America and Europe Meet Midway

Some say Obama wants the U.S. to be more like Europe. What do they mean?

My new column for the FT considers the accusation (if it is an accusation) that Obama wants the US to be more like Europe. I argue, to begin with, that the US is already more like Europe than either side wants to acknowledge: each likes to think of the US as more different than it is. I also point out that "Europe" is an oversimplification. There is no single European norm. There are many--and some work better than others. What if the US converges with the wrong one?

Over the years, some European countries have been more successful than others in combining growth with interventions to curb poverty and inequality. The terms of that trade-off were milder in countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands than in Britain. Why this might be is partly guesswork, but there is evidence that social cohesion and solidarity made the difference. Social direction - including strong trade unions - has worked well when supported by a centrist consensus. Add similar institutions to divided or adversarial societies, and things go wrong.

The US has many strengths, but centrist consensual politics is no longer one of them.