Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Indolent Europeans trying to handcuff American know-how

I suppose to some of us, the European Union is just a conglomerate of disparate parts, a jigsaw with pieces that don’t quite fit together properly. It is obvious that its purpose is to consolidate the pompous notions of Germany and France to form a “super-group” of nations to compete for Western supremacy with the United States. Smaller nations joined up in the hopes that it might gain economically from an alliance with the two “powerhouses,” but this has not been the case for the countries of southern Europe—Spain, Italy and especially Greece. In fact, converting to the Euro currency has not only hurt their economies by forcing them to compete by the Euro rate, but also that of Germany and France, who have been forced to pay for their pomposity by propping-up the EU’s struggling countries.

Who to blame? Why, who else but America? After battling Microsoft and Apple for years, now it is Google’s turn. The EU has just filed an anti-trust suit against Google; the EU’s Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, claims that because of its dominant position as a search engine, she is “concerned that the company has given an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service.” Huh? Why should U.S. companies pay for the failure of European tech companies to develop anything more useful than to be a safe haven for illegal download sites? 

As a consumer, I want whatever is most useful to me. Admittedly, Google’s search engine success is based more on reputation than actual superiority, but obviously it has to be doing something that consumers want to make it so popular. It’s my “home page” of choice, and as long as my email and blog service is free, I couldn’t care less about the whiners nipping at the peripheries—especially those arrogant Europeans. Anyone can make any search engine page their “home page”; just because they  are too lazy to or prefer Google is not Google’s problem—it is the problem of Yahoo and the rest that they are too small or have less revenue to provide the services people take for granted with Google.

Besides, we already know how incompetent European companies can be. Look at German shipping giant DHL. Allegedly they have conquered virtually every corner of the globe, but like pop music group ABBA before them, they haven’t quite figured out the American market. All we ask for is on-time delivery and expedited delivery when we pay for it; instead, DHL lost millions and abandoned its amusing effort to compete with Postal Service. Unfortunately some domestic sellers still use the rump of its remaining cut-rate shipping presence in the U.S., and whenever I see it applied to a third-party order via Amazon, I cringe in despair.  Just stay away from us.

The U.S. has been an object of scorn for many in Europe, after having been laid low from the destruction of World War II, and forced to accept U.S. aid like a beggar. American manufacturing and know-how dominated the world scene for decades, and this was naturally deeply felt by European’s used to raping other nations during the colonial period. The Vietnam War was just an excuse to rant against U.S. policy, the French in particular forgetting its own role in creating the problem that was Vietnam. Thus the dislike many in Europe displayed for the U.S. goes back many decades, and it was only natural that this caused some backlash. Randy Newman’s 1972 LP Sail Away included a savagely satirical number entitled “Political Science”:

No one likes us, I don't know why
We may not be perfect but heaven knows we try
But all around, even our old friends put us down
Let's drop the big one and see what happens

We give them money but are they grateful?
No, they're spiteful and they're hateful
They don't respect us so let's surprise them
We'll drop the big one and pulverize them

Asia's crowded and Europe's too old
Africa is far too hot and Canada's too cold
And South America stole our name
Let's drop the big one, there'll be no one left to blame us

We'll save Australia
Don't wanna hurt no kangaroo
We'll build an All American amusement park there
They got surfin', too

Boom goes London and boom Paree
More room for you and more room for me
And every city the whole world round
Will just be another American town
Oh, how peaceful it will be we'll set everybody free
You'll wear a Japanese kimono and there'll be Italian shoes for me

They all hate us anyhow, so let's drop the big one now
Let's drop the big one now

Well, that was then, but Mike Bird of Business Insider tries to explain this bitterness by telling us that “By nature, Europe has a less positive attitude toward innovation and entrepreneurship than America…In Spain, 65.1% of people who haven't set up their own business agree with the statement ‘entrepreneurs think only about their own wallet.’ It's not that high across the whole of Europe, but the US figure for the same question posed to the same group of people is just 26.7%...Similarly, when asked to agree or disagree with the statement ‘entrepreneurs exploit other people's work,’ only 27.9% of American people who've never set up a business agree. It's not that low anywhere in the European Union. It's over 40% in France, 50% in the Netherlands and over 70% in parts of southern and eastern Europe.”

To be honest, this sounds like the kind of thing that Jews were once accused of throughout Europe, the kind of thinking that eventually led to the Holocaust. Another commentator, Doug Dawson, tells us that “Over 90% of Americans think that individualism is more important than compliance with expected social values. In Europe only a little less than 60% of people value individuality first. And in some places like Russia and Denmark less than 30% valued individualism more than compliance with social expectations.” Actually, I think that 90 percent is a little on the high side; frankly, I think it is only possible to get such a result if he just asked people who owned their own businesses that question. Nevertheless, I find it hypocritical to say that it is “freedom-loving” in Europe to prefer government control and risk-adverse behavior. Of course Russians don’t value “individualism”; they couldn’t cope on their own—unless, of course, it is in this country when operating secret criminal mobs
This de facto lack of “freedom-loving”—perhaps more like indolence—is likely a masquerade invented by European entrepreneurs seeking a cheating way to shoe-horn into the markets won by American know-how without doing the work themselves, offering consumers cut-rate services no one wants to have to search for. Dawson offers up the bizarre claim that “To some extent the European Union is representing the will of its people when they crack down on US technology firms, which are viewed negatively as entrepreneurial and high risk. These kind of cultural gaps are very hard to bridge and US companies might have problems in Europe for decades – if they’re even resolvable at all.” 

Well, the latter isn’t bizarre because we have been hearing that since at least the 1970s. But the question is what is wrong with being “entrepreneurial”? Why should the U.S. stagnate with the rest of the world? How can one make important advancements without “high risk”? And how can success be defined as “high risk” anyways? Keeping American entrepreneurs’ hands-tied so Europeans can catch-up—if they do—has to be fought at every level. Besides, two can play at that game.

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