Ross Mackenzie

In taxation, at least, the regimes of old Europe tend to be more welfaristic, regulationist, and burdensome than those of the new. Austria, for instance, has individual tax rates reaching above 50 percent — not including compulsory taxes for pensions, health care, and churches. Little wonder that numerous former Soviet satellites in central and eastern Europe are moving (as Russia itself has) to various versions of the less punitive and redistributionist flat tax.

Old Europe tends to tell the U.S. what to do (about taxation, welfarism, Islamofascist terror, and foreign policy). New Europe — perhaps more appreciative of America’s role in its own de-satellization — tends to want to learn from us, to take our lead, or even (on e.g. taxation) to show us the way.

Many Americans believe that anything emanating from Europe has to be better than its equivalent of U.S. origin: cars for example, and wines, and tailoring, and movies — even if those flicks look as though they were produced on surplus World War II wingtip film. And European cities, contrary to most of their American counterparts, are said to work.

If they do, that may be because nearly all were built around churches or cathedrals, which in turn generated a sense of community. People moved into old cities and towns of Europe principally for safety, commerce, and the exchange of ideas — and there they got religion. Today Americans are leaving their cities for reasons of safety and the education of their young; less and less do they require cities for commerce and ideas. And establishment churches often are ceasing — failing — to provide communitarian glue.

European cathedrals, now often emptier than American churches (and requiring, in places such as Austria, state support to keep them up) have become museums no less than European palaces — artifacts of a past on display and still deemed important to recall. Maybe the communitarian glue they once applied still holds.

Floating around for two weeks in Europe old and new, it certainly seems so — not least in a service level, a desire to please visitors and customers, rarely seen in the U.S. That hospitality, even with the dollar plunged to record levels against the euro, and even with cattle-car trans-Atlantic air accommodations, still makes Europe a trip.

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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