David Brooks: Gail, can I draw you into the America versus Europe debate? This is the old argument over which model of capitalism is better, the Anglo-American model or the continental one. It was recently rekindled by two bloggers extraordinaire — Jim Manzi and Jonathan Chait — and then joined by our colleague Paul Krugman.Collins tries to reason with him (mistake!):
I became convinced that our system was better not for the wealth-generating reasons the current bloggers are arguing about, but because it leads to more exciting lives.
Gail Collins: David, you’re reminding me of an argument I listened to several eons ago, when I was in graduate school, between my husband Dan and a very conservative guy who I think was a relative of one of our professors.....Bobo, however, does not get the point, and reasserts his thesis:
Dan said something about how he wanted to live in a country where everybody’s medical needs would be met whether they had the money to pay for a doctor or not. The other guy exploded in rage and yelled: “What’s the matter with you kids today? You have no sense of adventure!”
The other big difference is that the American model encourages hard work at the cost of instability. I think that encourages people to maximize their capacities. The continental model encourages less work at the cost of boredom. I knew people in Brussels who went to work at an organization at 25 sitting in one desk, and they could tell you exactly what desk they will be sitting in and what job they will be doing when they retire at 60 or 65. Yawn.Collins puts away the stilletto and uses the truncheon:
Gail Collins: This may not be the best possible moment to tell Americans about the dreadful boredom that they’d be suffering if they were stuck with job security. However, the argument seems pretty moot, given the fact that the number of Americans who are protected by a labor union has been dropping for as long as I can remember....The question for Americans is whether we think people who have no guarantee of long-term employment need to be assured that whatever happens, they’ll still have health care and the guarantee of a very, very modest pension when they get old.Still not getting it:
I think people would feel more free to take risks in their work life if they know that they don’t have to hang onto an uninspiring job just to protect their family’s health insurance
We in this country live in an immigrant heavy culture and we need an economic model that encourages assimilation. That’s what our system has always done. The continental model exists in countries with stable populations that do not feel the need to absorb immigrants. Their model is fine for that.Collins makes several efforts to point out to Brooks that there is a very real human cost for his squee! of excitement, but he just doesn't care. It's all abstract to him. And I think this, in teh end, is why I am not a conservative. A certain smugness in the face of other people's pain seems to go with that territory--just as a certain holier-than-thouness is the concomittant liberal flaw. I can only think of one conservative in public life who steadily showed compassion for those on the losing side of his principles--Learned Hand, who was, as I wrote years ago, not an Olympian figure like Holmes; no stranger, he was a brother. But that seems quite rare among conservative writers, at least. And Brooks is no rara avis.
By the end of my stay in Brussels I concluded it would be wrong and impossible for the Germans or the French to adopt our model and wrong and impossible for us to adopt theirs. We each had stumbled toward models that fit our personalities.
Vive la différence.