I believe the United States does need to reform many of its systems and develop more civil discourse. And I think everyone should have access to a good public education and at least a basic level of medical care . . . and a decent job and decent housing and decent everything else, for that matter.
My own grandparents, on my father's side, left the Austra-Hungarian Empire back in the late 1800s. No one knows for sure, but family rumor has it that my grandfather sneaked away just as he was about to be conscripted into an army he wanted no part of. On my mother's side, my ancestors left Ireland, circa 1850, because they had no land, no crops, no job, no prospects -- and they were starving to death.
We Americans feel a collected guilt about slavery and the slave trade. But who were the biggest slave traders? Not the Americans. It was in this order: The Portuguese, then the British, French, Spanish and Dutch.
I remember my first trip to Europe, as a college student in 1969, bumming around with a friend of mine. Yes, the trains were good. Everyone says the trains are good in Europe, and they are right. But the bathrooms were totally antiquated. It was hard to get hot water. And do you know what they used for toilet paper over there? Stiff brown paper that was about the same texture as a paper bag from a grocery store. I really don't know what they use now; but I was back to Europe in the 1980s and again in the 1990s, and the toilet paper wasn't much better.
Okay, you say. But the Berlin Wall came down, and the Europeans are so sophisticated, and socially progressive, and we hear that the education system in Finland is so effective and forward-leaning.
Maybe. But remember, a lot of those countries still have royalty -- kings and queens and princes and such -- including those so-called progressive Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark and Sweden. And as for the socially progressive economies that reward employees with so much vacation time? Some of that is true. But first you have to get a job. The unemployment rate in France is 10%. In Ireland it's 12%. In Italy it's 13%; in Spain it's 24%; and in Greece it's 26%!
As for the educational system in Finland? The population of Finland is 5.4 million people. That's smaller than the state of Wisconsin. Smaller than Maryland or Missouri. How can you compare a system that works for a population of 5.4 million fairly homogenous people with a system that has to process 60 times that many people of all different races, creeds and colors?
There are a lot of things we could do to improve our public education system, starting with more early education and including longer school days, longer school years, and more emphasis on academics and less emphasis on sports.
But the idea that we can look to Europe as a model is ridiculous. I'm not saying Europe is bad; I'm saying it is no better than the U.S., and for all its social programs, it is in many ways a backward, conservative place, full of people who are every bit as self-interested and self-centered as we are.
Europe is a great place to visit. Lots of museums and tourist spots. But I wouldn't want to live there. And I certainly wouldn't recommend using Europe as a model on which to build our own political, educational or social system.