26 November 2009

Definitions of Freedom: Europe v. America

Americans like to believe that their country stands out as particularly free on the world scene. My recent travels around Europe remind me, however, that freedom is an ambiguous term. Americans generally have more freedom to own firearms, go shopping at any hour on any day of the week and create entrepreneurial businesses than Europeans. Europeans, however, enjoy other freedoms and quasi-freedoms.

Among the most obvious freedoms in Europe are the freedom of movement between countries and the considerably wider access to alcohol than in the United States, both in terms of locations of purchase and drinking age. There are fewer border restrictions travelling between countries in Europe than there are when driving into California from a neighboring state and they don't share the uniquely American folly of allowing citizens to vote before they can drink.

There are also some ambiguous freedoms. The bans on motor boat use on many European lakes could be considered a freedom from noise and water polution or a reduction of freedom to use public spaces. The lack of restrictions in Europe on taking animals into public places, including restaurants, is arguably an increased freedom in Europe. There seems to be less of an over-active fear of microbes on the continent than in the USA.

Restrictions, especially those involving employment and taxation, are often more apparent to locals than to visitors. Taxes, while high in both Europe and the United States, are distributed differently. The higher sales tax or VAT here in Europe is offset by considerably reduced property taxes. Whereas even a hermit without income who owns his home outright in the USA would soon lose his home for failure to pay property taxes, a German homeowner of limited means has almost no fear of losing his home for lack of abilty to pay taxes.

It is difficult to say which continent is the most desireable place to live, especially for retirees who are less affected by employment restrictions in Europe. If anything, the limitations of freedom are becoming more homogenous between Europe and the USA. The European Union is encouraging more commercial competition between hitherto national monopolies, and the United States is adopting more of the nanny state policies so common in Europe.


  1. As a doctor, I'm curious as to why you say their medical care is no better. It seems like every week, U.S. physicians are called the most wasteful doctors on the planet, and that the US healthcare system is dogmeat! (Usually by liberals trying to steer us to socialized medicine!)


  2. Keeping in mind that each country approaches health care slightly differently, the common threads are:
    1. Health Care Contributions are very high for people making a healthy income in order to offer inexpensive health care to the poor.
    2. Waiting lists are used to reduce the usage of limited health care resources. Prioritization on the waiting list then becomes dependent on factors like how old you and your dependents are and who you know in the medical establishment. Here treatment is generally quick and based on ability to pay.
    3. Many of the new techniques and treatments come from the United States, where the profit motive encourages their development.
    They may tend to do fewer diagnostic tests in Europe, but I would argue that such an outcome is due to limited resources and a less aggressive anti-medical tort system in Europe.