Monday, March 31, 2008

US UK Europe

In Thursday's post I listed some fairly lightweight trivial differences between the US and the UK. But at the end of Friday's post I hinted at a far more important difference.

Today Neil Perkins pointed us in the direction of a recent survey in the Economist that tried to substantiate these differences. Nothing there was very surprising, there have been plenty of other discussions but it is often worthwhile to update with the current state of opinion.

The article clearly highlights one fundamental difference, the religious majority in America compared with the secular majority in Europe. I may return to that subject another day.

But in answer to the more directly relevant question, "should UK social and economic policy be closer to an American or to a common European model?" there is a very simple answer. We need to look at the history and the geography.

The United States developed the wide open resources of the Native Americans, many settlers believed that they had a God-given right to fence off their own territories and do there as they pleased. The cities and infrastructure were largely built within the last two centuries.

By contrast, many major European cities have been in existence for thousands of years, and we cannot easily change them. The narrow winding streets and crowded "historic" neighbourhoods mean that US-type policies on car ownership and public services simply do not apply here.

If the gulf stream stops or changes, then we are hit in the same way. Many British are taught to fear or mock the French and Germans, but fundamentally our problems and opportunities are exactly the same. We are inescapably European.

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