Tyler Cowen’s attempted characterization of American progressive politics involves at several points basically the claim that American progressives want to make the United States more “like Europe.” There’s clearly an extent to which that’s true, but I do think it should be resisted to some extent. Progressives normally talk about issues where we’d like to see things changed, and some of us like to cite positive examples from abroad to demonstrate that we’re not just making things up, but there are lots of things that we do better in the United States.
So notwithstanding the fact that I think that “like in Europe” taxes should be higher, defense spending lower, and public services more generous, there’s lots to like about the USA. The American treatment of free speech as a much more absolute right comes to mind, as does the greater degree to which our system tends to afford rights to criminal defendants. Many European countries have unduly severe restrictions on when shops can be open. For all the problems with our agricultural policies, they’re better than Europe’s. We treat debtors and bankrupts better. Encouraging a robust civil society through the tax code has a lot of advantages over everything being state- or corporate-run. Probably most important of all, we both handle “diversity” better and have more of it; our greater openness to immigration is enormously significant.
That’s a lot of stuff, to say nothing of the fact that non-policy attributes of the United States, like it being really large, have a lot of good policy-relevant features. It’s relatively easy in this country to just go someplace else and “start over,” we’re not dominated by a single hegemonic city, people aren’t especially under pressure to conform, etc.