Quotes from Europe's Promise, by Steven Hill


- ‘Imagine a place where doctors still do house calls, or where everyone has quality, affordable health care and child care is affordable, professional, and widely available. Or where all new parents are paid to stay home to care for their newborns, and receive a monthly stipend to pay for diapers, food, and other daily needs. Or imagine a place where a young person doesn’t have to mortgage her or his future by going into debt to pay for a  college education. Or where all workers receive two months’ worth of paid vacation and holidays every year, and paid sick leave too, as well as generous retirement benefits, and if laid off receive helpful levels of unemployment compensation and job retraining. To most Americans, such a place sounds like Never Never Land. But to most Europeans, as well as to the Japanese, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders, most of those supports for families and individuals are commonplace.’ (xiii)
- ‘The European Union, with its twenty-seven member nations and half-billion people, has become the largest, wealthiest trading bloc in the world, producing nearly a third of the world’s economy – almost as large as the United States and China combined.’ (2)
- ‘While its critics have derided Europe as a land of ‘creeping socialism,’ in fact European economies are unapologetically capitalist, with way more Fortune 500 companies than the United States, China, or Japan.’ (2)
- ‘American detractors have decried this as a ‘welfare’ state, but nothing could be further from the truth. A better name for this system is a ‘workfare’ state, since all of these supports are part of a comprehensive system of institutions geared toward keeping individuals and families healthy, productive, and working. Instructively, this approach was conceived as a security revolution, not a socialist revolution, by the conservative politicians of western Europe – men like Winston Churchill.’ (2)
- ‘Europe’s ecological ‘footprint’ (the amount of the earth’s capacity that a population consumes) is about half that of the United States for the same standard of living.’ (3)
- ‘Contrary to its reputation as a military weakling that ‘punches below its weight’ Europe has the second largest military budget in the world after the United States, with two countries possessing nuclear weapons (France and Britain), over two million European soldiers in uniform (more than the US), and as many boots on the ground in peacekeeping missions around the globe in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Kosovo, Bosnia, the Congo, and elsewhere.’ (5)
- ‘They also have fewer poor people; indeed, ‘old Europe’ shows more economic mobility and more poor people joining the middle class than does the American ‘land of opportunity,’ completely turning convention on its head.’ (21)
- ‘Creating a European-like system of universal health care that includes the 47 million uninsured Americans would cost an additional $100 to $150 billion annually.’ (25)
- ‘The amount spent by the US government on research and development for alternative energy in 2006 was only $4 billion, while the amount spent on R&D for new weapons was $76 billion.’ (25)
- ‘As recently as 2001, the percentage of the German population with high-speed access was only half that in the United States, and in France less than a quarter. By the end of 206, both countries had surpassed the United States, which was ranked twenty-first in digital opportunity, just behind formerly communist Estonia.’ (48)
- ‘These sorts of interventions are based on what Europe calls the ‘precautionary principle,’ which requires companies to demonstrate that a chemical is safe before it can be sold or used – the opposite of regulatory policies in the United States, where concern about a  product’s safety is not enough to justify regulation. Irrefutable evidence of harmful effects is required, which is an elusive scientific standard to meet.’ (51)
- ‘What makes Europe’s economic success even more remarkable is that, unlike the United States, Europe has accomplished all this without relying on periodic military spending as a ‘booster shot’ to its economy like the kind that has continually stimulated the US economy over the last sixty-five years.’ (51)
- ‘American planners in postwar Germany understood the pragmatic impact of institutions. They knew exactly what they were doing, and the ‘punished’ the Germans with economic democracy as a way of handicapping concentrations of German wealth and power. One of the macrostructures that evolved out of this thinking was known as codetermination. It included a framework of supervisory boards where elected worker representatives sat side by side with stockholder representatives on corporate boards of directors, and works councils in every workplace.’ (53-54)
- ‘An EU directive establishing a continent-wide framework for board-level employee representation in European companies went into effect in October 2004, firmly rooting supervisory boards in Europe’s economic landscape and culture.’ (55)
- ‘A nationwide study by the University of Illinois at Chicago found that 30 percent of US employers fire pro-union workers, and 91 percent force employees to attend coercive, anti-union meetings with their supervisors.’ (56)
- ‘In Sweden, 78 percent of the workforce is unionized, in Belgium 55 percent, and in Britain 29 percent.’ (59)
- ‘ ‘Flexicurity’ is another great European invention that provides an economic advantage. Flexicurity permits relatively easy hiring and firing of workers in exchange for job training and retraining, apprenticeships for new workers, and generous financial and other workfare supports for those who lose their jobs. The goal is to have a dynamic economy in which nimble businesses can shed workers during a downturn, but those workers are provided the support to maintain themselves during their displacement and to quickly retrain and get plugged into new employment.’ (60-61)
- ‘According to the standardized figures of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, by July 2008 the European Union was enjoying its lowest unemployment rate in twenty-five years, 6.9 percent, as well as its highest employment rate during that time, 66 percent, with the United States having a 5.8 percent unemployment rate at that time.’ (66)
- ‘Following the economic crash, European economies benefited from built-in automatic stabilizers that kick in during an economic downturn but which are lacking in the United States. As a result, by the spring of 2009, while the US unemployment rate had increased by 3.5 percentage points, resulting in the US and European unemployment rates reaching the same level of 8.5 percent.’ (66)
- ‘If standard of living is associated purely in terms of annual income, Americans are nearly 30 percent wealthier than Europeans. But if one includes in measures of good life the workfare supports enjoyed and the amount of vacation, the average European is much better off.’ (67)
- ‘When a friend in Germany gave birth to her daughter, she was given three and a half months off work – one and a half months before the birth and two months afterward – at 100 percent of her salary. She and her husband also began receiving approximately $200 per month from the government as a kiddie stipend, which will continue every month until their daughter’s eighteenth birthday, to be used for buying clothes, diapers, food, and whatever else is needed. Yet this friend is not a low-income ‘welfare queen’; in fact, she and her husband are middle class. All German parents receive a kiddie stipend and paid leave following a birth.’ (72-73)
- ‘According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States devotes 16 percent of its $14 trillion economy (or $2.2 trillion, about $7,300 per person) to workfare supports. But European countries contribute 27 percent of their $27 trillion economy to workfare supports, a whopping $4.6 trillion, about $9,200 per person.’ (74)
- ‘The US is one of only 5 countries out of 173 that do not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave (the others being the impoverished African nations of Lesotho, Liberia, and Swaziland, along with Papua New Guinea). Fathers are granted paid leave in sixty-five countries.’ (75-76)
- ‘The Scandinavian countries set the gold standard. In Sweden, mothers get an incredible 1.3 years off (69 weeks) and receive about two-thirds of their usual wages during the leave.’ (76)
- ‘Many European countries provide free afterbirth care immediately following a birth. In the Netherlands, for example, that begins with seven days of five-hours-per-day home assistance in which someone comes and does your laundry, vacuums, and teachers you how to care for a  newborn.’ (76)
- ‘Sweden and Denmark are considered to be the child care leaders in Europe, offering universal, high-quality, and publicly funded child care. In Denmark, child care is free, and in Sweden, working parents pay a low percentage of their income to the government for each child at a state-subsidized nursery. The cost for one child is about sixty dollars per month, which includes breakfast and lunch, with the monthly fee reduced for each extra child. Compensation for teachers and staff is high, with Sweden’s public child care accounting for over 2 percent of its gross domestic product.’ (77)
- ‘Child care in the US costs about $12,000 per year for a family with two children, $500 per month per child.’ (78)
- ‘While Americans work an average of 1,976 hours per year, German and French workers average some 400 fewer hours, the equivalent of fifty extra full-time days off (about seven weeks), for the same standard of living.’ (79)
- ‘With the United States being the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee at least some paid vacation, about a quarter of US workers in the private sector get no paid vacation time at all; they practically live the lives of working serfs. In addition to paid vacation, Europeans enjoy a cornucopia of paid holidays celebrating various saints’ days and holy days, at least twenty-three days in Britain, twenty-five days in France, and thirty days in Sweden; in contrast, the overworked American has to get by with a meager four to ten mandatory holidays, depending on the state, since there is no national law guaranteeing any paid holidays.’ (79-80)
- ‘[Belgian] workers are allowed to take a paid sabbatical of one year over their career or reduce their hours to half-time without loss of benefits or their career.’ (80)
- ‘American employers would be aghast at providing such flexible career breaks and generous time credits. They would complain about losing their competitive edge, yet European companies are just as competitive, and the workforce in most European countries is just as productive as the US workforce.’ (80)
- ‘European countries also have mandatory paid sick leave. In fact more than 160 nations around the world provide paid sick days, with 127 providing a week or more annually. Unfortunately the United States is not one of them. We are still one of only a handful of nations that have no national law guaranteeing paid sick leave, leaving some sixty million workers – 43 percent of the private industry labor force – without paid sick days.’ (80-81)
- ‘Europeans can expect to receive a retirement pension in the amount of 70 to 80 percent of their working salary, compared with most American workers, who can expect Social Security payments of only 40 percent of their average working salary.’ (82-83)
- ‘Even in Britain, which tends to lag behind the rest of Europe in its more American-like qualities, the Tony Blair government introduced a sliding tuition fee based on family income, with a maximum tuition of $4,000 per year. In Germany, some of the state universities recently have begun charging up to $630 per year in tuition. But in the United States the average annual tuition for a four-year university in 2007-8 was $23,712 for private college and $6,185 for a public college. As a result of soaring costs, US college students graduate on average with $20,000 in debt, a figure that has more than doubled since 1995; graduate students are saddled with nearly $46,000 in debt.’ (84)
- ‘In the European Union the minimum wage has been 53 percent of the national average wage but in the United States only 31 percent of the average wage. (In 1956, it was 56 percent of the average wage in the United States.)’ (87)
- ‘In the ultimate ‘vacation nations’ of Austria, the Netherlands, and Sweden, they even pay workers about to go on vacation an additional bonus above their standard paid vacation days to help with vacation-related expenses!’ (90)
- ‘Constanze Woelfle, an American accountant based in the Netherlands, says that people coming from the US to the Netherlands focus on the top tax bracket, which at 52 percent can sound daunting compared to the top bracket of 35 percent in the US. ‘But consider that the Dutch rate includes social security, which in the US is an additional 6.2 percent. Then in the US you have state and local taxes, and much higher real estate taxes. If you were to add all those up, you would get close to the 52 percent.’ ’ (93-94)
- ‘The poverty rate has increased in recent years to include thirty-seven million people in the United States, 12.7 percent of the population compared with 6 percent in France, 8 percent in Britain, and 5 percent or less in Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Belgium.’ (98-99)
- ‘The rate of child poverty in the United States is nearly 20 percent and the rate of elderly poverty nearly 23 percent, the highest by far in the Western world with the exceptions of Russia and Mexico.’ (99)
- ‘The wealthiest 10 percent of people in the United States now owns 70 percent of the wealth, and the wealthiest 1 percent owns more than the bottom 95 percent, compared with Germany, where the top 10 percent owns 44 percent.’ (99)
- ‘The ratio of CEO pay to average manufacturing employee pay is 475:1 in the United States, compared with 24:1 in Britain, 15:1 in France, and 13:1 in Sweden.’ (99)
- ‘A United Nations survey of 120 major cities in the world found that Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington [sic] DC, and Miami had inequality levels similar to those of Nairobi, Kenya and Abidjan, Ivory Coast.’ (100)
- ‘Cutbacks of course never feel good to those on the receiving end. Nobel laureate and psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky have shown that people dislike losing things they don’t have – a phenomenon known has ‘loss aversion.’ ’ (106)
- ‘In Germany, for example, instead of laying off some employees, many businesses began cutting back the hours of all their employees so that the pain was spread t more workers. Then the German government made up roughly two-thirds of lost wages out of a special fund filled in good times through payroll deductions and company contributions….While that meant a lot of people with slightly lower incomes, on the positive side it meant these employees still had jobs and money in their pockets that would help maintain consumer spending at a sufficient pace. It also meant that the workforce would mostly remain intact, and employers would not lose their skilled workers whom they had spent so much to train. But in the United States, instead of cutting back all workers’ hours a bit and maintaining the workforce, businesses began laying off millions of employees.’ (114)
- ‘One study found that whereas walking and cycling account for less than a tenth of all urban trips in American cities, they account for a third of all such trips in Germany and an incredible half in the Netherlands. The average was 36 percent of all trips across eight different European countries, compared with 7 percent for the United States. Perhaps most striking are the large differences in transportation behavior among the older populations of various countries. Walking actually increases with age in both the Netherlands and Germany. The Dutch and Germans who are seventy-five and older make roughly half their trips by foot or bike, compared to only 6 percent of trips for Americans age sixty-five and older.’ (126)
- ‘When it comes to food safety the European Union operates according to the ‘precautionary principle.’ That means if there is a scientific suspicion that something could cause harm, Europeans don’t wait until they have 100 percent proof before taking preventative action.’ (129)
- ‘In March 2007, the heads of all twenty-seven European Union nations met and, led by German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has emerged as a world leader of the first magnitude, agreed to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent and to make renewable energy sources 20 percent of the E.U.’s energy mix by 2020 (up from a 6.5 percent share, which was already twice that of the United States).’ (158)
- ‘Not only does our environmental greed hurt the world, it also impacts Americans negatively. A study by the researchers at Columbia and Yale Universities, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, ranked the United States 97th out of 133 nations in air quality (behind nearly all of Europe, including Poland, Bulgaria, and even Russia), 96th in water quality (behind all of Europe except Romanic, and just ahead of Cuba), and 80th in sustainable energy (right behind Turkey and just ahead of Panama).’ (158-159)
- ‘When President Obama announced in May 2009 new nationwide rules for mileage standards, he set a goal that the US motor vehicle fleet should reach an average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. But Europe and Japan already have long surpassed this standard and even China has pledged to reach it by around 2010. The fuel standard of European vehicles is set to rise to fifty miles per gallon by 2010, with Japan already averaging forty-five miles per gallon.’ (159)
- ‘In Germany wind power has benefited from a 2001 law that requires energy companies to pay wind power producers a price three times greater than the amount paid for power produced from conventional sources. That incentive was so successful that Germany also enacted legislation in 2004 guaranteeing producers of solar electricity a price that is four times the market rate for conventionally generated power. Guaranteeing operators a premium fixed price for every kilowatt produced has created a fertile business climate for renewable technologies to take off.’ (164)
- ‘Some have even tried to repopularize nuclear energy, particularly France, which obtains 77 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.’ (166)
- ‘On average, the lower running costs of green design features typically pay for the slight increase in their construction costs within a couple of years. At the same time, they dramatically reduce energy usage and carbon emissions. Despite all these obvious advantages, the United States has no federal regulations that require a minimal level of energy productivity achieved through building construction.’ (174)
- ‘Various studies have shown that, beyond the environmental impacts, green design techniques also reduce operating costs, boost property values, create a more pleasant work environment, and improve employees’ health and productivity. One study found that worker productivity in green buildings typically rises by about 6 to 16 percent as a result of the use of natural lighting, more windows, better air quality, and other features.’ (175)
- ‘Established in 2005, Europe’s is the world’s first functioning trading scheme that caps the overall amount of carbon dioxide that is allowed into the atmosphere by industries, companies, and other entities. Each business is assigned an allowable amount of carbon emissions, and if one business figures out how to reduce its emissions below that allowable amount it can sell its surplus allowance to another business.’ (176)
- ‘While the United States has seen a 21 percent rise in oil consumption since 1980, most European countries have seen significant drops, with Denmark and Sweden’s oil consumption dropping by a third, Germany’s by 20 percent, France’s by 14 percent, and Italy’s by 13 percent.’ (180)
- ‘If the United States were to match the fuel economy standards of Europe and Japan, US demand for oil would be cut by 4 million barrels per day, of 1.5 billion barrels of oil per year, according to various estimates. Given that the United States consumers about 8 billion barrels of oil per year – about a quarter of the world’s total – oil dependence would be reduced by nearly 20 percent.’ (183)
- ‘Niall Ferguson has estimated that the total amount disbursed under the Marshall Plan was equivalent to roughly 5.4 percent of US gross national product, or $740 billion in today’s currency.’ (205)
- ‘Several hundred cities in Germany allow schoolchildren to elect representatives four times a year. The Children’s Parliaments convene and debate issues and actually are permitted to propose legislation to the local city council. This was astonishing to me, because at that very moment the city of Los Angeles was establishing neighborhood councils, but the powers-that-be did not want to let even the adults propose legislation to their city council.’ (243)
- ‘Why does Europe enjoy multiparty democracy while the United States does not? The answer is simple: Europe uses more modern political institutions than the United States does, including proportional representation electoral systems, public financing of campaigns, free media time for candidates and parties, and robust, well-funded public broadcasting that counterbalances the corporate media.’ (247-248)
- ‘Only 40 percent of eligible adults voted in the 2006 congressional elections, which improved to about 53 percent in 2008 with the draw of a presidential election. But even that higher figure is very low compared to other democratic nations. Currently the United States ranks 139th in the world in voter turnout, trailing Uganda, Paraguay, and Morocco.’ (250)
- ‘With women’s representation in the US Congress still stuck at 17 percent – sixty-ninth in the world – Sweden leads the way with 47 percent.’ (254)
- ‘Most new democracies have copied the political institutions of western Europe and created multiparty democracy. Few countries have adopted our district-based, winner-take-all system to elect their legislatures, and no countries have copied our defective Senate or our Electoral College.’ (257)
- ‘Most European democracies award public financing of campaigns to all political parties that achieve a minimum threshold of the vote, typically 1 percent or so.’ (258)
- ‘In Europe, just like public financing, free media time on both TV and radio also is awarded to all political parties that achieve a minimum threshold of the popular vote, typically 1 percent or less. Parties are awarded airtime on the basis of their previous electoral performance, with the bigger parties awarded more airtime but all qualifying to receive at least a minimum of TV and radio exposure. During the campaign season, viewers see and hear ads from all the political parties, with the ad slots lasting from five to ten minutes in length, considerably longer than the thirty-second sound bites in US ads. This permits a more substantive presentation of the party’s issues and positions.’ (259-260)
- ‘Legally speaking, the American public owns the airwaves; corporate broadcasters benefit from a nearly $400 billion – yes, that’s billion, not million – government subsidy that has handed over control of the public’s airwaves to them for free. So following Europe’s lead and mandating that broadcasters provide free airtime to candidates would cost the taxpayers nothing, yet it would significantly reduce the pressure to raise gobs of money, as well as enhance political debate.’ (261)
- ‘Each country has its flagship public broadcaster, such as the British Broadcasting Corporation, which operates six TV and five radio stations. France’s TFI, Germany’s ARD, and Italy’s RAI are more popular and more respected than any private media network in those countries. But in the US, the Public Broadcasting Service fills a fairly small niche in a TV and radio world dominated by giant media corporations. That’s because compared with European public broadcasters, American public broadcasting is drastically underfunded. Public broadcasting in Sweden, Germany, and Britain has an annual budget of fifty to ninety dollars per capita, but American public broadcasting receives about three dollars per capita.’ (261-262)
- ‘Most countries assist newspapers and periodicals with some kind of special postal rates and tax rates, but the Scandinavian countries stand out for their direct subsidies. Norway, Finland, and Sweden subsidize daily newspapers with assistance amounting to anywhere from 5 to 35 percent of their revenues (averaging around 11 percent). Newspapers that are not leaders in their markets are especially targeted for assistance as a way of encouraging disparate views.’ (263)
- ‘Various studies have demonstrated that the peoples of Europe are the most educated and informed in the world, not only about their own domestic politics, but also about international affairs. Americans, on the other hand, consistently perform near the bottom of these measurements.’ (267)
- ‘While most of the European parties and leaders that fall under the fuzzy rubric of the ‘far right’ have strong anti-immigration views (much like the Republican Party in the United States), ironically they are to the left of the Democratic Party on most issues. If one actually takes the time to read the platforms or listen to the speeches of Europe’s far right leaders, one is struck that, once you get past the provocative rhetoric, the far right in Europe does not question or call for the abolition of the workfare support system.’ (270-271)
- ‘The German electoral system combines US-style single-seat, winner-take-all districts with proportional representation, offering the benefits of both. The geographic orientation of winter-take-all gives representation based on where you live, whereas proportional voting gives representation based on what you think. These are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they can be complementary. New Zealand, Italy, and Japan also use this ‘mixed member system,’ and states’ bicameral legislatures in the United States provide an easy opening for such a mixed system.’ (271)
- ‘Europe’s racism and difficulties in fostering integration have led to some very predictable results. Brown and black minorities, whether immigrants or no, whether Muslims or no, have at least one thing in common: like all waves of immigrants, they start at the bottom of the economic ladder and encounter a lot of difficult in climbing up the rungs. In Britain, where an estimated 5 percent of the population is Muslim, by 2008 around 15 percent of those Muslims were registered as unemployed, compared with 4 percent of the rest of the population.’ (315)

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