Man Bites Dog: What the Europeans Can Teach Us

It’s pretty darn near universal Conventional Wisdom in the United States that the Europeans are finished in many ways: they don’t have fast economic growth, they have overly intrusive governments and they’re stuck in the past.

Some of that may be true, and I’ve certainly been arguing for years that Japan and China are more important. But on the basis of two weeks of travel in Holland and France, I think we could learn some things from the Old World. After all, they more mature in many ways than the newer, rawer form of American capitalism.

The lessons:

–If we designed our major cities the way the Dutch have designed Amsterdam, we would dramatically reduce energy consumption and traffic. They rely heavily on trams and bicycle lanes and even their system of canals. We’d also be healthier because we’d get more exercise.

–If we did a better job of encouraging family-owned farming located near major cities, as the French have, we might have fresher food with fewer additives and preservatives. The French insist on fresh food and they get it. I’m sure they are healthier for it.

–These European governments are not tearing themselves apart, as we are in America. We basically have two parties who don’t respect each others’ legitimacy and therefore engage in permanent war. Sure, there are politics in European countries, but they seem to have strong, relatively uncorrupted people running the show.

–The Europeans don’t consume vast quantities of televisions made in China or cars made in Japan. To a much greater extent than the United States, they buy things made in Europe. They also emphasize limited consumption of finer, more expensive things rather than heading for the equivalent of Wal-Marts to load up their shopping carts and to load up their SUVs with the cheapest stuff they can find.

–At least in northern Europe, they don’t rely on air conditioning the same way Americans do. If it’s hot, open a window. They also don’t have nearly as many elevators. We could cut our energy consumption by taking a cue from those practices.

–The Dutch and French place a huge emphasis on their culture in all forms–their languages, their museums, their newspapers and literature and all that. They respect their culture rather than seeking to trash it, as Americans sometimes seem to do. (Think Paris Hilton.) We might have a higher-quality national debate about what has gone wrong in our society and in our economy if we had higher-quality cultural assets, particularly media and books and television.

So even though I have been an Asian-ist for many years, I retain healthy respect for what the Europeans are doing on many fronts.

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