American history has been marked by less government and more emphasis on the individual. Our individualism has made us good citizens. We have helped our poor through our contributions to private associations. Our desire to succeed in a free economy has encouraged virtues such as prudence, courage, and tenacity. By contrast, European states have long been committed to top-down coordination of the economy. The welfare state shields citizens from the harsh realities of the free market. Europeans believe that economic security requires a rejection of economic freedom.
This cultural difference has given European countries very expensive welfare states, crushing debt, incredibly high taxes, and governments that control half the economy. Most European governments consume over 50% of the country’s GDP. The result is a lack of growth in European businesses. Few Europeans want to start businesses. This is a problem for the economy, because new businesses and entrepreneurship can be a major source of wealth.
But wait, you may be saying. Some of this sounds familiar. That is Samuel Gregg’s point. Significantly fewer Americans view the free market positively—in 2002, 80% of us favored a free market; by 2008, it was only 59%. Our recent history includes government bail-outs, high deficits, and an expanded welfare state. Americans must ask themselves if they prefer a weaker economy controlled from the top down, or if they want a robust economy with opportunities for great success? For the latter, we must reward entrepreneurship and stress economic liberty.
It's time to ask Samuel Gregg’s provocative question in the title of his new book: Is America Becoming Europe?
Listen to the radio commentary here: