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Is Europe's welfare system a model for the 21st century? - International Herald Tribune

DAVOS, Switzerland: Along with skiing and partying into the night, Europe-bashing has long been a favorite sport, whenever the world's business and political elite gather here for their once-a-year winter schmoozefest.

But this year many of the critics have fallen conspicuously silent. As top executives, government leaders and a wide range of experts gathered Tuesday for the weeklong World Economic Forum to talk about the challenges facing the battered global economy, the question many were asking was this: Could Europe's much-reviled social welfare system actually end up being the model for the 21st century world?

In the United States, the global stock market rout has wiped out trillions of dollars in retirement savings and rising unemployment is leaving more people without health insurance. In response, officials of the new administration of President Barack Obama have been busy studying the Swedish bank bailout of the 1990s and the Swiss and Dutch health care systems and have been quietly contemplating whether Europe's high fuel taxes and carbon trading system are the right way to limit the burning of fossil fuels that contributes to global warming.

In China, where the demise of the American consumer has exposed the perils of excessive savings at home, the government has not only recently proffered a big Keynesian-style stimulus program but has also just announced a three-year plan to provide universal health care. Though modest by comparison, China's health care plan goes in the direction of what has long been considered a fundamental right in Europe.

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 27th, 2009 at 04:21:31 PM EST
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