We say that the left has won in the US, forgetting that even the most leftwing of the US left is more right than the most rightwing of the Czech right.
Just place Barack Obama’s programme next to the “tough” economic programme of our most rightwing party, and Czech onlookers will surely suffer from vertigo. This needs to be said before we launch into the heated discussion of the American left. The truth is that the US and European systems are hard to compare, but let’s try it anyway. Maybe it will help us understand the changes that await us now.
Let us start with taxes. The Czech tax burden is 8.5% higher than the US one. The US state gets 28.2% of the GDP in taxes while the Czech Republic gets 36.7%. People in the US thus work for the state for 102 days while in the Czech Republic it is one month more.
But the comparison is not this simple. Firstly, the fact that in Europe the holidays are almost one month longer shakes it up a little.
Secondly, the statistics do not compare identical values. Let us take health insurance, for example. Here it is taxed while in the States it is not. Average health insurance for an adult American costs almost USD 400 a month which is some 13% of an average income. Coincidentally, it is almost identical to what we pay here (the obligatory 13.5% of the gross income).
This amount is not included in the tax in proportion to the GDP. Therefore, in the end, an American pays on average a similar amount of money for health insurance as a Czech but, since he has the freedom of choice as to with which insurance (and whether at all!) he will register, the payment is not included in the tax burden.
The situation is similar with expenses for education, transport (public transport expenses are much lower in the US and more Americans use cars) or pensions. All in all, US taxes are lower, but the Americans also get much less in return.
It could all be likened to a package tour. The European ones are all-inclusive – you pay and the state chooses the same menu for everyone, decides where to go for entertainment and books a bus for 7am. There are no further expenses but also not much freedom. In the US it is more like an individual trip – you choose your own food and programme. Both options have their advantages and we are used to different things.
In America locals clean their public parks as part of their Saturday walk, while here the state takes care of it. Another logical step to our higher taxes. Many benches in American parks have a metal plaque with the name of its donor. This does not even cross our minds, and we wait on the spot for the state to do it for us. It is simply a different culture.
Will Obama’s economic, reform or international politics be radically different? It will not. It will probably be – in all of the above mentioned directions – more European, more communicative. But in any way, it will remain more rightwing than the most right European proposals are.
In politics – and it is also probably the sad lesson we learnt in our recent elections – communication contributes to the success by a much greater rate than actions.
Barack Obama considers offering governmental positions to his opponents. For us, coming from a country where politics means a tug-of-war of power and force, this is something unheard of. Here we do not even invite the experts, let alone opposition representatives when deciding on cabinet reforms affecting all of us.
And finally, even the last moves of the Bush administration helping the finance sector can serve as proof of the US rightwing government exhausting all the traditional leftwing government’s instructions. So why pretend to be textbook heroes? The United States is showing us that party politics has to be governed by the interests of the state and not the other way round.