George Harrison, the late, great member of The Beatles, had a stock but thought-provoking answer for a question journalists would ask him in nearly every city he visited after the group broke up in 1970.
"George, what was life like growing up as a Beatle?" a member of the press would invariably ask.
"Couldn't tell you. Nothing to compare it to," Harrison would respond. "What's life like growing up not being a Beatle?"
In a similar vein, most Americans have no idea what life is like in other developed economic systems, because most have never experienced them. True, they may have a idea of what it's like from friends, relatives or visits abroad, but unless they've lived in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, or Italy for a year or so, they can't really say they know what a different economic system is like. (And, no, spending a week in Mexico or a summer in Canada is not equivalent to living for a few years in Paris.)
How many know of life in France?
Oh, most Americans have modest knowledge of the economy and life of France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, etc., but much of this information is filtered -- often through an American prism, and sometimes this prism distorts. And more often than not, the information dispenser has an agenda, and readers or investors are left even more uninformed (or misinformed) than before hearing the information. Americans often hear about France's unions that 'paralyze the economy,' the weaknesses in United Kingdom's national health system, and the graft and corruption in Italy's national government. (Thank goodness there's no graft, corruption, or logrolling in American government!)
In the months and quarters ahead, the United States will embark on a series of policy changes, from health care, to energy, to taxation, and European economies will no doubt be invoked many times, and most of the statistics and information won't be accurate. You'll hear the usual comments about people proposing anti-American and un-American policies and people trying to turn our nation into European socialism.
It's probably best to tune this 'information' out, because at the end of the day, most of the policy changes passed will look very American: with an emphasis on a private sector solution first, with a public sector stop-gap and limited safety net for those who don't have enough money to purchase one of the private sector solutions. The U.S.'s social safety will be strengthened, but the changes will be incremental. Taxes will likely increase for higher income Americans, but there's nothing to suggest that European-style solutions are up ahead, for any of the nation's problems.
President Obama is nobody's fool
So far, President Barack Obama shows few signs that he will deviate from the pro-capitalist American standard. True, some far-right economic conservatives view him as 'a socialist' but in point of actual fact and practice, President Obama, a pragmatist, is nobody's ideologue. Certainly a Democrat, he nevertheless by no means agrees with everything the left says, and he understands and believes in the value of markets, entrepreneurship, innovation, and reward for performance. He could just as easily start and effectively run a venture capital-based business as he could teach at Harvard Law School. He's a president whose received overwhelming support from African-Americans, but he's already told his political base that progress is going to take sustained effort by two parties: you and me.
So look for American-style economic solutions for the U.S.'s problems. And know that the American culture that frames those solutions is strong, and it's very hard to alter or stray from.
Financial Editor Joseph Lazzaro is writing a book on the U.S. presidency and the U.S. economy.
Is socialism really a threat? Not a chance