In the ongoing and thoroughly nonsensical discussion of American Exceptionalism, we seem to be in a new chapter. It’s a nonsensical discussion because what a country thinks are the awesomist things about it are about as fact-based as the ravings of a sports team fan. But even our self-told feel-good tales are starting to wobble.
People are starting to write about ‘The Precariot,’ (including David Brooks this week if you need more of him) a category of people who feel that the ground beneath them may be crumbling. This is a category studied by British economist Guy Standing, or maybe Last Guy Standing. Lo and behold, Americans are apparently no longer Hunky Cowboys, rather we are now the Hunkered Cowering. Amazing how when the opportunities dry up, the boasting self-definition goes right along with it.
Now Europe, EUROPE for crying out loud, is matching or PASSING us, not only in social mobility, and location mobility, but even in their FAITH IN CAPITALISM as a successful economic model. We were going to be the cowboys until forever, or at least until the cows came home, but the cows seem to have arrived back here, along with the chickens which have come back to roost too.
History, whose long arc often bends toward irony, may yet show that for all its catastrophic failings, it was Communism that saved Capitalism. Because Capitalists were terrified that Communism would tempt all the workers into revolt. So they decided to respond by opening up the money spigot a little for them. Europe installed Social Democracy to fight back the Red Menace. And it may turn out that Europe got closer to a sustainable balance than we did.