Bryan Caplan  

Why Europe Goes Wrong

How Europe Goes Wrong... Overcoming Popularity...

Tyler's piece on Europe also lays down a challenge to American social democrats:

They [social democrats] think that enough changes would make America enough like Europe; I do not understand their underlying model of the differences between America and Europe, and thus I think they are badly wrong. Policy is not an exogenous or all-determining variable.

Frankly, I think the social democrats have a straightforward and better model than Tyler does: Europe is more social democratic than the U.S. because public opinion is more social democratic in Europe than the U.S. Period. Objective differences may have some small influence on public opinion, but not much.

Furthermore, who ever said that policy was exogenous? My model, and I suspect that most social democrats agree, says that policy is determined by public opinion. It's public opinion that seems exogenous, not policy.

The key disagreement between me and the social democrats that Tyler criticizes: The social democrats think that Americans underestimate the wonders of social democracy. I think that Americans severely overestimate social democracy, and Europeans are even more mistaken.

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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Tom West writes:

How can you be mistaken about a preference? That's like saying "I like red" and having someone say "You're mistaken".

Europeans have a preference for living in a more "socially democratic" society. How can their preference be mistaken?

Note, however, that this is a different preference from having a preference of living in a society that achieves greater social democratic goals. At that point you can argue which society better achieves those goals. But that is not what Bryan claimed here.

ed writes:

I think Tyler's main point is that government solutions just work better in Europe because of cultural reasons (e.g. more homogeneity), and therefore:

(1) The higher level of demand for government solutions in Europe makes sense.
(2) We can't just import their model and get their results.

Note that he doesn't take a position on whether the level of chosen government is "optimal" in either country.

William Newman writes:

Tom West writes "How can you be mistaken about a preference?"

If you like a policy not for itself, but because of the results that it's supposed to bring, you can be mistaken if that policy doesn't actually bring those results. If you prefer Moosehunter aftershave because you like the smell, you can't be mistaken, but if you prefer it because it will make women desire you, you can be mistaken.

For example, at many times in many places, price control policies started popular, because people wanted them primarily for their primary claimed outcome of cheap plenty, and became less popular as goods became unavailable. I think it's fair to say that a lot of the support was mistaken.

Of course, in lots of other cases it's less clear. Policies might be desired not just for the outcomes their supporters claim as their primary justification, nor even for secondary reasons their supporters don't claim as justification but still like to remind people of, but for tertiary outcomes that their supporters deny that they want and sometimes deny that they policy will bring. (For example, they could advance the interests of an interest group at public expense, or suppress an unpopular group.) But for some policy questions people really do act as if the primary claimed outcome is what matters to them, and then it is very natural to ask whether they might be mistaken about that outcome.

Barkley Rosser writes:

There is another somewhat subtle reason that is endogenous why Europe, or parts of it, may be better at various government interventions than the US. And, I agree with you, Bryan, that this derives at some level from differences in public opinion.

So, in the US we have had a good quarter of a century where whoever has been running the US government (including Dem Clinton with his "reinventing government initiative," which did more to cut back the fed govt than anything either Reagan or either Bush did in fact) with an official view that government is bad and should be cut back. The upshot is that working for the government is neither prestigious, nor pays very well, as private sector salaries soared, although there have continued to be good benefits and pretty good job security. Upshot is that while during the heroic government period from FDR's New Deal through at least LBJ's Great Society, idealistic and competent people sought to work for the government, this is much less likely the case, now with losers going into it.

In contrast, countries like France and Japan have the most elite people going into government, the Enarques in France, who then go into business, "descending from heaven" as it is put in Japan, with some of the social dem countries like Sweden also having very high quality individuals in their civil services. That capable people are more likely to go into government work in societies that respect and praise such work is not at all surprising. We have the quality of government we deserve (and the spectacle of corrupt bozos currently in place in politically appointed jobs is about the worst ever).

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