it just gives you a head start out of the gate. On the other hand, beginning your academic career at a community college doesn't mean you can't climb to the highest income levels. This is true in the UK too. I agree with Alfred that it is hard to fail if you went to one of the Oxbridge unis, but what makes these places so successful for the "un-talented" are the networking opportunities. I find it hard to believe that there are no equivalent "old-boy" networks operating in the top US institutions. Again for a talented individual (and individuals are encouraged btw) there is no reason a talented run-of-the-mill comprehensive school student can't succeed in life. Conversely the same reasons that keep ghettoised populations in the US confined to a cycles of poverty would apply to most westernised countries.
(A note about adult learning and retraining - I'm a little surprised at some of the statements here. I did my A levels (a pre uni qualification) at 21. I just decided one day that I wanted to go to university, found some adult courses in Bournemouth and went (I paid myself). Similarly after completing my non-computer related degree (Sociology - yeah I know ), I promptly retrained during my first real job to become a web developer. All the courses I went on were run by tech training firms in London (there are lots, believe me), the only barrier being cost. I'm now considering changing again. Whilst living in Cambridge, I was always aware of the community colleges catering to adults. I guess some areas are better equipped than others which is unfortunate. My father went from an unemployed PCB designer in the 80's to a network and systems expert, taking it upon himself to completely retrain. This is after he failed at starting his own company. Of course I can't directly compare the US experience with mine because I've never been there)
Back to freedom ... The court case comment is interesting. It seems the sodomy law for example is precisely the type of "freedom to do" law that would suit the US in theory, yet the public debate on that is far from over. Same on same sex marriage. On the outside looking in, its as if large portions of the US public agree with "freedom to do" but only within the confines of religious doctrine and general tradition.
We elevate the individual; Europeans worship the group. An overstatement an inaccurate IMO. There is certainly a me culture in the UK and generally people look out for themselves in all countries - at least from my experience of visiting families and friends in Europe (Germany, France,Italy, Spain) this would seem to be the case. Also the sweeping "with us or against us" attitudes and the vitriolic reactions to anti-war statements that we've seen in America don't seem to be great examples of tolerance. Of course I know that this is not an attitude shared by all Americans and its certainly not "legal" but it seems significant numbers put the idea of "America at all costs" before that of the individual.
Socialism and risk? - good question. Difficult to say in all honesty. This kind of smacks of social Darwinism yet its not necessarily the fittest or strongest that survives, but the most adaptable. I would say general conservatism (left or right) is the biggest danger to progress. Is Europe more or less adaptable? It may be that it will be more difficult to change the attitudes of a continent of many countries than a continent of states (sorry Canada!). However there are many changes ongoing in Europe politically and they don't necessarily abandon the European concept of "freedom-from" freedom. New Labour in the UK for instance proclaims itself as the 3rd way, and has alienated traditional socialist supporters. In France too there are many realisations coming to light about state sponsored pension and health provision yet they are not likely to privatise everything, (at least not this century).
Personally I think the US and Europe still have masses to learn off each other. Trumpeting one side's answers over the other as THE solution belies the fact that there are many, many problems in all western countries (poverty, pollution, exploitive trading, inequality etc). These problems aren't going anywhere soon.
[ August 31, 2003: Message edited by: Richard Hawkes ]
 
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