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Krauthammer’s Amateur Sociology

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Krauthammer’s Amateur Sociology"

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Here’s Charles Krauthammer chatting last night with Bill O’Reilly about why Americans don’t like universal health care:

KRAUTHAMMER: This spirit of being independent and not wanting to be controlled by the government is something that is intrinsic in America. It’s the essence of America. And it’s what distinguishes Americans who are essentially refugees of the old society in Europe. That’s why it’s always been harder to make Americans break to the yoke of government, as happened in Europe.

Look, once you get accustomed to the kind of entitlements you have in Sweden, England, France, elsewhere, it doesn’t get undone. And America is different. It’s resisting the imposition of new yokes. And that’s what’s happening today.

Several observations:

  • Many Americans are not descended from Europeans.
  • Many countries predominantly inhabited by people of European ancestry have universal health care—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, etc.
  • Krauthammer grew up in Canada so surely he noticed both the white people and the health care.
  • Institutions matter! If the US had strong party discipline, a universal health care bill would have passed months, if not decades ago.
  • My ancestors fled Europe more because of the pogroms than because of the Czar’s efforts to expand the welfare state.
  • Krauthammer should consider the possibility that these initiatives don’t get undone because once they’re in place people can see that the opponents’ dire predictions were wrong.

At any rate, there definitely are social and cultural differences between the United States and other countries. But it is always worth looking at the other Anglophone settler-states that generally score very similarly on efforts to assess social values. If you compare the United States to Canada, for example, I think you’ll clearly see that the key difference has to do with Canadian political institutions. The US system just makes it difficult to pass major legislative changes. You can like that or not, but it’s a major source of different outcomes.

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