Friday, April 08, 2005

Does Europe Hate Us?

I just watched the second half of Thomas Friedman's A&E special on
Europe. It left me upset, both with Europe and with Friedman.

Friedman found several French students - both high school and college
- who were willing to equate George W. Bush and Osama bin Lauden. Why?
because both refer to their god. This is infuriating because bin Lauden
is a religious leader trying to start a world-wide religious movement.
Bush is a religious man but he shows a great deal of respect for other
religions. There was no attempt to place Afghanistan or Iraq under
Christian control.

But when reporting on something as massive as "Europe", it is easy to
find someone who believes in whatever message you want. Friedman gave
statistics on the ethnic makeup of Europe but not on the ideas he
showed Europeans saying. Are they typical? Are they unusual? We have
to trust Friedman.

In a situation like this, I look for facts that I can independently
verify. If they check out then I trust the rest. If they are wrong
then I do not trust anything else.

Keeping this in mind, consider a segment Friedman did on European
benefits. He showed an American film maker living in Germany. The film
maker told about how much assistance he gets from the government in
the form of day care and medical coverage. Then came the kicker -
Friedman asked the film maker how the tax rates compared. "About the
same, I think," came the reply. Friedman then went on to talk about
defense spending and how our money pays for an army that Europeans
feel is the only threat to world peace.

But it isn't so. Europe's tax rates are much higher that the US. In
some countries they approach 60% of income. Friedman disguised this by
having an American living in Europe give his impression.

A strong argument can be made in favor of European style government
with high taxes and high benefits. The argument must be balanced
against how fast or slow this style of economy grows and how long it
can sustain itself. Instead of addressing any of this, Friedman told
us that we can
have it all if we just cut back on the military. The way he presented
it was a bald face lie.

Friedman also did a short piece on a recent ban on cosmetics
containing phthalates (he didn't made the chemical family but this is
what he was talking about). He let a member of Greenpeace imply that
every cosmetics user in the US is at risk unless we follow Europe's
example. In fact, no study has ever shown that phthalates are harmful
but Europe adopted the "precautionary principal" which assumes that
all synthetic substances are harmful until proven safe. This can be an
arbitrary exercise and studies showing phthalates to be safe were
discounted for political reasons. Friedman skipped over this leaving
the impression that the US is willing to risk the safety of its
citizens. See this article for
more information

So, since catching Friedman in two lies, I do not believe anything
else that he says. His special is as suspect as something by Michael
Moore. Harsh, yes, but after catching him in bending the truth there
is nothing else for it.

There can be no doubt that Europe is more secular and more socialist
than the US. At the same time, Europe is facing economic challenges.
It's economy is stagnant and it has committed itself to environmental
goals that will ruin it without measurably affecting global warming.

Note - I usually depend on Blogger's spell check but it is not working
tonight. See this
for a list of Blogger's recent problems.

Update - just how high are European taxes? Consider this article from 2001:

A French worker making a mere $45,000 a year is taxed at the top marginal rate of 54 percent, plus 16 percent for social security taxes. Laetitia, whose salary is estimated to be $3 million, saves 30 to 40 percent just by renting a flat in Trafalgar Square. It gets worse. Those who save money pay a "wealth tax" of up to 8 percent. But the real fury of the revolution is reserved for entrepreneurs. Start a company, take it public and attempt to motivate talent with stock options recipients pay heavily for the priviledge. Realize a gain of FFr 1 million on your options and sell them in less than four years and you will owe 120 percent on the gain or the entire FFr 1 million gain plus 200,000.

So someone who makes four times the current minimum wage pays 70% income tax and it is possible to owe far more in taxes than you earned under the right (?) conditions. This is not "about the same as the US" and by including that clip instead of the real figures, Thomas Friedman lied.

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