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National Temperaments Explain Reactions to Economic Crisis

Philip Stephens is spot on in the Financial Times:

The transatlantic argument about the right response to the global recession has been one rooted in temperament. Americans prefer to throw everything into fixing todays problems and to worry about tomorrow, well, tomorrow. Continental Europeans fret about what might happen tomorrow if they throw caution to the winds today. The British are usually somewhere in the middle. Another way of saying this is that Americans are happy to take risks while Europeans strive to avoid them. This is as often reflected in their respective economic performances during good times as in their reactions at moments of crisis. Gamble-everything entrepreneurs are much more likely to be found on the US side of the Atlantic.

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John in Michigan, USA on :

Wow, there are a lot of great quotes in that article. Sorry, this one is sort of long: "One of the sessions at the Aspen conference was devoted to President Obama’s decision to promote a thaw in US relations with Russia. I expected unanimous applause from the European side for this “realism”. After all, George W. Bush’s allegedly confrontational approach to Moscow was a cause of great irritation in countries such as Germany, Italy and France. "What I heard instead was more concern. The US president, it was widely assumed, would engage with Vladimir Putin on the big global issues – nuclear arms control, proliferation and relations with Islam. This implied a division of labour in the alliance that left Europe to handle so-called neighbourhood issues: Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and the rest. "You might have thought Europeans would be delighted with the chance to shape policy in their own backyard. Not a bit of it. The only thing worse than being told what to do by the Americans is not being told what to do by the Americans. Europe, it turns out, does not have a coherent policy towards Russia. On the contrary, it is badly divided. So having got the president it wants in Mr Obama, the continent recoils from the thought of making up its own mind." To be fair, there are plenty of times the US doesn't seem to know what it wants. This problem goes to the heart of my philosophical objections to realism, a.k.a. [i]prescriptive[/i] (as opposed to descriptive) real politik. Yes, its true, nations tend in the long term to act in their national interests. But timing matters. In a crisis, nations don't always realize their true national interests right away. One nation may muddle through to consensus more quickly, or more slowly, than others. In these moments, misunderstandings and accidents become the rule, rather than the exception. This can result in problems, including wars, that are in no-one's true national interest. World War One is probably the best example, but I suppose every war has certain elements of miscalculation, bad timing, etc. one way or another. That is why it is important to take a holistic or humanities approach to foreign policy, and not just limit oneself to realism.

Don S on :

"Gamble-everything entrepreneurs are much more likely to be found on the US side of the Atlantic." Perhaps true this generation, but I'm really not sure it's a matter of natural temperament, because both the US and Germany have had major periods of entrepeneurialsm as well as periods when grey flannel suits were au courant. Both the US and Germany had bursts of entrepeneurialism between 1830 and perhaps 1880. The US had a 'grey flannel' period after WWII when there was a lot of innovation, but often within the context of large induatrial organisations. With Germany's large industrials destroyed or heavily damagaed the Germans had a burst of entrep-entrepeneurialsm after WWII, when most of the Mittlestand (?) were founded. More recently the US has been the more entrepeneurial, and I think I detect a certain bent of the US to be someone more entrepeneurial over the long haul. But I think the differences are less pronounced over a longer perspective.

Zyme on :

Those national temperaments not only seem to explain reactions to the Economic Crisis - they also seem to influence how governments react to killing sprees. It is correct that both the US and Germany face this most frequently, isn't it? You know, the gun-ho approach of kids at schools. I would really be interested in how the American states act against this - or do they do anything at all? Here they are not only further restricting the gun laws to a point at which weapon storage devices have to be secured biometrically, no they even want to make it possible for the authorities to visit gun owners without prior notice just to find out whether everything is really secure.. Oh and what do Americans think of banning paintball and creating an administrative offense out of 3D-shooter gaming as a counter-measure? My goodness, this is so frustrating..

John in Michigan, USA on :

In general, if an American sees on the news that there has been a shooting spree, he will assume it is a non-political act (madman, drug gang, mafia gang, etc.) until proven otherwise. Whereas, if he hears about a bombing, he will assume it is political until proven otherwise. These are of course generalizations. If you ask me, Americans believe that a certain (small) number of shooting sprees are normal, although always very upsetting. If this seems incredible to you, think of the European attitude towards bombings and things like that. Europeans (in general) (particularly before 2001) seem to think that terrorism was a nuisance-level problem, not a major problem unless an incident is really, really bad. Americans tend to feel the same way about shooting sprees (that don't involve bombs). American shooting sprees are handled by local police, or sometimes state police. The Federal police have to be invited to help, although in practice local police almost always invite them because the Feds have money, labs, etc. Some states are requiring gun locks, but it depends on the state. Every once in a while you hear about someone who wants to ban violent video games or sports that stimulate combat, but nothing ever comes of it. Personally, I think such a ban would work about as well as the drug bans.

Zyme on :

Thank you for the info - nice comparison with bombings. But I think there is a difference between useless bans and banning the hobby of millions, like 3D online gaming or paintball. Freedom is restricted far too much in this regard, I think.

SC on :

Zyme, When I first saw that legislators were considering a ban on paintball, I laughed aloud. Given the investment most paintballers make in their sport/hobby, not to mention the profile of most I've encountered, I'd be surprised if the group stood out from the overall population in terms of violent acts; same being true for gamers. It occurred to me that if this is to be their standard, they might more profitably ban football: does the term football/soccer hooligan ring a bell for anyone? ;)

Zyme on :

I can't tell how frustrating this is, to see one's government to be so completely out of touch with reality, to see all kinds of experts fully denying any use of these measurements and the cabinet ignoring them alltogether. I mean one gets used to a government doing nothing constructive, but such a destructive and ignorant behavior makes me feel helpless. Usually I can get an idea on what might motivate the government after thinking about an issue - but here I remain perplexed.

Don S on :

The time may have come for Germans to express your feelings, personally, Zyme. Nothing violent; I don't advocate that Germans shoot paintballs at their nanny-state 'rulemakers'. There are many good choices for projectiles which do no lasting damage. Except perhaps to the dignity. Eggs left out for a week or two, tomatoes ripened beyond the point where they are edible, mushy bananas; these are all gooid choices and deliver an enduring message. Fresh eggs, fresh tomatoes, and even the classic favorite, the cream pie can be used.

Zyme on :

Ha how I'd love to do that. In the federal cabinet alone there are at least 3 members with which I would have a hard time deciding whom to hit first :) With old eggs, that is.

Don S on :

My first thought was of your internationally esteemed Finance Minister, but on second thought - no. He is the Comical Ali or perhaps the Gerald Ford for all of Europe, even surpassing Berlusconi. For a while it seemed that no sooner had a brassy boast about the soundness of Europe's banks than several would collapse and have to be put on life support. His timing (or mistiming) was uncanny. Lately he has taken to bullying the Swiss. I think it's a wise choice; much more his speed than economic forecasting.

Zyme on :

Believe it or not, I like him. It's refreshing to see how he can treat our neighbours, when only a few years ago this would have instantly cost him his job. By allowing him to continue his work, a rougher style sets in here at diplomacy, which is a good thing given the easy job our neighbours had at hornswoggling us in the past. No, it rather is the justice minister, the family minister and the defence minister I'd like to supply with old eggs ;)

Don S on :

Perhaps. But what I was getting at is that we must cherish the clowns in such posts - while we have them! He reminds me of James Watt, Reagan's first Interior Secretary. Unconcious comedy. But Steinbruck far surpasses him.....

Zyme on :

It looks like many people expressed their anger via mailing their parliamentarians - as a consequence, banning paintball seems out of the question until the general elections in autumn, as the government all of a sudden now first wants to "determine how dangerous the game really is"

SC on :

Ahhhh . . . a little wake-up call from the voters, eh? Very good.

SC on :

Zyme, John's drawing of an analogy of the occasional shooting spree in the US to the occasional bombing in Europe - and elsewhere - is interesting. The general trend in the States both in public sentiment and in legal interpretation has been away from additional federal firearms controls on individual ownership as exemplified by the Supreme Court's Heller decision. One of the great constitutional questions now arising concerns the doctrine of Incorporation with regard to the Second Amendment of the Constitution: a recent decision by a 9th Circuit panel has put that issue very much in play. As a law student - if I remember correctly - you may find this interesting. Laws exist and are enforced regarding use and ownership issues: who may own them, what types may be owned and where in particular one may possess and display them. Weapons can be banned by legislative act from public lands and buildings. You would generally find yourself in trouble if you carried a weapon into any government building or public school. However, exceptions can and are made for those with the proper permits and authorizations. One small example of a controversy here in Missouri concerns pending legislation at the state level that would extend the right of "conceal carry" to students, faculty and staff of the University of Missouri. Missouri is not alone in this, other states have similar legislation under consideration. Obtaining a conceal carry permit is no easy matter though.

Zyme on :

The US legal system is very different from ours - anyway thank you, this helps me getting an insight into how this is handled in a US state. It seems it is not so totally different from here, regarding "proper permits and authorizations", which are decisive here. Maybe Marie is around and can tell us how the French react in these affairs?

Pat Patterson on :

And to add a little more confusion some states can issue concealed weapons permits if they want to and some are required to unless that person is in a narrow band of people inelgible under any circumstance; minors, felons, etc.

Kevin Sampson on :

http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1585569/20080415/id_0.jhtml Zyme, you might find this helpful.

Zyme on :

Thank you. "One of the leading organizations lobbying against the expansion of concealed carry on campuses is the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. Associate Director Christopher Blake said that his organization believes not only that concealed carry does not make campuses safer, but that there is no evidence to suggest that allowing students to carry concealed weapons reduces violence at all. "We are concerned that it would increase violence," said Blake, whose organization has 1,200 college and university members, as well as 2,000 individual members. "Our real concern is that a campus police officer responding to a situation might not be able to distinguish between the shooter and other people with firearms." In addition, Blake said his organization fears that more guns on campus could result in a host of other problems, from accidental discharges to misuse of firearms, adding weapons into the mix at parties where large numbers of students are gathered in the presence of drugs and alcohol." Well these are mainly the reasons for not allowing everyone to arm themselves here. Plus here the principle rules that the state has a "monopoly on power", and can protect its citizens. Thus there is no need for individuals to arm themselves.

Pat Patterson on :

Have you seen what passes for a campus police officer? I'd feel safer knowing that every 100 lb coed is armed to the teeth in case I get mugged in the parking lot. Plus the group you mention is not the actual officers themselves but rather the campus administrators, usually a provost or VP, charged with overseeing campus security.

Kevin Sampson on :

I can see where the possibility of blue-on-blue engagements where the police arrive in the middle of an on-going incident would be a real concern. However, this potential exists in every state that has a concealed carry law, and not just on college campuses. One of the things that is drilled into everyone who takes the training required for a concealed carry permit is that when the cops show up and say 'put down your weapon', you obey instantly. Anyone who doesn't will likely get killed. As far as I know, confusion regarding red vs. blue has not been a much of a problem. Regarding the claim that weapons would show up at 'frat parties' and the like. I live in a large college town, and just as many such things, if not more, take place off campus as on. Unlicensed weapons show up at both, so I'm skeptical that allowing concealed carry on campus would make any significant difference. Pat, my office sends observers when the local medical school gets their gamma knife re-sourced. The campus police then are out in force and have seemed quite competent.

Pat Patterson on :

In the interests of hyperbole I left the impression that all campus police or security have close ties to Barney Fife but I know that isn't true.

Kevin Sampson on :

PS - 'here the principle rules that the state has a "monopoly on power", and can protect its citizens' It's been my experience that the only places where this is actually true is where the state is more violent than the criminals.

John in Michigan, USA on :

"Plus here the principle rules that the state has a "monopoly on power", and can protect its citizens." To me, the phrase "monopoly on power" has always permitted individual citizens to use violence in self defense. If not guns, then at least fists. I can't think of a single Western country that does not acknowledge some right to violent self-defense. Am I wrong about this? Granted, some countries define self-defense quite narrowly. For example, in Western Europe defense of property is typically not considered self-defense. In the US, 99% of all murder cases are tried under the laws of individual states; therefore, there is in effect no single, national definition of self-defense, it varies from state to state.

Zyme on :

"Granted, some countries define self-defense quite narrowly. For example, in Western Europe defense of property is typically not considered self-defense." Depends on how broadly you define self-defence. "Self-defense" (§ 33 of the criminal code) on the one hand only allows defending oneself or another person from an unjustified attack, but on the other hand there are similar constellations under which a defending action is justified. For example attacks on your life, health, freedom, personal honor and property can justify you in defending yourself by counter-attack under a set of preconditions. For example no other promising way of preventing the unjustified attack may be available (which honors the monopoly of power of the state). And your attack must not be disproportional after balancing your threatened interests with the interests of the offender you are going to violate. This is called a personal state of emergency (§ 34 of the criminal code), making your actions unpunishable just like when you act in self-defense.

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