Us and them, part deux.
Thanks to everyone who left comments, sorry for the delay in posting but time is running out on my home leave and there are a million and one things to do and people to see- not enough hours in the day! I'd also like to thank those who sent in e-mails on this piece- one reader sparked the idea for me that as a nation of primarily European emigrants (at least initially) we may represent the end-game of an 18th century brain/risk drain on Europe:...in doing my research and talking with others also doing genealogical research it became apparent to me that one of the key differences between "them and us" is that we are descended (mostly) from Europeans who were more inclined to be more risk takering than the average Euro of a century and more ago.
You only have to research the actual trip itself to get an appreciation for the risks involved in moving from, say, Bavaria, to the middle of Ohio. In the case of some of my ancestors, for example, they left Mutterstadt (near Ludwigshaven) and ended up in Pike County, Ohio. The ocean voyage spanned the period 7 May to 15 August 1840. Two whole families moved, along with at least one mother-in-law. One of the two brothers, who were the family heads, died enroute; a daughter was born at sea to the other couple. I have to wonder at what motivated my ancestors to take such risks when the payoff most likely was so uncertain. Either they were under unbearable pressure in their homeland, or they were optimists and willing to risk it all for what they perceived as a better life. That story, with all kinds of variations, played out millions of times.
That is a powerful idea- that those who were inclined to depart from Europe rather than settle for their lot in life not brought the idea of self reliance to the New World, but also largely depleted from the Old. I would love to see the look on a risk averse Euro politician when that idea is floated in mixed company.
A brief anecdote before I continue- in the last post I mentioned that no European will identify himself as being from the EU. There is a corollary to this- very few Europeans want to hear where you are "from", as in the American habit of saying "I'm Irish- my name is O'Malley" or "My name is Schmidt, I'm German." This seems to really drive them nuts, as a very unscientific test I decided to claim that my lineage included whatever country I happened to be in at the time when I met a Euro-zoner. A few smiled politely and nodded, and a few were outright harsh in their denunciation of the facts. To be fair I agree with them, the whole hyphenated American thing drives me nuts, but they really seem to not want to have any ties to us- our forebears left, and good riddance to them, seems to be the attitude.
Another reader (from Australia) writes:I lived in the US for 16 years, got to understand the social system, the political system and most other "systems"in the US. The reason I say I got to understand the US is because I spent the time learning about my host country. What did I learn? I came away thinking it was the greatest nation on earth. I also came away thinking that it was also the most complex nation on earth. There are nuances foreigners simply do not understand about the US. Take the Presidential voting system. Most people cannot understand why it varies between the states. When I explain to them the American political system was never meant to be centralized, but rather it is a Republic in the true sense of the term they cannot fathom it.
Sixteen years is a long time to spend in a foreign land, longer by far than I will ever spend posted to another country. As this reader points out, it is long enough to learn a great deal, but still not long enough to be able to explain it to others who do not have a common experience on which to base their understanding.
I mentioned that I would delineate some similarities between us and them in my last post, so here are my topthree. If there is interest I'll try to flesh them out later, for now I'll keep it brief:
1. Immigration- the U.S. and the E.U. (remember I am talking about "old Europe" or "western Europe" here) have both been, and continue to be inundated with immigrant groups that do not assimilate. Many of ours are illegal, as are many in the EU. More worrisome for the EU is that many of their are pushing radical Islam in Europe, and they are in complete denial. Don't expect France to discuss the fact hat 70% of its prison population is Muslim anytime soon.
2. Declining birth rates in the U.S. and Europe combined with point number one beg the reader to consider this piece:
At present, the population of the EU is approximately 5% Muslim; France is 10% Muslim. Leaving aside the possible admission of the countries with large Muslims populations like Turkey and Bulgaria, the Muslim proportion of the EU population will probably grow to 10% overall by 2020 if current trends continue. If, however, the rate of immigration increases, the proportion of Muslims will rise significantly faster. Some observers believe that a surge in Muslim population may produce a Christian and Jewish flight from Europe. The controversy in France and elsewhere about the wearing of hijab in public schools is only the current idiom of discourse on the future of Europe.
3. Trade deficits-the U.S trade deficit with China hit $80 billion last year, the EU $37 billion. Overall the balance of trade is not good for eith entity, while some EU member nations have done better than others it is clear that both sides are dependent to a very large extent on foreign trade surpluses. One EU solution has been less than well received by most of the world- the sale of arms to China. Where are these gaps leading to? Good question. Oh, and by the way, we have a deficit of trade with the EU, too.
These are huge issues we have in common, and yet we tend to focus more on the differences than the commonalities. In a world dominated by the forces of globalization, where stock performance in one couintry can cripple another, and where the economic paradigm can best be described as smoke and mirrors, it stands to reason that there should be many more paths to success if we can find the means to work together. Do these means even exist, though, and if so what can we do to identify and implement them? How far are we, and the Euros, willing to go to stabilize the world and provide incentives that ensure our children and grand-children find themselves living in a society that at least resembles the one we grew up in? I don't pretend to have the answers to all these questions and the myriad others they spawn, but I have some ideas which I'll try to explore in the coming days. In the meantime, feel free to answer them yourself in the comments or to send us e-mail.