America and the “social market”

The very astute political journalist Joe Conason has written a very forceful piece for Friday’s edition of Salon, recommending that, now that  “the “old Washington consensus” of privatization, deregulation and weak government” has been found wanting, America might learn a lot from “the  “social market” nations of Europe — where support for families and children is less rhetorical and more real than here”.

So when the French and other Europeans note pointedly that their societies routinely spend much more than ours to protect workers, women, the young, the elderly, and the poor from economic trouble, they’re merely making a factual observation. (France spends as much as 1.5 percent of GDP annually on childcare and maternity benefits alone.) Different as we are in culture and history, we might even learn something from their example, now that the blinding ideology of the past has been swept away……….

………It is true that globalization, aging and immigration have imposed severe pressure on the budgets of European countries, and the trend of increasing benefits that continued until a decade ago has been reversed. But it is also undeniable that despite those pressures, public and political support for the social market economy remains strong across Europe, and that free-market fundamentalism is a thoroughly discredited alternative. The old argument that the social market is unsustainable and hinders growth was never persuasive on close inspection. And the old expectation that outmoded European systems would eventually collapse into imitating ours has been swept away, along with the rest of the Washington consensus. Now perhaps we can honestly consider what America might learn from them.

My own opinion is that Conason is wrong in thinking that the “old Washington consensus” gone away altogether. I’m confident in predicting that when the American economy recovers this “concensus” will be able to restore itself to its former glory by telling people that their hard-earned dollars are being spent on the undeserving.


I was wrong to suggest that we would have to wait to hear this until the economy returned to rude health.


“Our budget represents, I believe, what America is really about,” said House GOP* whip Eric Cantor, of Virginia, at a breakfast Thursday sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “Europeans, I think in general, would tend to bend towards the notion of security in their life, and that’s why perhaps there are such tremendous safety nets, obligations and programs there. In America, we are much more focused on opportunity — providing the safety net for those who truly need it, but on the other hand, making sure that we provide the opportunity to move this country forward by engaging the private sector.”

I’d forgotten that it’s the argument that opponents of Obama’s spending programmes are making every day.




The term “Grand Old Party” (GOP) is a traditional nickname for the Republican Party.


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