January 25, 2016


Several things frighten me about this election cycle, mostly "testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure." But the underlying question, not just of Sen. Sanders's campaign, but across the board is whether we want to become Europe.

I've beat it up on these pages enough to get a reputation as a Europhobe. I'm not, but as we get closer than ever, it's important to explain that the Disneyland version of Europe people see on a two week vacation is really a combination of tyranny and poverty.

Okay, to avoid the Europhobe label, I'll trade tyranny for dirigisme -- it's more european and more accurate. But it is a far cry from our idea of liberty. We've traded "islands of control in a sea of liberty" for "islands of liberty in a sea of control;" Europe has districts of islands.

But those cute little cars, jk! The adorable and environmentally responsible paucity of SUVs! Yes, let's hear from the Briton who decides to escape the " frostbite and fury at the mercy of infrequent buses and trains" and pursue the wonder of Danish automobile ownership.

In common with everything else in Denmark, motoring isn't cheap. New cars are taxed at 180 per cent and the impact trickles down to used car prices. This means that a modest second-hand saloon suddenly becomes an indicator of extortionate wealth and most people drive matchboxes.

Inhaling a heady combination of pleather and Little Trees air-fresheners at my first forecourt on Sunday, I tell a salesman my budget. He chuckles, good-humouredly first of all, then gives me a look that says: "Yes, but what's your real budget?"

The whole column captures my view of the UK: business not open, diffident salespeople, &c. If Ms. Russell feels that way in Denmark, I'd be concerned.

All those wonders could be ours! #FeelTheBern

Egalitarian Socialism Posted by John Kranz at January 25, 2016 10:17 AM

Yeah but, they're the happiest people in the world! Don't we want that?

Posted by: Terri at January 25, 2016 12:34 PM

The most patriotic two minutes ever to air on television was Top Gear's Season 12 Episode 2. I never knew this charming backstory:

Richard Hammond, James May and Jeremy Clarkson were only allowed in USA for factual filming due to an incident in their last visit when Clarkson placed a cow on his car roof.

Today's word of the day is verisimilitude...

Anyways, Hammond "gets America." While May and Clarkson wail that the $50,000 American cars are not equal to the €700,000 supercars to which they're accustomed, Hammond looks at the camera and says [from memory, can't find it]: "If you're a plumber in America you can buy this [Dodge Challenger]."

He recognizes that only multi-millionaires in Europe have nice cars. But a person with a job can buy a cool car in the USA and gas it and insure it.

Posted by: jk at January 25, 2016 1:04 PM

...and another favorite story I've probably bored you with already:

Two guys who worked for me in Ireland came over for a conference and stayed a few days with me. We'd drive around, and they would point to a car and ask "what kind of gas mileage does that get?" They were fascinated.

One thing that Europe does do better than us is give this figure in reciprocal: How many litres to 100Km (any doubt will generate a blog post on the topic). So, I had to not only guess the EPA City-Highway composite, but convert it to metric and then spit out the reciprocal. It's a bit of figgerin' in your head and they are requesting them in short bursts.

When I'd give the amount, they'd invariably laugh. Even the Subaru we were driving (25 MPG = 6 Mi/l = 10 Km/l = 10 l/100Km) generated mirth. "You'd never be able to sell this car in Dublin, jk"

These guys were software developers with PhDs. The idea of owning and operating a '99 Subaru Outback was beyond their wishes.

I guess they were happy.

Posted by: jk at January 25, 2016 1:18 PM

Of course they're happy! Euro Bernie's campaign would never run out of free campaign stickers.

And what was that about everyone in Europe being more equal again, where PhD techies can't afford American plumber cars?

Posted by: johngalt at January 25, 2016 2:21 PM

So you're saying happiness is all about the stuff?

I'm all about the freedom, but there doesn't seem too much to endear it if its all about stuff. Especially stuff that will murder the earth in these folk's eyes.

If the Danes are happier and yet can't buy cars.....how does that make our system preferable? McArdle had a column about how Americans won't go for universal care, but I'm not so sure they wouldn't.
The rich and loud would always buy extra and the rest would get "free" care and not have to deal with the headaches that is our medical insurance system.

Somehow I think, Denmark (et al) need to subsidize a lot more nonworking people before that happiness bit changes. Perhaps the immigration mess of Europe will turn that corner.

Posted by: Terri at January 25, 2016 4:58 PM

You don't have to buy stuff if you do not want. There are quite a few popular things which I eschew.

I'm saying that they do not have the choice. A car is out of the question. A refrigerator that is not "dorm size" is too expensive to own and operate.

Cars might be evil, and big 'fridges bad. But the other thing I saw during my years working for an Irish company was that the millionaires with whom I associated all had American sized 'fridges and cars. Our plumbers live like their millionaires.

Many tell me "they're happy" and I cannot say they're not, but most of those who tell me that are far more familiar with their business leaders than their plumbers.

And more importantly, if we import their poverty we will not necessarily get their happiness. I remind people that if we turn America into France, we will not get their vistas, art museums, cheese, or chocolate. We'll have Velveeta Socialism, American Idol, and the strip mall -- with no Dodge Challengers to take us away.

Posted by: jk at January 25, 2016 5:56 PM

Not sure what you mean by this.
"Many tell me "they're happy" and I cannot say they're not, but most of those who tell me that are far more familiar with their business leaders than their plumbers."

As in they don't have plumbing problems? Or that they are on the richer side of the divide that exists universally?

Posted by: Terri at January 25, 2016 6:45 PM

The latter. The people who tell me that tend to be business associates. So there is an implicit selection bias that the sample of european contentment is populated by those doing business deals with Americans.

The plumbers they call are local; their Danish friends own their own computer businesses.

Posted by: jk at January 25, 2016 7:13 PM

Terri says, "get "free" care and not have to deal with the headaches that is our medical insurance system."

Do you really think that if the government ran the health care system, we would have fewer headaches than we have now??

Have you been to the DMV?

Posted by: dagny at January 26, 2016 12:02 PM

Off topic, but I see a rare chance to cheese off everyone. I think the ultimate solution is "The Irish Model" and we are just wasting time delaying its implementation.

In Ireland, everyone gets horrible, crappy free care. I have a hunch that is what is proposed.

Anyone with any sense buys private insurance. But, because expensive items like long-term care and cancer treatments can be shifted onto the public, the private insurance is priced rather reasonably.

It is not respective of property rights nor fair and it keeps care decisions constantly in the political domain. And the "free" care is quite astonishingly bad. But we're never reverting to freedom, we might as well be done with it.

Bernie's "Medicare for All" with enough Republicans to kill the part where private care is disallowed. Then, the middle class can buy concierge care and upgraded pharmaceutical reimbursement.

With a private market viable enough, it might be freed of regulatory shackles and be more friendly to innovation than the current system.

#ImFeelinTheBern but wasn't this about cars?

Posted by: jk at January 26, 2016 1:04 PM | What do you think? [10]