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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press U.S. -European Differences on Freedom v. Security May Reflect Differences in Understanding

U.S. -European Differences on Freedom v. Security May Reflect Differences in Understanding

Monday, 23 September 2013 04:20

Robert Samuelson used his column to tell readers that people in the United States really are different than in other countries. Samuelson wrote:

"One standard question asks respondents to judge which is more important — 'freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference' or 'state guarantees [that] nobody is in need.' By a 58 percent to 35 percent margin, Americans favored freedom over security, reported a 2011 Pew survey. In Europe, opinion was the opposite. Germans valued protections over freedom 62 percent to 36 percent. The results were similar for France, Britain and Spain."

There are many people in the United States who do not recognize that Medicare is a government program. (Hence the frequent demand from Tea Party conservatives that the government keeps its hands off their Medicare.) It is likely they believe the same about Social Security. These people may highly value the security provided by these programs while at the same time denigrating the importance of state guarantees because they don't recognize the connection of these programs to the state.

Insofar as this is the case, the difference in polling on this question may reflect differences in knowledge rather than differences in values.

Comments (18)Add Comment
Ask the Wrong Question ...
written by Last Mover, September 23, 2013 5:43
"One standard question asks respondents to judge which is more important — 'freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference' or 'state guarantees [that] nobody is in need.'

Another survey loaded with leading questions that should insult the intelligence of ... even Robert Samuelson.

"... freedom to pursue life's goals without state interference ..." ? posed as an either-or question about guarantees by the state to not be in need?

What's next from Robert Samuelson, a column about how the First Amendment and the Second Amendment has nothing to do with the state granting or restricting freedoms to life's goals? As if these two amendments alone were repealed, the rights granted under them would somehow spontaneously emerge in the absence of government jurisdiction over the subject matter in question?

It perpetuates the single biggest lie in America spread by MSM, the same one Dean Baker debunks daily. It's not about government restricting freedom and providing guarantees versus no government at all that allows freedom with no guarantees.

It's about living under government law rather than outright anarchy. The government gives and the government takes away according to those laws. Everytime this happens some gain freedom and some go into need for lack of that freedom. It really is a zero sum game in many cases.

Get over it Robert Samuelson. Feel free to abuse the First Amendment. The government guarantees it as something obviously needed by the one percent to survive.

If there was no government Samuelson's column would die a natural death under the freedom of mob rule by anarchy to satisfy their need ... to not be in need.
Telephone poll
written by bakho, September 23, 2013 6:30
They used a telephone poll which skews the sample. Many households have no telephone only a mobile device.

People are slow to recognize that even roads and streets are provided by government. Demagogues have made outrageous claims for years that are so far off base, there has been too little push back to refute them. People need a better idea of what government does. One thing people do recognize is that the politicians have been captured by wealthy special interests and a lot of what government does favors the wealthy. This is not a problem with government, but a problem with who runs it. Until people understand that government is We the People and We the People get to make the economic rules, the Malefactors of Great Wealth will continue to tilt the rules in their favor.
written by AlanInAZ, September 23, 2013 8:16
I must second Dean's point about ignorance of government programs. I met a woman with an elderly husband who required in-house care that was provided by the Arizona AHCCCS program (pronounced access, Arizona's medicaid agency). She was fervently anti-government and totally unaware that ACCESS was medicaid, a welfare program funded by the government.
PEEYoo Pew! That poll stinks!
written by watermelonpunch, September 23, 2013 9:12
the difference in polling on this question may reflect differences in knowledge rather than differences in values

Spot on!

This cannot be emphasized enough!!!!

I have "anecdotal" reasons for believing this is absolutely the case.
But then, you know, I'm an ordinary person who talks to other ordinary people in other parts of the world!


All it takes is having some conversations on policy & public services with regular people in US & in Europe.
With the internet, this is entirely within reach of everyone.

I seem to know more about what Europeans are thinking and are knowledgeable about, just by playing online video games with them! These are ordinary people I talk to, and read their opinions on the general discussion area of a gaming forum!

Seems to give me a far more nuanced view than a rigged questionnaire does for Samuelson.

Shouldn't polling be free of words with heavy political emotional connotations like "interference"?

Shame on Pew!

PEEYOO!!! It stinks!
written by liberal, September 23, 2013 2:03
"One standard question asks respondents to judge which is more important — 'freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference' or 'state guarantees [that] nobody is in need.'

What a crock. Without state interference, there's no such thing as property.
written by liberal, September 23, 2013 2:17
bakho wrote,
People are slow to recognize that even roads and streets are provided by government.

Against stupidity/The gods themselves/content in vain.
written by Fred Brack, September 23, 2013 6:21
Ask poor villagers in, say, India whether they desire lifetime guarantees of sufficient food not to be hungry at any time, sanitary water supplies, sufficiently roomy shelter to always be comfortable and protected against weather, health care in time of need, and education for their children. And then ask them whether they would forgo these guarantees for the "freedom" to pursue their life's goals.

Unanimously, I suspect, each villager would answer: What could possibly be my life's goals other than these benefits (food, water, shelter, health care, education) you say would be guaranteed? I don't understand the question.

Only because a large majority of Americans -- but not all -- are guaranteed basic human needs can this question be posed. For those Americans lacking one or more of those needs, their life goal undoubtedly is to secure it/them.

Europeans may also be better students of History and know what "freedom from state interference" actually means
written by Perplexed, September 23, 2013 9:30
-"freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference"

This is the foundation of the "Anarchists Movement." We have renamed it here on the island to hide the origins. The Americanized version is called Libertarianism but many Europeans actually study history and might well know that Anarchism and Democracy cannot coexist; its a paradox, and they choose Democracy over Anarchism. Most Americans are virtually clueless about the differences and somehow believe its possible to govern & not govern simultaneously. It would indeed be a first if it ever worked. http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/...nt-1565499

The "freedom" they're talking about is freedom from you, the majority, governing them. Freedom is just a catch-all so everyone can have a conversation using their own definitions while no-one really knows what's really being said by the other participants. We can all agree on "loving freedom" without ever realizing what's actually be said, proposed, and accomplished.

Bakunin laid it all out before Ayn Rand was even born; its not even very long, but Americans are so insular they refuse to even read it so they can maintain their illusion and continue to believe that it was "invented" here. http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Ana...eless.html

No need to look at anything prior to the transistor since its made us all so "intelligent." How does a ruse like this go on for so long?

Loser liberalism at its finest. Everyone runs when the Anarchists shout "socialist" even though the definition doesn't fit, but they can't even identify an Anarchist when they're standing right in front of them shouting "socialist" whenever they try to govern democratically.
When the data contradicts theory it must be dispensed with
written by Capt. J Parker, September 23, 2013 10:21
Oh please, "Those opposing my worldview are simply ignorant of the facts." Great argument. At least Baker didn't resort to "The poll is rigged because it tells me something I don't want to hear" angle like many of the commenters. The "hands off Medicare" cries are a response to the plan to fund PPACA by cutting Medicare and Baker knows that. Let's imagine the government is rationing your daily bread and then plans to change the rationing scheme but tells you it doesn't really know how everything is going to work out. Some will get more, some will get less. Then you tell a pollster you'ld rather not have bread rationing. That makes you ignorant of the "vital role" government plays in bread allocation. Fascinating.
written by watermelonpunch, September 23, 2013 11:36
The poll wasn't about specific policies in the U.S. It was about governance in general.

Perhaps Dean Baker was wrong, in that it's not a lack of understanding, but a lack of ability to think broadly, and a refusal to think critically.

@ Capt. J Pants-on-Fire : Is it a good use of your time to come here & repeat myths and out of context misinformation?
Collective perception result of mass media
written by Lencho Patasplanas, September 24, 2013 4:13
US citizens are constantly bombarded by everything (from politicians, to news media, to movies, even cartoons) with the message: "Freedom is most important". This doesn't happen in Europe, where values like 'collective security' and 'solidarity' used to be promulgated. Therefore, the result of the poll.

Power groups that control most of the [monetary] wealth in the world use the concept of 'freedom' to construct the framework so they can systematically take from the less powerful, and concentrate their power. This is what they use mass media + the politicians for.

Here in Europe, things are changing. The concepts now promulgated by mass media are individualism, inviability of the welfare state and fear, which are slowly having the same effect as in the US: the majority of people are becoming afraid and believe setting up this framework that will strip them of hard-gained rights is OK.

Such a lovely organization of society the caucasian white male has come up with!
Social Security and Medicare Are Not Welfare
written by jerseycityjoan, September 24, 2013 8:47
The level of ignorance about Social Security and Medicare may be high, but I think most people do realize they are government programs.

What they don't realize is to what extent their contributions (and their employers' contributions for Social Security), premiums, copays, etc. fall far short of covering the total amount of benefits received by most elderly.

There was some study a few years ago that pointed out that a couple who lives an average lifespan and who both made good money during their working lives still ended up receiving a couple of hundred thousand more in Medicare benefits than they paid for, courtesy of the taxpayer.

I know I was shocked by that.

Nobody makes a big effort to make it clear how much today's taxpayers are contributing to today's Medicare recipients bills.

People really cling to the idea that these are entitlements that were paid for and are not any kind of welfare. They also believe there is no reason for the government to cut anything because they paid for what they receive.
written by AlanInAZ, September 24, 2013 9:26
receiving a couple of hundred thousand more in Medicare benefits than they paid for, courtesy of the taxpayer.


I am now on Medicare, however, my employer and I contributed to private insurance my entire working career as well as paid into Medicare. My health care bills during my working years were small and received benefits were far less than insurance and Medicare payments. If I total a lifetime of insurance and Medicare payments (and include opportunity costs) then the total will likely be less than my lifetime benefits. I believe it is misleading to say that Medicare is welfare for the aged.
What Does Workplace Insurance Have to Do With Medicare?
written by jerseycityjoan, September 24, 2013 9:17
I am trying to see what your healthcare costs before you went on Medicare have to with your Medicare benefits.

I am just not seeing it.

Your lifetime payments (along with whatever anybody else paid, such as an employer) into healthcare insurance are lifetime payments.

We are talking about Medicare.

And it is not me who is saying that people, on average, receive far more in Medicare benefits than any of their contributions or their employers'.

There was a recent blog post at another economic blog that spoke about this. It included a quote that said:

"One reason that many Americans believe Medicare does not contribute to the deficit is that the majority thinks Medicare recipients pay or have prepaid the cost of their health care. Medicare beneficiaries on average pay about $1 for every $3 in benefits they receive…"


Alan, I am also curious about how feel you know today what your ultimate Medicare spending. That you've been relatively healthy so far is a blessing and I am very happy for you.

But, sadly, we know that prior good health does not guarantee continued good health and low spending.
written by urban legend, September 24, 2013 11:59
jerseycityjoan, you are confused about Social Security. Social Security benefits are paid entirely out of the FICA taxes collected from employees and employers. Indeed, since 1983, those taxes have been in excess of what has been needed for current benefits in anticipation of increased retirements and lifespans of the baby boom generation. That's the accumulated surplus Social Security Trust Fund, which, eventually, as planned, be used up and we will be back to a pay-as-you-go system.
No; General Revenues Pay for a Large Portion of Medicare
written by jerseycityjoan, September 25, 2013 3:33
What you say is correct, as far as I know, about Social Security.

But it simply isn't true about Medicare.

It is not 100% financed by employee and employer contributions, premiums, etc.

Here's something from the Peterson Foundation:

"One of the biggest misconceptions about Medicare is that it is self-financed — through current beneficiaries' premiums and future beneficiaries’ payroll taxes. In truth, the program is heavily subsidized with general revenues. Premiums cover only a small fraction of Medicare's overall costs, while payroll taxes cover less than half of its costs. General revenues currently cover more than 40 percent of the cost of the program.

Medicare financing has changed significantly over the past 40 years. In 1970, 60 percent of its costs were financed by payroll taxes. Premiums paid by beneficiaries paid for an additional 13 percent of Medicare's overall costs. In total, payroll taxes and premiums covered about 75 percent of Medicare's costs in 1970. General revenues funded the remaining 25 percent.

Medicare has several sources of financing. Over time, the contribution from general revenues has increased and is projected to grow larger."

Another Link; Also, Medicare Costs Expected to Double by 2023
written by jerseycityjoan, September 25, 2013 3:41
This link is to a relatively short page that's packed with information that includes some interesting details. It says Part B (Doctors, etc.) and Part D (drugs) are more than 70% funded by general revenue.

It also notes that:

"Total Medicare spending is projected to nearly double from $592 billion in 2013 to $1.1 trillion in 2023 due to growth in the Medicare population and sustained increases in health care costs (CBO, February 2013)."


written by AlanInAZ, September 25, 2013 10:07

I know that Medicare draws from general funds however I do not consider Medicare a form of welfare. I have subsidized the very sick and emergency room treatment of the uninsured for the 40 years I paid into private insurance as well as Medicare. Over those forty years I and my employers have paid hundreds of thousands toward health care insurance that becomes a staggering number when you add opportunity costs. During my forty working years I was subsidizing others and now there is a chance that others will be subsidizing me, however, fifty percent of health care spending goes to 5% of the population so I think the odds of breaking even over my lifetime is small. Today I think it is unfair to ask seniors to start bearing the full brunt of uncontrolled health care costs at the end of their working life. Pete Peterson should have been doing more to enhance cost competition in the health care industry rather than dumping on seniors.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.