Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Power – Europe vs USA

9 November 2016


It doesn’t happen often that I disagree with George Friedman. Usually his arguments make sense. His recent GPF Reality Check on “Brexit Redux” came as a surprise. Perhaps one of his initial comments should have come as an early warning: “For Americans, it is important to understand the European parliamentary system.”

Although this GPF article is primarily on Brexit, it also concludes on the European parliamentary system in his following opinion: “Parliamentary government with small parties and weak coalitions is the worst of all worlds.” Here I disagree. I doubt that any European would prefer the U.S. system given its inefficiency, ineffectiveness and its ability to buy yourself a seat into presidential power.

Power is the key word in my disagreement. In 1887, Lord Acton wrote these famous words: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The essence of absolute Power is that there are winners and losers. The losers will always be discontent and will strive to limit the power of the winners. The winners will strive to undo the achievements of the ones who lost. The U.S. shows the extremes of this attitude (eg, blocking of Supreme Court appointments, the Federal Budget process, the U.S. debt-ceiling crisis). Obviously, what goes around, comes around.

The essence of shared power is that there are more winners and less losers. Sharing power also creates implicit checks and balances. The downsides of sharing power are usually quite clear, like inefficiencies (eg, pleasing) and wasted time (eg, consensus). The upsides of sharing power are more opaque. In my view, it creates a more stable society rather than the dichotomy we see in the UK and USA. Consequently, we also see less inequality and less polarisation. The 2016 UN World Happiness report confirms this view with Denmark at #1, Netherlands at #6, USA at #13 and UK at #23. 

The classic West European view on Power is the power of Consensus (decision-making) with one main exception: the UK. Some people also refer to the Rhineland model versus the Anglo-American model (eg, LI article). This different (power) model also explains why the EU and the UK have never been a “match made in heaven“. In this context, a Brexit made and makes good sense.

The American view on Power is a power of Force. This American force is evidenced by its economic, scientific, and military power and (was??) simultaneously undermined by its continued political deadlock. The USA always needs to walk on a thin line between deterrence and arrogance

The American and European views on Power either temporarily conflict (eg, TTIP) or give permanent synergy (eg, NATO). A NATO without the USA would bring “No Action, Talk Only”, while a NATO without Europe would be more reckless (eg, Iraq war). The European-U.S. collaboration enhances Power and controls Force, which fits Sun Tzu‘s The Art of War (link).

“Do not conquer the world with force, for force only causes resistance. Thorns spring up when an army passes. Years of misery follow a great victory. Do only what needs to be done without using violence.” A quote by the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu.

John Williams – The Force – Star Wars theme – composer, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


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