Does Europe really deserve the reputation so many Americans give it?

Everyone knows there’s no such thing as a perfect government or political system. As soon as humans are involved with anything, there will be problems. Despite that, we all hear and hold a lot of opinions about what style of government is best. But how much do we know about why we believe what we do?

Political opinions are almost always based on theoretical ideas, or perhaps more commonly, on how our parents taught us. But our parents were just as ignorant then, if not more so, than most of us are today. So whether it’s theory or family history, shouldn’t we subject our opinions to some ongoing scrutiny, no matter when we landed on what we believe? 

I mean, how do any of us really know whether steering a country more right or more left is going to be better for most of us? Shouldn’t we all at least try to get on the same page, or at the very least figure out together which page is best instead of just calling each other stupid? Because we do have an excellent (and really only) way to figure all that out, and it’s simply to compare.

As an example, if you want to know what form of government creates the greatest happiness, you can start by looking at the countries who rate highest in happiness, and then review their politics and culture to see how they do it. If you don’t believe happiness is important at all, then you can tell the top three, Finland, Denmark, and Switzerland, to pound sand (the US ranks 18th). But maybe happiness isn’t your thing; there are lots of categories to choose from.

Ultimately, I can’t think of a better way to prove which style of government provides the best results for its people. Theories are great, but they’re just that: theories. Why not look at real-world results?

For instance, we can look at an idea like Communism, both current and historically, and see the results. The basic premise of Communism isn’t such a bad idea, as a theory. I understand why it gained traction. But in the real world when it has been implemented, the result is almost always a populace that’s not particularly happy or even well fed. So I think all but the most hard-headed or misguided of us can agree humanity should toss Communism out the window. I can’t imagine why anyone would champion that cause when there is so much history and evidence that the majority of people suffered under its yoke, despite the promise of its theory.

Most European countries are governed by policies that are a fair ways left of anyplace the United States has ever been. As a result, I see a lot negative information propagated about Europe from within the US. A friend of mine, who we met here in Portugal, is an escapee from communist Czechoslovakia as well as someone who lived in the US for a couple of decades afterward. He wholeheartedly agrees with my assessment that Americans are some of the most propagandized people in the world, with the added detriment than most of them don’t even know it. Propaganda isn’t just a tool of Communist overlords, it comes from a lot of places, and Americans are subjected to an incredible amount of it. As a result, a lot of Americans have been led to believe the “socialist” European countries are genuinely awful places to live mostly because of their left-leaning governance.

Regardless, Europe offers an excellent comparison to the United States. It is the most similar in culture and also has a larger collective population than the US. (Which negates the argument I’ve heard numerous times when I’ve offered up comparisons about any given country vs. America: “Well, they’re a lot smaller, so you can’t compare.” A convenient argument when you realize that the US is the third most populous country in the world. I’m guessing any comparisons to India and China would be similarly met with, “Well, they’re a lot bigger, so you can’t compare.” Okay, you just don’t want to compare. Which I’ll never understand: what else do we have?)

Also, of course, the US was spawned from Europe, most of our closest allies are in Europe (or used to be before the Trump administration), and after living here for three years I can attest that culturally and standard-of-living-wise, it’s the most similar place I can think of to America.

In other words, Japan does a lot of things really well, but it’s a completely different kind of society, and so would be much harder to compare to the US. It’s also difficult to compare many aspects of China, Russia, Africa, the Middle East, etc., because their priorities and style of living are definitely not “western,” like the US and Europe.

So while the US has veered even further right under the current administration, we should be asking for evidence that it’s the direction that will make “America great again.” Europe gives us exactly that.

I came up with a list of categories that I call “Quality of Life metrics.” These are things that a government has some of the greatest responsibility for, and if a country does them well, results in the happiest populace. And I gotta tell you, Europe is kicking America’s butt in virtually every category.

There are countless studies and reports on the internet about each of these; indeed, the rankings from virtually every one of these categories come from different sources, so you can’t scream “Fake news!” because they were all culled from, for instance, CNN. You can do your own research, or I can provide all the links, but just know that I thought of every “Quality of Life metric” that I could, and in every single case the US is lagging behind. Is it a coincidence that America’s politics have been to the right of all these countries for decades? Or is that perhaps the cause? And if you don’t think it’s the cause, what do you think the cause might be?

The interesting thing for me is that after living in Portugal for over three years, and traveling all over Europe during that time, I have seen firsthand how true the data is. I generally reject most anecdotal or empirical arguments on their own because it only reflects 0.0000000132% of the world’s experience (you, divided by the world’s population), which you have to admit is pretty damn tiny. Studies and data, on the other hand, can compare the experience of millions. Still, it’s nice for my wife and I to have firsthand confirmation that this isn’t all just smoke and mirrors in an attempt to try and deceive right-leaning Americans.

So here are the categories. I’m pretty sure each and every one of these issues are important to everyone, and like I said, every study I have seen shows the US lagging behind left-leaning countries in every single one of them.

• Safety

• Crime

• Education

• Infant mortality

• Birth mother mortality

• Longevity

• Income inequality

• Happiness

• Health

• Best places to raise children

• Homelessness

• Pollution

• Health Care

Oh man, I’ve gotta take a pause at health care. It is easily one of the most egregious examples of America’s divergence with the world resulting in horrendous results for millions upon millions of people. I don’t know why the factual statement of: “The citizens of the United States pay the most per person for health care in the entire world, but the quality of health care overall is rated at or near the bottom when compared to all other advanced countries” doesn’t result in street riots to do something about it. Like, for instance, mirroring or learning from those countries where that statement is turned upside down. And if you don’t believe it, I dare you, I double dare you, in fact I beseech you, to prove it to me otherwise.

Again, our experience in comparatively poor Portugal, with its dual public and private health care systems, has also proven this to be true for us personally. Between my wife and I, we’ve had multiple surgeries and other medical issues, and virtually always feel better taken care of than we were in the states, and at a fraction of the cost for everyone involved.

Additionally, US News and World Report recently published a “Quality of Life” study, using its own similar categories. Again, Europe dominates (actually Canada was number one, which means being in North America doesn’t somehow automatically consign you to the backwaters of Quality of Life metrics), followed by Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Australia, etc. The US landed in 15th. Countries 1-14 are are governed to the left of where America is. Coincidence or causation?

Even in regards to freedom, America’s supposed calling card, the US was ranked only 15th in the world by the Cato Institute, and did just as poorly in other studies I’ve seen. So being right-leaning certainly doesn’t offer up any kind of guarantee of even freedom. In fact the top 14 are all to the left of the US.

One can even look at religious freedom, one of the guiding forces behind a lot of conservative political thought in the US. Australia, Norway, Canada, and the Netherlands all rank above America, despite their decidedly left-leaning governments. So you can’t tell me that being liberal destroys religious freedom, it just doesn’t.

Portugal, for instance, is just as religious as the US, and is just as religiously free, but they’ve kept it almost completely out of politics, and the populace is glad of it. And it’s still very free without all the issues that making religion a big public deal creates. Despite the lack of religious overlording, we’ve also found the Portuguese approach to life to be far more “biblical” if you will, than what we generally see in the United States.

To make all of the above even more illuminating, if you were to separate the data by states and countries, the lowest rankings for most of these categories would be absolutely dominated by the “red states.” The US only achieves what comparative status it has by being propped up by blue states.

By the way, I debated with myself for quite a while as to whether to even write the above at all. I know my voice is but a single grain of sand on the beach, and that my opinions are not particularly sought after. I’ve also come to understand the reality that nowadays almost no one changes their mind (something I’ve found to be quite ironic with the amazing amount of information the internet now offers up at our fingertips). But I lament that reality. In fact, as a result some years ago I came up with a “bumper sticker quote” that I wish more people believed: “If you haven’t changed your mind about something significant in the past year, you’re simply not thinking.”

The reason I came up that is because I believe absolutely no human being on the planet, from all the geniuses down to little old you and me, can possibly know more than a fraction of a percent of what goes on in the world, much less the universe. We are all woefully ignorant. As a result, we should all lust after additional information and knowledge with which to double check or refine our thinking. Unfortunately, nowadays many people on every location of the political spectrum only listen to or read information they already agree with. That is the definition of a closed mind, and a closed mind has never proven to be good for anybody, much less the person with one.

In the end, the facts that I love to write, that I have experienced something the vast majority of Americans never have (living in Europe for over three years), and that I have spent a fair amount of time digging up studies, facts, and data on these topics, resulted in what you’re now reading.

So at least I did something, dammit, even if it’s just to add another grain of sand to a very large beach.

How I Lost my Sole in Cochem

IMG_2530Cochem, Germany, is simply one of the most charming towns you’ll find this side of Oz.

Due to our impeccable timing (the beginning of the Coronavirus as well as arriving there late in the day), it offered itself to us as a sleepy little town. In fact, it often seemed as if we were the only tourists in the entire place!

Despite that, I’m guessing even during normal times it’s still a fairly sleepy little town. With only 5,000 inhabitants and nothing more of note than its charm, I don’t think it’s a common tourist destination. Of course, that may be one of the reasons we liked it!

The most exiting thing that happened to us there is that one of my shoes decided to come apart, resulting in half of the bottom of my shoe flapping about every time I took a step. We were walking past a construction site during the sole’s attempted escape, and so I began rummaging through some of the surrounding detritus in the hopes of finding a length of twine or maybe ten wads of chewed gum; anything to hold the shoe together.

A man approached us from within the building that was under construction while I was digging through the garbage, and upon seeing my predicament, kindly offered me some duct tape to help keep me walking.

But after walking another 20 minutes my other shoe, obviously being jealous of all the attention given his twin brother, decided it was going to get into the game and flopped apart in exactly the same way. We were too far from the construction site to ask for another length of tape, but then we spotted a shoe store in town. The manager also kindly helped me by allowing me to use some of her shoe glue.

Drunken Duck

Unfortunately, that didn’t last a terribly long time, so I mostly walked around Cochem like a drunken duck.

It’s sometimes very good to visit places where no one knows you or will ever see you again. That gives you total freedom to walk around like a drunken duck, complete with duct tape wrapped around one shoe! Quack quack!

IMG_2534Cochem Castle dominates the skyline, but it’s not a castle of particular note otherwise. It was long in ruins until 1868 when it was purchased by a businessman for a paltry sum and then reconstructed.

IMG_3282We didn’t get a chance to go inside because of the hour, but that same hour allowed us to grab a photo of its main tower shining in the sun.

IMG_3289But mostly it was the town itself that delighted us, with its narrow cobblestone streets amidst traditional German architecture.

IMG_2516It also has a beautiful river running through it, I mean, is that the definition of picturesque or what?

IMG_2523As you can see, it was packed with tourists. Actually, it could be that they all ran for cover upon seeing a rather large bearded foreigner stomping around like a duck.

IMG_2522Since there isn’t a lot of other news to relate about Cochem other than the views, we’ll just mosey on through the rest of this entry with a series of captionless photos. Enjoy!

IMG_2519IMG_2511IMG_2510IMG_3288IMG_3274So that’s Cochem, Germany. A town we’d never heard of, but one we enjoyed visiting all the same!

Now, trust me when I say that I haven’t given up on writing words, I’m sure to the dismay of many a peruser of this blog (“You use too many words, Dad, just show us the pictures!”), but since Tuntange, Luxembourg is another town we stopped in that really offers nothing of note, historically or otherwise, except for its beauty and a large estate/palace we wandered through for a while, here goes a series of pictures without my bothering you with any more words. That doesn’t happen often with me, so enjoy it while you can!


You don’t get to see an estate like that every day! (Well, unless you live there.)