Steven Hill

 

On his book Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age

Cover Interview of March 31, 2010

A close-up

If a browsing reader were to encounter Europe’s Promise in the bookstore, I would like her or him to read the final few pages, and contemplate the final scene and probing question that ends the book:

 

So now, whenever I am in Europe, whether in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Stockholm, London, Rome, Prague, Oslo, Berlin, Vienna, Barcelona, Ljubljana, Budapest or elsewhere, at some point in my journey I always make a point to stand on a street corner and stop and look around me at all the people milling about. I watch them for a few minutes, take a deep breath, and, remembering Matthias’ words I think to myself, “Everyone I see, all those people walking by, no matter their age, gender, religion, or income, has the right to go to a doctor whenever they are sick. And all those I see have a decent retirement pension waiting for them, and parents can bring their children to day care, or stay home to take care of themselves or their sick loved one, and get paid parental leave or sick leave and job retraining if they need it, and an affordable university education.”

Of course, not every European country, or every region or city within each country, lives up to every aspect of this menu 100 percent of the time.  Economic fluctuations will always result in contractions and expansions of the social agenda.  That’s to be expected.  But all of them, even the poorer countries among them, achieve a far higher level than the United States can muster, and the arc of their trajectory is clear.

At the end of the day, the clever Europeans have crafted something that we have not yet figured out how to do in the United States. Their social contract is still vibrant and durable, and that’s worth contemplating as I stand on street corners in Europe, with the memory of Matthias’s words ringing in my ears: “In America, you are so rich—why don’t you have these things for your people?”