I write this as an American, one who has studied, worked, raised a child and lived on and off between Europe and the United States since I was nineteen years old. There are so many things I appreciate about both the United States and Europe, but there are a few things I have to say need to be protected in Europe, before they go the way of the U.S. and elsewhere. I would also say that what I am going to write is part of why I am glad to have raised a child mostly in Europe. I actually feel democracy is more alive here at present than elsewhere in the world. And this primarily is linked to the fact that the human being comes first here, not corporations and not simply the wealthiest individuals. People here are not afraid to speak their minds. Journalists may not be able to make a decent living, but they can still print and speak the truth about what they find. Citizen's voices have not been silenced.
There have been illegal, immoral financial doings on both sides of the Atlantic for as long as anyone can remember. But what stands out now, is that though Americans may be indeed outraged by the Madoffs, the hedge fund extreme profits heading to a tiny minority, the blatant disrespect for transparency and the support in many circles for corruption and greed (Why do you think "The Great Gatsby" was remade recently?) and frankly getting away with it, has become so intolerable in the United States that I wonder why people have not all just taken to the streets permanently? There have been massive protests, the Occupy movement has had an impact, but not to the extent that protesters do in Europe. In Europe, you can shut down a country; I have seen it in France, if the citizens decide that things have reached a point where it is simply unacceptable to continue doing things the same old way.
And it is because of this power that most Europeans feel they still have a say in what happens, even if their government and financial industries are also far from corrupt, especially in some countries. They know that the tiny minority actually fears them. I can guarantee you that most abusively wealthy people in Europe have escape plans in case the people rise up and come after them. Now I don't advocate violence, but I also think there is something to be said for crooks to be scared of the people and not vice versa. There are also serious problems with the justice system in some countries in Europe as well, but there are still union legal representatives and fair access to representation and justice so that most individuals do not have this frustrating reality we have in the U.S. of expensive legal fees frightening many into just shrugging their shoulders.
Workers in the U.S. have very few protections anymore. One of the few areas where workers are still unionized is in the entertainment industry, television and film, writers, actors, etc. So what does a network do if these people protest and stop working? They create reality TV so they can make shows without any talent in them. We have those in Europe too, Big Brother started here, but it was called Big brother for a reason. This is how we end up with our children following the lives of people like Kim Kardashian. This is nightmarish! Then we are told we must accept the reality of the competition from elsewhere, from Asia or countries where not only is there no worker protection, you can die horribly in a building collapse in a garment factory, or from pollutants used in the industry you work in, etc. That to me is not reality, it is insanity. In the U.S. and many countries, a huge oil company can pollute your entire coastline and you cannot eat the seafood anymore, nor breathe the air nor feed your family non-GMO food even if you disagree with what is happening in your own country where you supposedly have a vote and a say.
In Europe a few weeks ago, thousands upon thousands of people took to the streets, gathered at sit-ins and eat-ins in major cities, to protest Monsanto (which is already banned in most of these countries) from ever being allowed access to growing GMO plants in their countries. This is called preventative medicine and the people having the last say NOT some corporate entity that is only focused on profits. This is how it should be. This is why most, not all, but most Europeans feel they still have a voice and that they matter more than huge companies. Now this is also beginning to change in that many of the multinationals are threatening or have already moved their industry, factories abroad. This has added to the high unemployment. But you cannot have sustainable economies if industry does not pay attention to individuals.
The European and national governments in Europe, as well as the European banks, industry and leaders in academia, political group and environmental groups are all talking to one another about the crisis. They want to solve it and move towards a better future. There may be a few extremist groups which are not listening to one another, but the reality is, Europe does exist and it knows what it risks losing. It is as if you want to try preventative medicine by eating healthily, living a balanced life, educating your children and giving everyone access to clean water, clean air, intelligent infrastructure, etc. but then a handful of greedy powerful folks decide they could make even more money (in the short term which is all they think about) by having fewer or no regulations, by destroying the high standards voted for and put in place over many decades, simply to benefit them.
This is not just about creating more jobs; this is about whose voice could possibly be more powerful than the individuals who make up a country. We have already seen what has happened in the U.S. where companies simply are so powerful through their ability to pay lobbyists in order that we do not trust the government to be for the people and by the people. In Europe you can actually say hedge funds don't serve our community or our state well, so we want to regulate them heavily. In Europe you can actually ban Monsanto, isn't that amazing? It shouldn't be.
I guess that is what it boils down to...in the U.S. people will actually vote against themselves. Or the person they thought they were voting for turns out to be someone else who votes for and supports policies, which hurt the people who voted for them. In Europe, there is more representational government and thus you can actually directly vote for the party and person who represents what you believe in and know they will not be influenced by lobbyists and pocketing millions in campaign contributions. In fact, perhaps that is where the U.S. and Europe are the most different, as you do not have candidates spending private millions and raising funds by selling their souls to corporations.
In other words, there is still a place in the world where, though it may also not be perfect, people do still trust. Maybe less so in Italy and Greece, but in general, we do trust that we have a voice. And when that trust is broken, we get angry, we speak out, they protests, and they can change and influence behavior, laws, and know they have a say. Austerity measures are going to be re-evaluated. The institutions in Europe know what their job is at the moment, it is to revitalize the economy and get young people working. And they will, because they see it everywhere, in the protests, in the people in the street in the fact that citizens will literally stop a country or company from functioning if their votes and voices are not respected. It is not that the mob rules, but rather that a human being still has value, real value, simply because they exist as a human being. And that is the most important thing to remember, that we humans are the ones who these companies, governments and institutions were created to serve, in fact, that is why we created them in the first place.