(By Ray D.)
If you are a regular consumer of German media, you know that the picture painted of American society is one of crass class distinctions. In the world of "amerikanische Verhaeltnisse," the poorest are left to rot on the street while the rich keep getting richer. America's economic growth does not benefit the poor and there is no social safety net in a heartless society dominated by laissez-faire capitalism and Social Darwinism.
The problem with the image constructed by many German media outlets is that it has little to do with reality. In fact, the differences between America's poor and Europe's poor are not as great as they are often portrayed, as a recent article in TCS Daily points out:
"Now if the equality of income distribution is something you worry about this is of course a troubling fact. It is what leads to the statement that while the US might be richer, the poor do worse, that in fact the poor in America are worse off than the poor in Europe. Which leads us to this highly informative little picture.
Now given all the adjustments that have been made to the figures this is actually showing us something very interesting indeed. The use of PPP means that we've adjusted for price differences, by using US median income as our measuring stick we've given ourselves a view of the actual incomes, not just the relative incomes, of the poor and the rich in each country.
How we're supposed to read this is that the USA has a very uneven income distribution, that the poorest 10% only get 39% of the median income, that the richest 10% get 210%. Compare and contrast that with the most egalitarian society amongst those studied, Finland, where the rich get 111% and the poor get 38%. Shown this undoubted fact we are therefore to don sackcloth and ashes, promise to do better and tax the heck out of everybody to rectify this appalling situation.
But hang on a minute, that's not quite what is being shown. In the USA the poor get 39% of the US median income and in Finland (and Sweden) the poor get 38% of the US median income. It's not worth quibbling over 1% so let's take it as read that the poor in America have exactly the same standard of living as the poor in Finland (and Sweden). Which is really a rather revealing number don't you think? All those punitive tax rates, all that redistribution, that blessed egalitarianism, the flatter distribution of income, leads to a change in the living standards of the poor of precisely ... nothing.
Such may lead us to a conclusion that the EPI probably wouldn't like:
If we accept (as I do) that we do, indeed, need to have a social safety net, and that we have a duty to provide for those incapable or unlucky enough to be unable to do so for themselves, we need to set some level at which such help is offered. The standard of living of the poor in a redistributionist paradise like Finland (or Sweden) seems a fair enough number to use and the USA provides exactly that. Good, the problem's solved. We've provided -- both through the structure of the economy and the various forms of taxation and benefits precisely what we should be -- an acceptable baseline income for the poor. No further redistribution is necessary and we can carry on with the current tax rates and policies which seem, as this report shows, to be increasing US incomes faster than those in other countries and boosting productivity faster as well."
But instead of publishing these facts, most German media prefer to deepen the stereotype of America as a land of social injustice. Take for example this feature article from SPIEGEL ONLINE: "New York: The New Fortress of the Rich." Author Sebastian Moll complains that Manhattan is devolving into a "Yuppie stronghold" and writes:
"All of the social and ethnic diversity that has grown up is increasingly disappearing from Manhattan, the economic and cultural center of the city. 57 percent of Manhattan residents have a university education according to a new poll and the majority of them are white."
It is nice to see that Mr. Moll is so terribly concerned about social developments in Manhattan, home of Chinatown, Little Italy and Harlem. But if Mr. Moll is really worried about social injustice, ethnic segregation and lack of diversity, we suggest he write a piece on a place like Berlin, where unemployment is rampant (nearly 20%) and Turks and Germans live in virtual segregation in their respective neighborhoods. He could write about the woeful underrepresentation of minorities in the German federal government or about the systematic and overt housing discrimination (classified ads featuring apartments for German families only) that takes place in Germany on a daily basis and against which there is little or no legal recourse. He could also write about how foreigners in places like Nürnberg are confronted by hostile Germans on the subway and told to "go back where you came from." (Something that I have witnessed more than once.) He could write about how the failure to integrate minorities, coupled with radical Islam, amounts to a ticking time bomb for German and European societies.
As another recent TCS Daily article aptly points out:
"Only three weeks after a foiled terrorist plot Germany has grasped the full scale of the disaster it had avoided by mere accident. The bombs planted on two trains in Western Germany could have brought a massacre on the scale of London and Madrid to a country that, being a strong opponent of the Iraqi war, has believed itself immune to terrorist attacks.
Yet the failed attack proved this was a delusion from the beginning: a significant community of angry and alienated Muslims, along with the failure to develop an effective domestic anti-terrorist strategy after the wake-up calls in the US, UK, and Spain, and its tacit support for Israel in its Middle East endeavors have added up to a recipe for disaster that many Germans were not prepared to face."
Read the whole thing. You won't see too much about this in the German media. News outlets like SPIEGEL ONLINE are so focused on pointing out all that is wrong with and miserable about America that there is no hope they can ever provide readers a balanced view of reality. One of the magazine's ultimate objectives is to scare Germans away from the American economic model that its editors fear with a dogmatic, ideological zeal. Because what they write goes largely unchallenged, they have been largely successful.