Hope is a word many Americans use. It is a word that most world citizens breathe quietly, privately to themselves, without much of it in their souls. That is today's topic: What is your role to make hope real for those without it and why we should do it as U.S. industry people. Lack of hope is tied together with strings of "misconception." Many in the world have a stilted view of America based, in large part I think, on blind jealousy that burns within them. This entire subject has been artfully reduced into a book titled Cowboy Capitalism by Olaf Gersemann, Washington correspondent for the German economic and business weekly, Wirtschaftswoche.
Gersemann cites the growing use of the phrase "amerikanische Verhaltnisse" or "American conditions" in a disparaging way. It has become socially unacceptable to embrace anything that represents the American conditions. It is borne of arrogance and jealous denial that American style capitalism has and continues to outperform European, continental socialism. The worst aspect of amerikanische Verhaltnisse purveyors is use of lies and myths uncritically accepted by the public and slathered on them by politicians including many U.S. leftists, the "hate America first" crowd. Gersemann offers statistics since WWII on economic performance of Germany, France and Italy, avoiding UK that is more like the U.S. and others such as Ireland and Portugal that are newly prosperous, so as not to bias comparisons. It is a fair approach because France, Germany and Italy together in 2003 accounted for 48% of the EU's economic output and 61% of Euro-zone GDP.
What is appalling is the extent of misinformation spread by Chirac and Schroeder governments, particularly, and echoed by the business community and press. Following are some popular myths widely circulated and the realities for your comparison.
- In the U.S. the rich do not pay their fair share of taxes. In the U.S. the top 10% of high-income households pay 65% of all income tax while in Germany that top 10% pays under 50% of the income tax.
- In the U.S. the poor are growing more numerous. Between 1972 and 2002 the share of U.S. households with under $35,000 income per year, adjusted for inflation, declined from 44.9% to 40.6%.
- European welfare provides better for the most needy compared to the U.S. system. The poorest 30% on welfare roles in the U.S. receive 40% of benefits paid but only 20% in Italy and 30% in France and Germany.
- Living standards are higher in Europe than the U.S. The U.S. has the highest living standard of any industrialized country. Adjusted for price differences, 2003 per capita U.S. income was 36% higher than France, 42% higher than Germany and 44% higher than Italy.
- Long term unemployment is a chronic U.S. problem; European job creation is better. In the U.S. in 2003, 65% of the unemployed found new work within three months; it was respectively in France 26%, Germany 17% and Italy 12%. The jobless rate in each of the three nations is higher than the highest U.S. unemployment rate (6%) since 1980.
- American wealth is debt financed. The average American family increased net worth by 50% between 1989 and 2002.
- In America many people need two or three jobs to make ends meet. In 2003, 5.3% of all employed Americans had more than one job; 1.5% had a second job through necessity. In Germany in 2003, 2.4% of employed people had multiple jobs.
Justification for failed policies and an increasingly corrupt political system now requires the European model to undergo reform and correction. Selling sour grapes does not achieve that end. Assistance in education by Americans is a needed part of change and the business community is best able to lead that effort. In our global age most companies buy, sell or make products and are in daily contact with non-Americans, many the very people being schooled by their bitter and failed leaders to believe negative myths about the United States. It is an axiom of business that truth builds confidence and a solid relationship between people and companies. Negativism drives away business just as it drives away hope. America has a better economic system than all other nations and, while we strive to improve, we also must work to keep alive the hopes that made possible what we have and aspire to achieve. As industrial leaders dealing with people who are purposefully misinformed by their own society or nutcases like Michael Moore, it is in your self interest, your U.S. national interest, the interest of your business and trading partners, and their country's government that the truth be known. Do your share. Kill myths. Keep hope alive for others.