Whose near future is our far future: Europe, China or California?

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 12:00

On Friday, Rachel did a segment on China's aggressive development of high speed rail in the next few years.  It's really amazing how much rail they're going to have built within the next two years, 42 lines including connections between China's most important cities:

The US, in contrast, will have one line built in four years, connecting Tampa and Orlando.  Tampa and Orlando? That's not so much a high-speed rail line, more an overgrown Disney ride.

Here's the clip:

This short clip made me think of three things:

(1) At the same time that China was spending massively to build this new high-speed rail network, ($185 billion Rachel said, in the last two years), the GOP was screaming bloody murder over the idea of spending anything on high-speed rail in the stimulus bill.

(2) Even if Obama had been absolutely serious about spending our way out of the recession, and laying a green infrastructure foundation for our future, there is no way the US could have marshaled anything close to that level of construction in such a short period of time.  The America that build the Interstate highway system is gone, baby, gone.  Boxed up and shipped overseas in pieces starting with the Carter/Reagan double-dip recession, which we responded to by ignoring deindustrialization, cutting taxes, and investing heavily in military spending to compete with the USSR, based on the first grand neo-con con: the infamous "Team B" report that said the CIA was all wet when it accurately reported that the Soviet Union was struggling to keep up with us...and failing.

(3) The country that builds the most advanced transportation system is de facto the most advanced country on the planet.  It used to be the US.  We sensed this when Europe built the Concord and the Airbus.  We're totally oblivious now that China is going apeshit with high-speed rail.  Forget the time decades in the future when China's GDP equals ours.  China is the most advanced country on the planet now.  We're number 2.  Get used to it.  And don't forget to thank the Republicans in particular, because it's their beloved free market that tells us we don't need high-speed rail, and the market is never wrong. Piratize NASA!  Yeah!

But, of course, even with all that advanced transportation, who wants to live in a Chinese-style security state?  Well, all of Versailles, apparently, but in America, who wants to live in a Chinese-style security state?  Which brings us to a Democracy Now! segment on Europe, talking with Steven Hill, author of "Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope for an Insecure Age".  (Europe has high-speed rail, too, you know.)  They begin by noting the economic crisis happening in Greece, then pivot away from the expected story line, from one of impending doom to one of greater resiliency:

Paul Rosenberg :: Whose near future is our far future: Europe, China or California?
JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to Europe, where the economic crisis in Greece has raised fears about the future of the euro. On Thursday, the European Union reportedly approved a deal to help rescue Greece from its debt problems. The European leaders made no promises of aid and emphasized that Greece must cut its budget deficit by four percent this year. Greece's deficit is at 12.7 percent, more than four times higher than eurozone rules allow.

But the Greek government's cost-cutting proposals have met with significant domestic resistance. A national public sector strike Wednesday brought services to a halt, and unions said the austerity measures amounted to a war against workers.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, our next guest thinks some of the gloom in Brussels and Athens might be misplaced and argues that the United States still has much to learn from Europe's social and economic policies. Steven Hill is the author of Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope for an Insecure Age. He directs the Political Reform Program at the New America Foundation. His previous books include 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy and Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner-Take-All Politics. Steven Hill joins us now from Washington, DC.

Welcome to Democracy Now! First talk about the crisis in Greece and Europe's response.

STEVEN HILL: Well, the crisis there is-the world has gone through a huge economic shock, and we're seeing, and are going to continue to see, various aftershocks that we're seeing not only in places like Greece, but we've seen in California, where I actually live, where you had a state that is 14 percent of the GDP of the United States that also was threatening to default and ended up having to issue IOUs in order to pay its debts. And so, these are the sorts of things that are occurring in Europe, as well.

What's different in Europe is that, in the United States we're used to the federal government being a backstop for states, for example, whereas in Europe there's really not a tradition of any other states, like Germany and France, which are the stronger partners in the European Union, being a backstop for a country like Greece. And so, that's what a lot of the back-and-forth discussion that we're seeing right now, a lot of the anxiety. But just recently, it looks like France and Germany have in fact agreed to be sort of a financial backstop. And as a result, the markets have calmed, and order has returned, so to speak.

But what's being lost here, of course, is what happens to people when these sorts of things happen. And just like we're seeing in California, layoffs, furloughs. The city of Los Angeles just laid off a thousand people. This is the type of thing that is going to affect Greece to some extent.

But I think it's also important to keep a broader perspective about this. Greece is only two percent of Europe's economy. Europe itself only has a deficit-to-GDP ratio of about six percent, compared to the United States, which has a deficit-to-GDP ratio of ten-and-a-half percent, and California, which is 14 percent of the American economy. So there's analogies here that go on both sides of the Atlantic.

Since Steven mentioned California, I'm going to switch gears here temporarily for a brief forcus on my home state, and the sort of future that it portends.  Broken as the federal government may be, it only takes 60% of the Senate to get anything done, and that's only really been the case since the Democrats took over.  In California it talks 66.66% of both houses to get a budget done-far and away the most important legislation every year-or to raise (but not lower) taxes.  And that's been problematic for a much, much longer time.  Which is why California is in such a bad state.

How bad?  Well, in addition to all our budget woes-at the state, county, city and school board levels-we've also got us a crazy would-be dictator for governor.  There's so much crazy out there in the nation of late that most of you probably don't realize that the Gropenator was trying to install his hand-picked Lt. Governor (replacing John Garamendi), even though he was not confirmed by the State Assembly.  The vote was 37-35, but a majority is 41, and the parliamentary rules (clarified in 1988, when something similar last happened) require a majority vote for confirmation.  The appointee, Abel Moldonado, is the only Republican Senator who voted for the budget last year, the only  Republican willing to back the Gropenator.  Plus, he's not just going to be a caretaker, he's running for election to the post in the upcoming election cycle.  So it's not surprising that many, many people see this as more of a backroom deal than a triumph of bipartisanship.  (Oh, there was a difference?)

Naturally, Calitics has been following this closely, and diary live-blogging the Assembly during the vote--Maldonado's Fate Is (not) Decided--is particularly interesting.   Densifying the connections a bit, the diary is by Robert Cruickshank, who also runs the California High Speed Rail Blog. Here's a taste of the live blog:

...Assembly GOP leader Martin Garrick stands up to call for Maldonado to be confirmed.

...Republican Jim Nielsen (AD-2) calls Maldonado "clearly qualified", says "we disagree on a lot of issues" but that doesn't mean we should reject him, let the voters decide.

...Sandré Swanson says Arnold should have appointed a caretaker, and that a "no" vote is justified because Maldonado is running for the post.

...Charles Calderon rises to oppose confirmation, says it was a "backroom deal," "could not have been more partisan," "there's no reason to confirm Maldonado." If progressives like Swanson and moderates like Calderon are opposed, Maldonado's nomination may indeed get shot down.

...Anthony Adams reminds people about confirmation of Bruce McPherson, a Republican who was confirmed to replace Democrat Kevin Shelley. McPherson ran for the office in the next election, and was beaten by Debra Bowen. He reminds people of his "courage" in voting for the budget a year ago, he put the state above partisan needs. Closes by quoting Obama: "Si Se Puede!"

This all looks like it's going to fall out along party lines. Unless we see some indications that a dozen or so Dems will vote for Maldonado, his nomination will die.

...Mariko Yamada rises to oppose nomination. Says she makes her decision not on partisanship, but the evidence available, says Maldonado's voting record is out of step with the state, can't have him being a "heartbeat away" from the governor's office, can't reward "temporary courageous acts."

...former Democrat, now Independent Juan Arambula supports confirmation, says "we need people in the middle."

Yeah, "former Democrat, now Independent".  See, obstructionism really does work!  At the time he left the Dems (without whom, of course, he could never have been elected dogcatcher) last June, the Sacramento Bee quoted him thus:

"I think I owe it to my constituents to be an independent voice," he said. "My hope is that by becoming an independent that the concerns and the interests of my region will be heard."

Translation:  I want to be Abel Maldonado, too!

A bit more from the live blog:

Vote begins. 36-34 so far with some Dems voting yes, still others not voting. Vote still open.

As we wait for the vote to be finalized, some of the Dems who voted for the confirmation include Cathleen Galgiani (AD-17) and Anna Caballero (AD-28), along with Ted Lieu, Anthony Portantino, Jared Huffman, Alyson Huber. Shane Goldmacher tweets that neither Karen Bass nor John Pérez have voted yet. This thing could still go either way, as the vote is "on call."

...my Asssemblymember, Bill Monning, also voted yes. 36-36 now. Vote placed back on call. Now down to 36-34. Motion fails. Torrico moves for immediate reconsideration. Crazy stuff. Reconsideration approved, Republicans go into caucus.

In short: Maldonado only got 36 votes, so he technically went down in the Assembly. But immediate reconsideration is happening, Republicans will caucus and try to round up enough votes.

UPDATE: This thing has gotten real crazy real fast. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office says that unless there are 41 votes against the nomination, Maldonado is confirmed. The Assembly clerk says it's the other way around - unless there are 41 votes for the nomination, it is dead. Arnold says he'll go to court on this if needed. They've also said they'll resubmit the nomination if necessary.

Republicans have put off the reconsideration vote while Danny Gilmore, who is sick with pneumonia, is driven up to Sacramento from Hanford.

My guess is somehow 5 arms in the Assembly will be twisted to get Maldonado confirmed. But we shall see what happens.

For a while there, it looked like the Gropenator would try to install Maldonado anyway, that we were all headed for court, but then he blinked, as Brian Leubitz described at Calitics on Friday ("Arnold Resubmits Maldonado Appointment"):

Well,  it looks like Arnold got around to reading the law, and perhaps the words of the author of that law, and decided that seating St. Abel without the 41 votes is probably a bit rash.  So, another tack.

The Governor has withdrawn the original nomination, and then resubmitted Maldonado for the LG post.  

This means two things.  First, Mona Pasquil, Garamendi's former CoS, and the state's first Filipino statewide official, keeps her position on the State Lands Commission and the other administrative posts that the LG sits on.

But, the real key here is the timing. The new nomination gives the Legislature another 90 days, and a chance for them to push the nomination back to be combined with the June primary, and to also grab a chance at getting Maldonado's vote for any potential budget deal.


So that's what it looks like in the not-so-much-a-failed-state-more-a-Marx-Brothers-movie (Freedonia, anyone?) of California.  Now back to Democracy Now! and Europe, with Steven Hill explaining how Europe is doing a much better job of weathering the storm:

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, in your book, you posit that most Americans are not really aware of the enormous change in direction capitalism has taken in Europe since World War II. You actually say at one point, "The European Union is an entirely new species of human organization, the likes of which the world has never seen. It marks a new evolutionary stage in supranational development in the way it links and closely integrates entire regions of nation-states economically and politically." How does this work now in this particular situation of the Greek crisis? And what do you think is the most important lesson that Americans must learn about how the European Union is dealing with its economic crises?

STEVEN HILL: Well, I mean, for example, while Greece is going through this deficit issue, the people there all still have healthcare. You know, Greece has universal healthcare for all, unlike in the United States or California, where you have millions of people that have no healthcare at all. They have a much more generous support for workers who get laid off. They have paid parental leave, paid sick leave. They have more generous retirement, more vacations. And, you know, whereas Americans, when we go through this, really don't have any of that at all. And that's still present in Greece and in other countries of Europe throughout any kind of crisis like this. They start trimming a little bit at the edges, but even so, what remains is still far more than what any American would enjoy.

But the thing that's important to realize is that these sorts of things have been portrayed as something that undermines the European economy vis-à-vis the American economy. But, in fact, when you really look at the numbers, there's no truth to it whatsoever. Europe has the largest economy in the world. It's almost a third of the world's economy. In fact, it's almost as large as the United States and China's economy combined. Europe has more Fortune 500 companies than China and the United States combined. It has more small businesses, that produce two-thirds of the jobs, compared to in the United States where small business produces about only half the jobs. And so, however you want to measure it, the European economy is robust, and it's vibrant.

But what Europe has managed to do is to figure out how do we harness this ability of capitalism to create wealth, because there's no question that capitalism creates a lot of wealth, but there's an outstanding question here of what do we do with that wealth. Whose pockets does that money go into? Europe has figured out a way to harness this wealth and create a more broadly shared prosperity that all of their people enjoy, and even in the midst of an economic crisis like this, whereas the United States, we're still trying to figure it out. We can't even figure out how to give healthcare to all our people or to get sixty votes in the United States Senate, you know, where the filibuster has gone wild. So, in many, many ways, Europe is doing fine through this crisis, where we in the United States here are really having difficult times.

And, as David Byrne famously asked, "How did I get here?"  For Europe, it was simple, really:

JUAN GONZALEZ: One of the things you also raise is the-how Europe decided after World War II basically not to demilitarize, but to certainly reduce its expenditures on armies and on weapons, and this has enabled it to be able to provide a better life for its citizens. Could you talk about that to some extent?

STEVEN HILL: Certainly. Europe was a military-a place of military warring nations for centuries. And after the utter destruction of World Wars I and II, the politicians of Europe-interestingly, the conservative politicians of Europe, people like Konrad Adenauer from Germany and Winston Churchill from the UK-they decided that it was time to quit pouring their nations' wealth into the military machines they had been and to start pouring it into their people. So a movement emerged for what was called then the "social market economy"-in my book, I call it "social capitalism"-to start taking the resources of their free markets and plowing it back into developing their people, giving things like, for example, free or nearly free university education, which Europe still has today, whereas, you know, in the United States students are paying increasingly amount for tuition. Having childcare, in the United States, childcare for two children is about $12,000 per year for a family in the United States. In Europe, you're paying a thousand to maybe $2,000 per year for that same childcare. And so, Europe plowed it back into these things in order to develop these things for their people.

And they also did other things that I think is of great interest that many people in the United States have not heard about. In order to, in a sense, put some regulations around corporate power, Germany was the first to develop a practice known as co-determination, where the-you know, every corporation has a board of directors, but in Germany 50 percent of those board members are elected by the workers. In Sweden a third of the board members are elected by the workers. It would be as if Wal-Mart were required by law to allow its workers to elect 50 percent of its board of directors. It's almost unimaginable from the American point of view. And yet, here you have major economies in Europe that actually do this on a fairly regular basis, and yet most Americans have never even heard about this.

So, which near future will be our far future?  I can't think of a better question to ask-both for it's own sake, and for the sake of clarifying what's at stake in every crazy thing that goes on in Versailles.

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Less than what the warssssssss have cost us... n.t (0.00 / 0)

Silly Boy! (4.00 / 1)
Wars don't cost money.  Wars make money!

Didn't your private tutor teach you anything?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Apparently not the right stuff. n.t (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
American complacency and denial (0.00 / 0)
Our own personal Odoacer

You know what the real problem is .. right? ... (0.00 / 0)
given Obama's love affair with Pete Peterson .. is that he .. or anyone else with the Admin.'s approval isn't making the case for liberalism .. and that cutting taxes like the right is always calling for isn't a very good idea .. and will only seek to diminish our standing in the world

It is a difference between a rising power and a declining failed power... (4.00 / 1)
...we are simply a bankrupt nation that can't afford it.

Since 2000 we have lost nearly 40% of all of our factories that employ over 1,000 workers.  I doubt war destroyed Germany had lost 40% of its large factories 10 years after the war.

We do not have destroyed buildings like a defeated nation after a war, ours are simply now empty and decaying.  Our nations enemies were not some foreign dictator or lunatic, our nations enemies had University degrees from our most prestigious Universities and sat in the boardrooms of this countries Corporations, while they conspired to destroy this country's power from within, while enriching themselves.

We can blame China and Japan, but our real economic enemies were traitors among us.  And these traitors have been sitting in our White House and our Congress for over the last 30 years, and they are as entrenched today as they have even been.



Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me-and I welcome their hatred. - FDR

But We're NOT A Bankrupt Nation That Can't Afford It (4.00 / 4)
The bank bailout money could have done amazing things to reverse this situation.  Not immediately, of course.  It takes time to rebuild lost capacity.  But we damn sure could have changed directions, and started shifting up into high gear.

It wasn't lack of funds that was the problem.  It was the continued stranglehold of a parasitic elite class that's forgotten all about taking care of anyone except its own.

The worst side of that is the sociopathic right, but the "left" side represented by Obama, that wants to appease the sociopathic right elite, while ignoring the vast mass of Americans is functionally no better, and arguably even worse, since it serves to discredit non-elite liberals, progressives and leftists as well.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
We were an industrial powerhouse.... (4.00 / 1)
....the likes of which the world had never seen....that is what created our wealth and power.  That industrial base is now largely gone....the new industrial powers are just beginning to show what they will do with their new wealth.  We on the other hand do not realize how poor we have become, we still retain some of the fading benefits that we had from our past wealth generation, the problem is we no longer have a modern industrial base to create wealth.


Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me-and I welcome their hatred. - FDR

[ Parent ]
We Don't Have To Be The Equal Of China (4.00 / 2)
but we need to be, and we can be capable of reindustrializing to the point where we can build an green infrastructure that will allow us to live within our means for generations to come & still have a decent quality of life.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I am not saying nothing could be done... (0.00 / 0)
...but with the leaderships of both major parties being in the back pockets of multi-national corporations, do not expect anything to happen.  The de-industrialiation of the United States is the issue behind nearly all of our economic issues, and it is the issue they will not talk about, and that both major parties will do nothing about.


Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me-and I welcome their hatred. - FDR

[ Parent ]
Very True (4.00 / 3)
They've been ignoring de-industrialization ever since it began in earnest circa 1980.  In an excellent book about the politics and reality of homelessness, Sweet Charity?: Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement, Janet Poppendieck wrote that hunger emerged as an issue around this time ihn part precisely because it seemed like something that could be tackled, while the underlying problem--deindustrialization--could not.

I reviewed the book for the Christian Science Monitor (no longer online) and the beginning of the review reflects on how even tackling hunger hasn't proven doable after all:

In 1979, there were 30 emergency food providers in New York City. By 1997 the number was nearly 1,000 - an explosive growth rate reflected across the nation. Yet ironically, after all this growth, America is no closer to ending hunger. In fact, things may be getting worse. The 1996 welfare reform act cut nearly $4 billion a year in food stamps - about four times the amount of food provided through charity organizations.

While millions of Americans have been involved in food charity at some level, this shortfall helps explain why some of the sharpest critics of emergency food are longtime providers at the heart of the system. In "Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement," Janet Poppendieck introduces us to the vastness and variety of Americans' efforts to relieve hunger. Without negating this heartening, heartfelt overflow of spirit, she also reveals how fundamentally inadequate the overall effort has been.

In reality, it could't possibly have turned out any other way.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
We need to start acting like a "retiring" nation. (0.00 / 0)
America is on the decline. Europe is 50 years ahead of us on the downhill path, and I hope we learn a few lessons from them in how to retire gracefully.

It used to be that European affairs were de facto global affairs. European wars were, for example, "world" wars. Lots has changed since then, and younger countries with more vitality took over the reigns of global power.

But now it's time for the US and Japan to retire from that role, and leave the world to the younger, hungrier "can do" countries of central and eastern Asia.

Key features we'll need to retire gracefully:

1. Stable population - which we have.
2. Capacity to produce all of our own energy - we're not close.
3. A way to equilibrate damage to our environment (rate of damage = rate of regeneration) - not there.
4. Capacity to meet our material needs even if the rest of the world stop cooperating - we're farther from this every year.

Without doing all of these, there is simply no hope that we can maintain (much less improve) our standard of living.

Contrast us to Europe, who have advanced plans for energy independence, already achieved a stable population, and they're laying down an infrastructure that will serve them indefinitely into the future.

This should be seen as a retirement plan because it's something you invest in while you're still "working" and the US and Europe still sort of are. But when that income stops, you want to be able to live perpetually from your investments.

So it's no accident that the focus in Europe is on sustainability and local production, especially for food and energy.

Meanwhile, America's car-based society is not even taking steps towards energy independence.

This Is Much Too Realistic For Us (0.00 / 0)
at the present moment.  Which is the real measure of how far we have to go.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
re: germany (0.00 / 0)
Germany was the first to develop a practice known as co-determination, where the-you know, every corporation has a board of directors, but in Germany 50 percent of those board members are elected by the workers.

wow! this is unthinkable here

US thinking (4.00 / 2)
This exactly why the US is 60 years behind everyone else. US thinking is stuck in the 1950's, when the US actually was a leader, but the decline of US education, and regressive thinking concentrationing on things like the archaic right to bear arms, and  not recognizing that other developed nations have more rights and freedoms than the US has ever dreamt of, particularly, in the modern context, the right to health care for all citizens, which exists in every industrialized nation except the United States. The US is no longer a leader in the world, but has a lot to learn from other nations which lead the US in most things.

[ Parent ]
Yup! Actually, 59 years, but who wants to be nitpicking? :D (0.00 / 0)
That law was passed in 1951:

However, to bee honest, there's no chance in hell this could be pushed through nowadays. There's has been a steady erosion of worker's rights here since the 80s, too.

[ Parent ]
I wish we were in the 50s (4.00 / 1)
now we're in the 20s!

[ Parent ]

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