Reason magazine's Matt Welch offers a useful corrective to the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, whose latest essay is a textbook example of the sort of lazy, effete statism that often infects highbrow punditry.
America is in decline, and it's all the fault of anti-tax orthodoxy, Gopnik argues:
The reason we don't have beautiful new airports and efficient bullet trains is not that we have inadvertently stumbled upon stumbling blocks; it's that there are a considerable number of Americans for whom these things are simply symbols of a feared central government, and who would, when they travel, rather sweat in squalor than surrender the money to build a better terminal.
If you've read anything I've written in this space, you know I have my own problems with anti-tax orthodoxy and libertarianism in general. But Gopnik's assertion here is staggeringly silly. I can't imagine there's a single frequently-traveling American who has left an airport or train station and thought, "Wow, that was an awful experience, but you get what you pay for."
Isn't it more likely that the typical frequent traveler thinks, "Man, ticket fares and fees have been going up for years, and things keep getting worse!"?
Welch points out, too, that Western European countries serve up a smoother, sleeker air-travel experience—and not for the reason that Gopnik would assume. They've "long since lapped the U.S. in deregulation-fueled air travel advancements," Welch writes.
With the assumption that Welch's research into this stuff is basically sound, it puts me in mind of something that annoys me almost as much as Gopnik's intellectual laziness: namely, the idea that there's a single (read: socialist) European economic model. (This Pajamas Media fulmination is a paradigmatic example: "Europe—sclerotic, bureaucratized and social-democratized—has for decades enjoyed the protections, inventions and security afforded by its more laissez-faire, strapping, and exuberant cousin across the Pond, the United States.")
According to the Heritage Foundation's latest Index of Economic Freedom, Western European countries such as France and Italy do rank rather poorly. But Scandinavian countries Denmark (which actually outranks the United States), Sweden, and Finland are each in the top 25.
Do Europeans countries spend more lavishly on social welfare programs? Yes. Are such programs, as currently structured, sustainable? Probably not.
But, as I've said before, our north Atlantic cousins are capitalist democracies. In some ways, as Welch notes, they are even better at capitalism than we are.