When Europeans resist corporate austerity measures, they are struggling to avoid “being forced to live like most Americans, at the total mercy of the rich.” The U.S. safety net hardly exists. The “American way of life” is a state of profound insecurity and social disconnectedness.
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“Europe is headed for deep turmoil because Europeans have something to defend.”
Thanks to the U.S. corporate media’s great skills of obfuscation, omission and just plain lying, Americans are quite confused about the political and financial crisis in Europe, and what it means on this side of the Atlantic. People in the United States harbor vague fears that the social turmoil they see playing out in European elections and on the streets may come here. This scares them, which is almost funny, in a very sad way, since what European working people are struggling to avoid is being forced to live like most Americans, at the total mercy of the rich.
Europeans are righteously upset because they have something quite precious to lose: a social safety net that provides levels of security that Americans have never experienced, and that many cannot even imagine. Since most overworked or underemployed Americans don’t know how Europeans actually live, they find it difficult to understand what all the fuss is about. U.S. corporate media fill in the vast blanks in American consciousness with slanders against Europe – the relatively comfortable French and the devastated Greeks, alike – branding them all lazy slackers who don’t want to work hard or pay their bills. America’s damn near nonexistent social welfare structure is packaged as a virtue, while the sights and sounds of European protest are made to seem ominous, dangerous, selfish.
Most Americans of modest means don’t travel to countries where the people live better than they do, or are so oblivious that they don’t notice the deep social service networks that underlie these societies. Americans cannot understand, for example, that higher educational achievement is so often tied to strong national compacts among citizens and fundamental notions of social equality – these qualities being absent in American life. CNN is quick to cite figures on European unemployment, but tells its U.S. audience virtually nothing about the social safety net that makes unemployment in Europe a very different experience than being without a job in the United States.
“America’s damn near nonexistent social welfare structure is packaged as a virtue.”
A young relative of mine happened to graduate with a professional degree just in time for the 2008 meltdown, which wiped out all the new jobs in his profession. He sought work in France, being fluent in the language, and found it a far more welcoming society than his own. More than half of his rent was subsidized, because the French believe that people younger than 26 should have a chance to begin independent lives without undue burdens. My young Black American relative rode public transportation for half fare, as did his young French peers. While working, he considered getting another professional degree, which would have cost him less than $2,000 a year at a fairly prestigious French school. And he was a foreigner! A French student who had already paid into the health care system, could study for a year for less than $1,000.
My young relative eventually came home – because…well, this is home. It is a materially rich country, but one that is socially impoverished and, frankly, too ignorant to know it. Europe is headed for deep turmoil because Europeans have something to defend. They’ll fight to keep a decent social welfare net. The Americans don’t even know what a minimally just society looks like or feels like. We’ll have to create that society through struggle, and almost from scratch.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com .
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