Summary of First Thursday discussion, November 6th 2014
We discussed the recent Congressional elections in the USA- how the Republicans had gained control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, hampering President Obama in his final “lame duck” two years. [Though it will be interesting to see how his more recent declaration about immigration works out]. In fact this change of control is common in the US- this year is a “mirror image” of November 2006, when the Democrats gained 31 seats while George W Bush was President.
In both the US and the UK the “right-wing” parties (Republicans and Conservatives) have become more “extreme” in their policies since the 1950s. In the UK the Keynesian Welfare State “consensus” was rejected in the 1970s, and displaced by Thatcherism. Many people thought that the Keynesian principle of government always seeking to create full employment had given too much power to trades unions (the threat of unemployment having been the easiest way to “discipline” a workforce in the past). Democrats in the US are more concerned to use resources for the care and compassion of all the people, while Republicans are more interested in economic efficiency, low taxes and a minimal state. They have also used fear tactics- terrorism and dissatisfaction over low pay and health care- to assert that it is “time for a change”.
In Britain we often saw the USA as “our” superpower in the conflict with the USSR. And in the future possibly with China?? Or is this a foolish and false division of the world? But in the US there is also a wish not to be seen as the world’s “policeman” (just as in the 1920s and 30s there was a strong preference for “isolationism”- keeping out of Europe’s conflicts). Also, however, a sense of the need to “manage” the world’s economy and spread a globalised consumer culture, often identified with “freedom and democracy”.
Do we also see the US as much more strongly “Christian”, compared to the more secularised culture of Europe? In fact church-going has been dropping also in the US, but that trend started far earlier in the UK. In the popular mind of the US there was an identification of secularisation with socialism and atheistic Communism during the “Cold War”. Europe had begun to experience the weaknesses and downsides of capitalism by the late 19th century. Germany (for example) during Bismarck’s Chancellorship (in the 1870s and 1880s) developed welfare for the whole population in order to retain people’s loyalty to the state. Whereas in the US figures such as the Baptist John D Rockefeller, who owned 90% of US oil before Standard Oil was broken up by Anti-Trust (ie anti-monopoly) legislation, and who believed in applying Darwinian (“the survival of the fittest”) ideas in business, but then retired and gave much of his wealth away, was seen as the ideal Christian businessman.
Today an important issue for both the US and Europe is how to respond to migration from the rest of the world. Remittances (money sent home) from migrant workers are a far bigger contribution to solving poverty than Overseas Aid, but this raises fears of competition with local workers, driving wages down. Neither continent has yet found a way to deal rationally with this question.