The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike

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The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike
By Peter Baldwin
Oxford University Press, 2009
336 pp. $24.95
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Whether considering health care, human rights, the death penalty, or government regulation, Americans often look to the "European social model" as a point of comparison. Depending on one's partisan predilection, Europe is held up as an example either of just and generous state intervention or of un-American socialism. In this provocative polemic, Baldwin, an economist, claims that the European social model does not exist. In most things, he says, the United States resembles, at least in statistical terms, an average European state. Yet a surprising amount of Baldwin's evidence actually supports the stereotype: the United States has a free-market system with little labor protection, an adversarial legal system, high murder rates and plenty of guns, an enormous prison population, inequitable and expensive health care, and widespread poverty. The book is a must-read nonetheless -- and not just because it is filled with intriguing facts that add nuance to what can often be a black-and-white debate. Baldwin is right to point out that although the distance between the European left and the American right is extreme, the difference between the average positions of Europe and the United States is less than is often believed. Yet he all but ignores that the U.S. government is far less equitable than its European counterparts. It is often surprisingly active in social matters, yet its policies benefit primarily the middle and upper classes. In the end, the old question remains: Why is there no socialism in the United States?