Saturday, July 30, 2005

Column on Sources of Anti-Americanism [please proof]

A Source of European Anti-Americanism

Tibor R. Machan

Hamburg, Germany. I learned last night something about
why there?s dislike
for America in Europe. It?s worth considering.

No, it?s not the war in Iraq, not at least for quite a lot of people in
Germany and elsewhere. In fact, I noticed more support for Bush?s policy
on the continent than I would have expected. Prominent party people and
journalists with whom I spoke do not consider this issue all that vital in
European-American relations.

It is Kyoto that came up as a source of contention far more often than
Iraq. And oddly it isn?t even the substance of the Kyoto treaty that those
folks I spoke with found to be the problem?they admit that on that score
there is much disagreement and uncertainty that can be respected. What
seems to upset many Germans and, judging by what I heard, many Europeans
is that the American government isn?t being ?cooperative? within the
international community concerning resolutions such as the Kyoto treaty on
the environment.

A point that?s worth considering is that some of these critics believe
that the American government ought to deal with environmental topics
exactly as it is dealing with North Korea or Iran on nuclear arms. In this
latter matter the Americans appear to them to be following the path of
international cooperation. So why will they not do the same vis-à-vis
Kyoto? For many of those I spoke with Kyoto is just as crucial an
international issue as nuclear weapons in the hands of rouge rulers. But
is this correct?

If you are a European, it will indeed appear to you that the two matters
are similar. That?s because you will take it as natural that national
leaders should forge policies for the international community in both of
these matters, nuclear proliferation and environmental policy. The general
idea that guides the thinking for many Europeans is that national leaders
are the legitimate representatives of a country?s citizens in any issue of
public concern and it is up to them to make decisions in such matters. The
notion that the issues involved in nuclear proliferation are likely to be
more appropriately dealt with by governments, including by international
commissions and via international treaties, while problems vis-à-vis the
environment may well best be dealt with in a more decentralized fashion
leaves most of these folks cold. It is distinction without a difference.

The reason seems to be plain: Whenever a concern is such that many people
share it, it automatically takes on a political character to most
Europeans. In the USA, of course, there is at least some differentiation,
at least for many people and even for many politicians, between what is
properly the province of public policy and what isn?t. Environmental
matters are, of course, treated by many in the USA as a matter of public
policy but there is considerable sceptical thinking afoot that sees things
differently. Instead of dealing with environmental issues in a top-down,
centrally planned sort of fashion, pollution, for example, could be
addressed mainly at the local levels and via tort law. How much air
pollution is acceptable is something that needs to be determined on the
basis of local information, not by way of broad governmental goals and

This idea may not be universally embraced in the USA
but it is much more
conducive to how at least a sizable and influential group of Americans
view social and economic problems, namely, in a substantially
decentralized fashion. One region of the country may require certain
measures, while another quite different ones, and indeed no
one-size-fits-all approach is likely to work.

Accordingly, Kyoto type ?solutions? would not come so naturally to many
Americans, who distrust bureaucrats and politicians far more than do
people around the rest of the world. It was quite evident in the
discussions with the Germans and other Europeans that they consider it as
a given that social and economic matters are all susceptible to the kind
of top-down policies that even they admit, once they are reminded of it,
brought down the USSR?s centrally planned economy. The good will and
effectiveness of those who would administer Kyoto type treaties are simply
undisputed. There appeared to be no concerns at all with the kind of
issues that public choice theorists, who worry about the incentives of
bureaucrats and politicians, have identified in America and a few other
places with strong enough classical liberal political economy traditions.

This utter naiveté about what may be expected from national leaders when
it comes to most social and economic matters is very likely a source of
much of the current animosity toward the USA. Of course, some classical
liberals would not even entrust the nuclear proliferation problem to
public officials, but at least there is a wide consensus that this being a
matter of national defense, the government may well have a role its should
not have when it comes to Kyoto type issues and that public choice type
problems do not routinely beset the area.

Mainly, however, the fact that in America there is
considerable genuine
distrust of international agreements pertaining to what ought to be dealt
with in a bottom-up fashion, including environmental problems, seems to
account for why America is unpopular with many in Europe. The great
majority of folks still believe that there is a superior class of
individuals who know better how social and economic issues must be dealt
with from above, period. The individualist, decentralized approach is
entirely unpalatable to nearly all of them.

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