Skip to content

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.

The Atlantic Tide is Shifting

Until recently the European countries changed their economic policies to emulate the US system. Now the financial crisis makes the US move toward a more European system, writes the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. is spending hundreds of billions of dollars -- including increased assistance to the unemployed -- to prop up the economy, and wants Europe to follow suit. But most of Western Europe already has a strong, if costly, social safety net, so governments feel less pressure to spend their way out of trouble. The irony is that for years, Europe tried to rein in its own worker protections -- long considered a drag on growth in good times -- to emulate the faster-growing U.S. economy. Now the U.S. is moving toward a more European system.

Yes, the WSJ also points out the benefits of the current US system and writes that most economists expect the US to recover faster than Europe, because "Europe's high payroll taxes, along with restrictions on when and how companies can lay off workers, make employers slower to rehire when a recession ends." Okay, but all this comes at the price of more panic during every recession. Europeans panic less due to the cushions built into the system, which the WSJ considers so important that they start with it: "In Germany, losing his factory job didn't stop Alfred Butt from taking a Mediterranean vacation this winter."What system do you prefer?

"The Strongest Pledge One Nation Can Make"

Wesley Clark, NATO's former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told Newsweek:

NATO is an organization in which nations pledge themselves together with the strongest pledge one nation can make to another, which is that an attack on one represents an attack on all. That's still the most powerful relationship between states. Among all other international organizations, there are none stronger than the relationships of NATO.

His comment on US-Russian relations is interesting as well:

I heard from Condi Rice in 2000 that the Clinton administration had somehow destroyed relations with Russia and that the new team would make things better. Now we're [talking about "resetting"] relations again.

Tough Love for Terrorists and Troubled Teens

Maia Szalavitz, author of "Help At Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids", writes in Mother Jones:

Americans tend to valorize tough love at times, even tough love that verges on torture in prisons, mental hospitals, drug rehabs, and teen boot camps. We aren't squeamish about the psychological aspects of torture. We might even admire them. Thousands of troubled children, for instance, now attend tough "wilderness programs" "emotional growth boarding schools" and other "tough love" camps where they face conditions like total isolation, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, and daily emotional attacks. (...)

Most of all, we need to stop thinking that getting tough is the answer to everything. It’s often harder to resist kindness and compassion than it is to submit to brute force and tell your captors what you think they want to hear. This is, in part, why the FBI wanted nothing to do with "enhanced interrogation." The data on both teen treatment and legal interrogations by the FBI are clear: torturous tactics are both unnecessary and harmful.

Less tough love for the Gitmo detainees in Germany? The German government currently reviews the official US request to accept as many as 17 Uighur detainees from Guantanamo. The initial reaction is mixed. Chancellor Merkel has said that Germany has an obligation to help US President Barack Obama in his efforts to close the American military prison camp, writes DW World. Foreign Minister Steinmeier is in favor of taking some inmates as well, but apparently Wolfgang Schäuble, who heads the Interior Ministry, which is comparable to the Department of Homeland Security, has expressed reservations, writes the Washington Post.

The conservative newspaper Die Welt is running an online poll. Right now 91 percent of 1473 voters are against it. Tough love...

German Kaiser Does Not Digg Obama's Czars

The wonders of communication technology never cease to amaze me. Now Obama gets advice from a dead guy. The Washington Post  (via Justin Logan) published an open letter to President Obama from Wilhelm II, German Kaiser and King of Prussia:

Enough with the czars! You've named 18 so far, according to something I read in Foreign Policy. That includes a border czar, a climate czar, an information technology czar and -- I don't think Thomas Jefferson grew enough hemp in his lifetime to dream up this one -- the "faith-based czar." Your car czar, Steve Rattner, was in the news last week, trying to keep Chrysler out of bankruptcy. It took Russia 281 years to accumulate that many czars. Even with hemophilia, repeated assassinations and a level of inbreeding that would gag a Dalmatian breeder. You did it in less than 100 days.