Thursday, November 11, 2010

a review of "Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?"

June and I spent the morning up at Powell's book store in Portland yersterday, and I was reading this book (yes, I do buy stuff at Powell's too).

What a fascinating picture of a different way things could be. Geoghegan concludes that 90% of the U.S. population would be better off with the somewhat higher taxes and much greater benefits of a social democracy such as France or Germany. He starts off by recounting the great impression the city of Zurich made on him. Again and again he advises us to look at the travel section to evaluate europe, rather than getting our ideas from the Wall Street Journal. Just walk around a city like Zurich (unfair example? then how about 50 or so other european cities he could name). Then walk a few blocks away from something nice in a great city like Chicago, for instance, where in his words it is "gulag-like". No question, I can't deny it. Believe your eyes, not your economic theories.

Geoghegan spends several chapters describing people he encounters in Paris, such as a rock-band drummer (the arts are subsidized, so this guy has a job). He talks about the feeling of joy and enjoyment of life he can see in the people he talks with.

Then he moves on to Germany and describes how worker-controlled capitalism did not try to break the unions and compete with the emerging economies on wages (a losing battle as the U.S. and Great Britain have discovered) but instead kept wages high and used their highly trained workers to specialize in high-end manufacturing, where they have a very large market share.

The five areas the state addresses in these social democracies:
Education (as in College)
Health Care
Child Care

It does make sense that a collective approach can be much more efficient and cost-effective than having everyone purchase these individually. The trade-off is some independence, or a certain kind of freedom. I do think this has some value, but I feel we have put way too much emphasis on it in the U.S.

In this book Geoghegan has a point-by-point discussion of the pros and cons. This is the conversation we should have been having over Health Care (only one of the five areas).

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