Today's Blogs

Flattened by the Welfare State?

Today, bloggers discuss two New York Times columns on the significance of Europe’s EU votes. They also go after Amnesty International for an injudicious gulag analogy and respond to John Edwards’ one-week blogging stint

Flattened by the welfare state? The recent French and Dutch votes against the EU constitution suggest a cultural inability to adapt to the demands of a global economy, Thomas Friedman writes in a New York Times column. “French voters are trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day,” he writes. “Good luck.” Fellow Times columnist David Brooks calls the votes a “crisis of confidence” in countries whose stagnant economies show the petrifying effects of their respective welfare states.

“Great column,” praisesLifelike Pundit’s Pat, who made a similar comparison at his own blog, Brainster, last Sunday. “The Western welfare state is going down,” declares the National Review’sconservative social scientist Stanley Kurtz, who thinks Americans are ignoring the lessons offered by the case of Europe. “I suspect that much of our silence is due to the awkwardness of the European dilemma for America’s liberals. Just now, the American left is engaged in an ultimately doomed effort to protect our out-of-control entitlements,” he writes. “They don’t dare directly identify themselves with Europe’s anti-EU left, but they can’t bring themselves to condemn the European left either. Mostly, America’s liberals would just like the awkward comparison with Europe’s failing welfare state to disappear.”

“Of course, in Bobo’s World, whenever a tree falls in the forest it discredits large swaths of American liberalism, whether anyone hears it or not,” writes blog-watcher Barbara O’Brien skeptically at The Mahablog. The major difficulty faced by Western economies, she suggests, isn’t the welfare state, but the “demographic time bomb” of “an aging population.” At liberal hub MyDD, Ben P assembles a mass of economic data to show that many countries with universal healthcare and/or state-supported pension funds have performed remarkably well over the last decade. Bradford Plummer cites near-equivalent per capita growth rates for the United States and the European Union states over the same time period. 

“David Brooks says that because Western Europe has a lot of problems we should reject American liberalism. This strikes me as a pretty silly way to think about the problem,” writes the American Prospect’s Mathew Yglesias, newly transplanted at TPMCafe. “America’s slow-developing welfare state provides us with the important advantage of being able to learn by example. We can look around at a bunch of different health care systems and see which one works best.”

Read more about Friedman’s column and more about Brooks’ column.

Those troublesome analogies:Yesterday, Amnesty International defended its controversial comparison of the Guantanamo Bay detention center to the gulags of Soviet Russia, pressing American officials to open up the facility if they seek to demonstrate a significant difference.

At InstaPundit, formidable libertarian Glenn Reynolds rounds up a collection of substantive critiques of the Amnesty analogy, with which, he says, the organization “seems to have flushed its credibility.” He points to a World Peace Herald report that compares the 18 million prisoners held in secret Soviet camps to the 600 detainees held at the publicly acknowledged Gitmo facility. “Amnesty once realized that balance, fairness and—most importantly—self-discipline were vital to its mission,” Reynolds writes. Now, though, “[I]t has chosen posturing and over-the-top hysteria that ensure that it can be written off as lacking perspective and credibility.”

Not so fast, says Internet veteran Tim Bray at ongoing. Acknowledging that the Soviet prisons were indeed worse than the American detention center, Bray warns that “being better than the gulags isn’t good enough.” The organization might have overstated its point, he says, but “when Amnesty gets on your case, you need to stop brutalizing people.”

Read more about Amnesty’s self-defense and more about InstaPundit’s roundup.

John Edwards blogs!:This week, Joshua Micah Marshall launchedTPMCafe, a companion site to his Talking Points Memo blog and “a public meeting place to read about and discuss politics, culture and public life in the United States.” Among the features is “Table for One,” a weekly guest blog, inaugurated by John Edwards. So, how does the erstwhile vice-presidential candidate stack up as a blogger? 

“[W]hat’s not to love about having former senator John Edwards blogging about poverty?” asks liberal Christian Chris Walton at Philocrites. Anthropologist P. Kerim Friedman agrees. “If I was luke warm about him as a presidential candidate, all that has changed. He is clearly taking poverty seriously and putting forward concrete examples about what can be done to lift people out of poverty,” he writes at Keywords. “Its like Edwards is the anti-Clinton!” He’s not popular with everyone, however: At Tempus Fugit, Mark Jaquith deconstructs Edwards’ argument on the minimum wage.

Read more about John Edwards, “Table for One,” and TPMCafe.

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