The American Dream vs. the European Dream

I have discovered an article which includes a comparison between the American Dream and the European Dream, written by Jeremy Rifkin, an expert in the area of Economic Trends. The article has been published by Spiegel Online in July 2005. Rifkin discusses Europe’s current problems and offers solutions for its future.
This newspaper article is of great interest to me, since the author claims that the American dream is more capital-oriented whereas the European dream is more likely to be social- and environmental- oriented. On the one hand, the American society perhaps has a much higher degree of individualism since especially the personal achievement of wealth resulting in individual success is the main goal of the dream. In comparison to that, the Europeans, who tend to be more socially-oriented for the benefits for society instead of isolated individuals, follow a dream which can be identified as the opposite of the dream followed across the Atlantic Ocean.
In reference to the newspaper article, I imply that the American dream, and therefore the American society who lives this dream, can be identified as the neo-classicalists concerning their economy whereas the Europeans may symbolize the ecological economists. It can be stated that there is a great controversy between the two opposites.
It could be argued that the Americans put emphasis on growth, but at the same time, they might not pay the attention necessary to their environment due to the fact that the American economy is generally profit-driven and aiming at sustainable development through continuous growth. In contrast to the U.S. the European Union can be rated as dedicated to their environment since it can be inferred, not only from the news, that they show more concern about environmental issues than the world’s superpower across the Atlantic Ocean.
As a result from the different views of the American versus the European dream, different problems arise which have to be outlined and evaluated separately.


Let’s begin with the U.S. Since the American economy could be compared with the neoclassical view, it can be concluded that they simply rely on the fact that their properly functioning market will react in case of serious environmental problems due to the fact that the market will, when the time has come, indicate the scarceness of resources with a rising cost of these resources, this will on the other hand affect their production methods leading towards a greater efficiency, and so on. So they may say. They forget a simple but very important variable in their model: The environment. Their model is an idealistic economical view which implies that there is no resulting waste. In contrast to that, the American economy tends to neglect the effects of natural degradation. The scarcities of natural resources like clean air, clean water, natural forests, etc., lie outside the market mechanism and therefore are not considered in the model. The Americans may not be aware of the fact that these resources cannot be technologically substituted. A forest can be eroded easily in less than one year but it takes decades to grow it again and there is no technology which can provide the human race with clean air and this is not expected to happen anytime soon. This argument consequently reveals an error in the reasoning of the Americans relying on their properly functioning market. The “everything-has-a-price” view of the neo-classicalists does not work in this case.
On the other hand, the European Union seems to be more aware of the fact that man-made capital will not be able to compensate the degradation of the natural resources. The EU has significantly been showing a fair amount of awareness of the negative influence of economic growth on the natural resources of our planet earth and, therefore, on the environment which is necessary for the human race to survive. The EU may have recognized the fact that the leading people influencing the economy have to be aware of the fact to preserve a stable and healthy environment for the future generations. This is assured by legal regulations. The alert of the importance of the “intergenerational equity” may not have been arisen in the U.S. yet. Jeremy Rifkin gives the example about energy consumption of the U.S. in comparison to the EU. The European Union has 450 million people compared to 280 million Americans but the Europeans use one-third less energy than the U.S. do. It can be concluded from these figures that the European Continent is fairly more dedicated to the efficiency of their use of energy than the Americans are. In Europe, sustainable development implies a sustainable environment for the future generations. In contrast to the Americans, the EU seems to be more aware of the existing responsibility concerning our children and grandchildren. This responsibility affects and includes every country on this planet but unfortunately, there are just a few countries taking this responsibility. Since the European Union pays so much attention to the preservation and protection of the environment, the money, time, and efforts invested in these actions and environmental programs are missing concerning other issues. Especially the rising unemployment rate is creating a concern for the Europeans.
It can be concluded that there is no general solution to the environmental issues but it has to be underlined that these problems will become of major importance in the near future. It would be very helpful if the Americans could also start to think more critically about the (bad) effects of their economy on the global environment. This does not only include the Americans but also those countries that are still lacking of environmental awareness. It cannot be denied that this might cause some problems in other areas but we all have to start thinking about the consequences of our actions, especially concerning the pollution. To start solving this problem, it could begin with the development of a more efficient use of energy, improving production in a way that results in the elimination of waste at the end of the circle. The Business Sector is the most flexible sector and therefore, this change is possible. Although it has to be stated that it takes time and also indicated that this behaviour will imply capital resources and therefore, profits might not be as high during the implementation phase. Finally, we as the countries of this world have take the responsibility for the good of the future generations and we know that our current environmental behaviour will sooner or later cause a big change in the environment which is irreversible. This cannot be ignored and other countries should follow the European example concerning environmental programs since we all sit in the same boat which is planet earth and only if all of the countries go in the same direction concerning environmental issues, the environment we benefit from in this day and age will be preserved for our children and grandchildren.

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2 comments on “The American Dream vs. the European Dream
  1. jeremy says:

    An interesting comparison Sebastian, and thanks for the reference — although the link you gave seems to be broken, you might want to log back in and see if you can fix it up 🙂
    The most stunning point for me was the comparative energy consumption levels!

  2. Daniel says:

    I find this analysis very interesting, and I fully agrre with your opinion, Sebastian.
    Also regarding to your comment to Prem’s entry about the Kyoto Protocol, it is very typical of the US that the American Dream is all about growth of wealth not caring about anything else (like the environment which is relevant in this case).
    My concerns are really emphatic about the fact that unfortunately not only the Americans (and I do not mean that all of them) have an American way of thinking but also many others (as it is an ideal for a lot of people who probably has not even had any real experience about America). This is something we (meaning everyone) have to change somehow.
    And another, but not as serious as the one above, problem is the way of thinking about sustainable development of the majority who live in the developing countries. In which I see the possibility of improvement by education. This is a challenge that is, if we can use such an expression, less unachievable than the previous one.

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