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Who's Bitter?

Mark Steyn has some trenchant thoughts on guns, God and American exceptionalism:

Sen. Obama's remarks about poor dumb, bitter rural losers "clinging to" guns and God certainly testify to the instinctive snobbery of a big segment of the political class. But we shouldn't let it go by merely deploring coastal condescension toward the knuckledraggers. No, what Michelle Malkin calls Crackerquiddick (quite rightly - it's more than just another dreary "-gate") is not just snobbish nor even merely wrongheaded. It's an attack on two of the critical advantages the United States holds over most of the rest of the Western world. In the other G7 developed nations, nobody clings to God 'n' guns. The guns got taken away, and the Europeans gave up on churchgoing once they embraced Big Government as the new religion.

How's that working out? Compared with America, France and Germany have been more or less economically stagnant for the past quarter-century, living permanently with unemployment rates significantly higher than in the United States.

Has it made them any less "bitter," as Obama characterizes those Pennsylvanian crackers? No. In my book "America Alone," just out in paperback and available in all good bookstores - you'll find it in Borders propping up the wonky rear leg of the display table for the smash new CD "Michelle Obama And The San Francisco Macchiato Chorus Sing "I Pinned My Pink Slip To The Gun Rack Of My Pick-Up,' 'My Dog Done Died, My Wife Jus' Left Me, And Michael Dukakis Is Strangely Reluctant To Run Again,' Plus 'I Swung By The Economic Development Zone Business Park But The Only Two Occupied Rental Units Were Both Evangelical Churches' And Other Embittered Appalachian Favorites."

Where was I? Oh, yes. In my book "America Alone," I note a global survey on optimism: 61 percent of Americans were optimistic about the future, 29 percent of the French, 15 percent of Germans. Take it from a foreigner: In my experience, Americans are the least "bitter" people in the developed world. Secular, gun-free big-government Europe doesn't seem to have done anything for people's happiness.

Read (as usual) the whole thing.

[Update a couple minutes later]

I don't think this is unrelated:

I am going to take a bold step in a brand new direction and offer the notion that working class Americans aren't idiots. People who wonder where the Democratic vision of prosperity through higher taxes and stricter regulation would take us need look no further than Europe. And I will echo Michelle Obama by saying that in my adult lifetime I have never been proud of Europe's ability to create jobs or absorb immigrants.

Nor have I. Perhaps the Obamas are, though.


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Anonymous wrote:

The following is from the sidebar at
Emphasis added.

Feeling blue? Perhaps you live in the wrong country. A recent study from Britain's University of Leicester examined a range of statistical data to devise a ranking of the world's happiest nations. Heading up the list: Denmark, which rose to the top thanks to its wealth, natural beauty, small size, quality education, and good health care. At the bottom were Zimbabwe and Burundi. But there were a few surprises along the way, too. Asian countries scored worse than researcher Adrian White expected. Capitalism - sometimes criticized for its heartlessness - was far from a source of discontent, though the top-scoring capitalist countries also tended to have strong social services. And the U.S. ranked only 23rd, due to nagging poverty and spotty health care. Read on to learn about the world's 12 happiest countries - by the numbers, at least.

Dick Eagleson wrote:

I was dubious as soon I saw all of those Scandihoovian countries on the list. Those places have famously high suicide rates. Sure enough, of the 12 putatively "happiest" contries on Earth, fully nine have suicide rates higher than those of the U.S. The Bahamas are way down the suicide scale so maybe they actually belong on the list. The World Health Organization has evidently compiled no data for Bhutan and Brunei so who (but not WHO) knows?

I think the joker in the deck is probably here (bolding mine):

White's research used a battery of statistical data, plus the subjective responses of 80,000 people worldwide, to map out well-being across 178 countries.

I'm guessing the secret recipe probably involves weighting a lot of cradle-to-grave-Euro-welfare-state policies and stats unreasonably high to make up for all the unseemly self-cancellations that otherwise put a damper on all the happy talk. Just one more left-wing exercise in raiding the old anal archive for "data" designed to show how benighted and miserable we insufferable Yanks are.

Anonymous wrote:

If you were depressed, you might want to commit suicide rather than be around all those happy people.

(In all seriousness, depression and suicide are no joke. But I'm doubtful that rates of mental illness will be very useful in determining the relative happiness of nations.)

Habitat Hermit wrote:

I'm getting fed up with Mark Steyn's Euro-bashing; "America Alone" shouldn't be a self-fulfilling prophecy but if everybody had Steyn's attitude it would be.

As for suicide a half year long night (or very close to night below the polar circle) might have a little something to do with that. Personally I love it and instead dread being completely surrounded by extremely happy people during hot summers when there's almost no night at all, but that's just me.

It's 05:45 right now and it's been light for hours and it's only April.

Georgia K wrote:

Check out this video I just found called "Fun With War Crimes" ...Just a trailer, but I think the real show comes out May 1st. Wow...scary! Are they kidding me?! WTF?!

Mike Puckett wrote:

"I'm getting fed up with Mark Steyn's Euro-bashing; "America Alone" shouldn't be a self-fulfilling prophecy but if everybody had Steyn's attitude it would be."

Then blame Canada, he is Canadian.

Jim Harris wrote:

Then blame Canada, he is Canadian.

There is absolutely no reason to blame Canada for Steyn, nor all that much reason to be offended with him personally for his obnoxious Euro-bashing. As I said, Steyn isn't genuine. He may honestly believe or like his drivel to the extent that he believes anything, but at the end of the day, he is just selling copy to right-wing Americans.

As for the such-as content of this "god 'n guns" theory, Steyn is mostly (and probably willfully) wrong on the facts. France and Germany have, in fact, expanded their economies substantially since 1982, and they have only fallen behind slightly, in GDP per capita, relative to the United States. Spain, for instance, has outright advanced relative to the US in the same period. And if "god 'n guns" were the reason for American prosperity, Saudi Arabia would be an even better place to live.

Anonymous also makes a good point about measures of well-being. The average Frenchman or German today lives longer, is more literate, and is less likely to commit murder than the average American, even despite the Muslim wave that Steyn falsely claims is destroying Europe. It's true that some Western European countries have a higher suicide rate than the US, but it's mistake to lump together all suicide as either unhappiness or mental illness. I'm not pro-suicide, but it can be a valid personal choice for the elderly. The US has a high rate of teen suicide, which doesn't necessarily prove depression or mental illness either, but is rather closer to a waste of human potential.

But again, this kind of rebuttal really takes Steyn more seriously than he deserves. What is sad is the number of people who think that he's important.

Rand Simberg wrote:

But again, this kind of rebuttal really takes Steyn more seriously than he deserves. What is sad is the number of people who think that he's important.

And how many people think that you are important, Jim?

Not enough, I suspect, in your estimation, which is why you have to troll my blog, where someone might at least read your deranged musings, if not be convinced by them. And I suspect that the fact that few do makes you pretty damned bitter.

Dick Eagleson wrote:

It's hardly necessary for Mark Steyn to "bash" Europe; the Europeans do a very adequate job on their own. Mr. Steyn is simply a descriptive analyst who writes entertainingly about matters that are plainly facts; to wit:

1. Contra Mr. Harris's assertions, Western Europe has lost major economic ground vis-a-vis the U.S. over the past 25 years. Europe has not only been economically feeble compared to the U.S. over this interval, it has been feeble compared to its own preceding 25 years. The occasional exception, such as Spain, is mainly because of one-time circumstances. In the specific case of Spain, it was it's transition from an authoritarian, mercantilist politico-economic system under Franco to a free democratic and more market-oriented one since his death. Even so, Spain suffers all the general ills of other Western European countries, especially that covered in the next item on my list.

2. Western Europe's native populations are aging and disappearing through failure to reprodice at anything approaching a replacement rate. European populations are rapidly "greying." Spain is depopulating faster than almost any other country in Western Europe.

3. There are nowhere near enough employed young and middle-aged people to support the armies of about-to-be European retirees in the cushy style to which they have become accustomed.

4. Western Europe's population decline is further exacerbated by a significant "brain drain" of the realtively young, well-educated and skilled who can make good livings elsewhere and avoid the already painful, and soon-to-be crushing, burden of paying for their elders' retirements.

5. Unassimilated and hostile Muslim immigrant populations are breeding like flies and will constitute an absolute majority population in what is now Western Europe sometime near the middle of the current century.

6. As most of these Muslim immigrants are currently - and are likely to stay - on the dole, they constitute an accelerant, not a retardant, to the looming problem of covering all of the EU's welfare-state IOU's that are coming due.

When it is manifestly mathematically impossible for a trend to continue, then it doesn't - something gives. For example, house prices in the U.S. could not rise at four times the average rate of overall economic growth forever and, whaddayuno, they finally stopped rising. Europe is deep in the grip of a number of self-inflicted, unsupportable trends of even more consequential kinds. All Mr. Steyn has done is devote a lot of well-turned phrases to the chore of pointing out the obvious - this can't go on.

Over the past 40 or so years, the Europeans have, in essence, decided to eat the financial and cultural seed corn stored up by their ancestors over the preceding five centuries or so. Mommy and daddy's money is now running out and the party is not far from being over.

People like Mr. Harris find frank discussion of these matters distressing because they are great admirers of European welfare states and wish for nothing quite so much as their very own version of the same here in the U.S. The idea that the whole project is fundamentally not sustainable is vexatious to them in the extreme.

Jim Harris wrote:

Contra Mr. Harris's assertions, Western Europe has lost major economic ground vis-a-vis the U.S. over the past 25 years.

No, it hasn't. The IMF has a great database to reveal the economic truth. In particular, you can compare GDP per person, in constant dollars, from 1981 to 2006, to see how far economies have progressed in 25 years. Here, then, are some answers: Austria, 61%; France, 49%; Germany, 52%; Ireland, 185%; the Netherlands, 61%; the UK, 81%; the US, 64%. Mark Steyn is anything but a "descriptive analyst", rather, he's a peddler of American right-wing spin. (Again, it doesn't matter that he's Canadian, he knows that most of his readers are American conservatives.) Even if you take the two lowest of these, France and Germany, the US only gained 9% on them. (It looks like 12.5% more, but you should divide by the total amount that these economies grew.)

Now, getting outpaced by 9% is not negligible; it would be fair for French and German planners to examine why the US did better. But it absolutely doesn't justify Steyn's insulting tone towards France and Germany, much less to all of Western Europe. France and Germany captured the lion's share of the economic expansion of the US in the past 25 years. Moreover, there is no world economic Olympics called by God to see which country can be the richest. Even if there were, "ha ha, we left you losers in the dust by 9%" would be poor sportsmanship.

That is what is disturbing about what Steyn has to say. It's not that the US needs to be France. In most ways it doesn't, since for instance our economy expanded more, per capita. What is really bad is that Steyn writes for an America of gloating, sore winners. Thank goodness that Steyn doesn't speak for most Americans. If he did, then we would certainly deserve a fall.

We would be like our "Dream Team" in Olympic basketball. The first time the Dream Team won by a mile, and repeatedly insulted the other teams. Then it won by less than a mile, then it barely won, then eventually it started losing. Finally, this time, the Dream Team may have shaken off its incredibly poor sportsmanship that made it deserve to lose and then actually lose.

Habitat Hermit wrote:

1. I know he's Canadian (like others at NRO) but if I'm going to blame anyone I'll blame Steyn himself, he's a free individual. However:

2. He's got the right to say whatever he pleases and I hope he continues to, it's part of what freedom means. I don't care if his words make smoke come out of my ears; it's still his right ^_^ So it doesn't make sense to put blame on him, just getting annoyed that's all.

3. And he gets things right too some of the time (my opinion again of course). I've noticed others over at NRO who are (also) lost behind the barn when it comes to Europe on certain matters (not all). Almost sent Schippert (spelling? Might be I don't remember the correct name) an e-mail explaining how the recent US Federal bailout was in fact far more socialistic than at least Norway's management of the Nordic banking crisis in the nineties. But then I didn't because sometimes it's just too obvious it's going to take a lot of education to set things straight, i.e. it becomes a bore.

All that aside I'm not going to get further into the back and forth here except to say it's as stupid to stereotype Europe as it is to stereotype the US and it doesn't matter if it's exaggerated positively or negatively (my biggest peeve of them all are typical socialists, often European ones, that think of Norway or other Nordic countries as some kind of utopian socialist workers paradise --clueless idiots the lot of them).

Dick Eagleson wrote:

Mr. Harris,

Thanks for reinforcing my case. Your opening assertion aside, the figures you cite show Europe to have slid appreciably against the U.S. over the interval in question, even on the Euro-favorable metric of % growth of GDP per capita. Unsurprisingly, the worst results were turned in by France and Germany, the two largest Continental economies and the ones most far-gone down the socialist/redistributionist/multiculturalist/non-assimilationist path to incremental ruin. The U.K., which has adopted notably less socialistic policies over the same interval handily beats its EU partners and even the U.S. on this score.

Looking at the actual values for GDP per capita, tells a more discouraging story. Both Germany and France are ca. 20% behind the U.S. and even the U.K. trails by ca. 10%.

You fail utterly to grapple with the central thesis of Steyn's, namely, that Europe's biggest problem - even ahead of socialist economic policies - is that it is disappearing demographically. The UN projects (on pg. 15) the North American population (which, for some odd reason, the UN seems to assume consists only of the U.S. and Canada - call MALDEF!) to increase almost 50% between 2000 and 2050. Europe, on the other hand, is projected to lose sufficient population by 2050 to put it back to roughly where it was in 1950! As I previously noted, the unassimilated and, on the recent evidence, unassimilable Muslim subpopulations of Europe will constitute near or absolute majorities in many European nations by 2050, but the coming utter collapse of the native European populations will be so extreme not even the heroic reproductive efforts of the rising jihadi hordes will prove equal to the task of keeping the total Euro-population from shrinking enormously.

If you are planning a once-in-a-lifetime tour of any of your politico-cultural homelands, I recommend making haste. In another generation or so, the Europe we have known will have ceased to exist.

Habitat Hermit wrote:

You have to go back awfully far for that not to be the case, it's called change and sure it happened slower before the second world war... yet it still happened. You come across as an old person romanticizing of a past that's nothing like it actually was. Or maybe you don't know much European history (lots of change around no matter which century, whole countries and even empires appearing and disappearing, the British one only one among many). In short you're pulling an awfully fast one.

Falling birthrates are caused by cultural and practical freedom enabling increased personal choice, It's not exactly a recent development either. Nobody will let you or anyone else do anything about that except let you have as many kids as you please and that's precisely how it should be. Go for double digits like your great great grandparents did if you feel like it (I certainly would with the right someone). You think you can manage to force your children to do the same? Not going to work out that way for long (if at all) when living amongst the rest of us.

At least around here those very freedoms quickly change the behavior of almost all newcomers. I support the somewhat minimal immigration policy we've got running in Norway and also further restrictions but I'm not really worried about it (perhaps the blond young woman of middle eastern heritage at the store has something to do with that ^_^ yeah of course it's fake but it's still cool and I doubt it's a statement of any kind, just freedom).

Sure there are problems and more so elsewhere in Europe but it's all about standing up for the freedoms already established and not about where somebody or their parents or grandparents came from or how many kids they get.

I'm not sorry to say it: worrying about what people who left years or decades ago (or whose ancestors left even longer ago) might think about it all isn't even on the list. The acceleration of change will likely increase: my early memories from the late seventies/early eighties were already an largely alien world before the nineties and now we're approaching 2009. I bet these days will seem as alien if not more in 2020 and not for the reasons you postulate.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on April 19, 2008 5:52 PM.

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