Pew Report: 5 Differences Between Americans and Europeans

Yes, Americans and Europeans share a commitment to democratic principles, but differences between Americans and Europeans are notable when it comes to personal liberty and the individual’s role in achieving one’s own success.

And while historically, American sensibilities about the role of government, individualism, and freedom can be drawn from some of the great European thinkers of the past centuries, a recent Pew poll of several nations found that Americans have a much greater affinity for religious worship, freedom of expression, and self-determination.

Pew reached five conclusions from its polling, including that

— “Americans are more likely to believe they control their own destiny,” and

— “Americans tend to prioritize individual liberty, while Europeans tend to value the role of the state to ensure no one in society is in need.”

Read more about the five ways Americans and Europeans are different.


Changing the Conversation on Criminal Justice

A Democratic administration, a major university’s criminal justice center, and a free-enterprise-focused think tank came together this week to discuss mass incarceration. This event might seem a little unusual since this kind of diverse collaboration is not exactly commonplace in Washington, DC.

But collaboration and open discussion are possible across the political spectrum, and it’s important to engage in good-faith dialogue and debate with colleagues of all views on crucial subjects.

White House policymakers, American Enterprise Institute scholars, and The Brennan Center’s experts hold a wide range of views on the substance of criminal justice reform during National Reentry Week. They share a passionate desire to build a system that more effectively serves both the human dignity and human potential of vulnerable people.

And let’s be honest — few subjects in American life are so clearly misaligned with these twin moral goals as the status quo in criminal justice.

Data show that only about one-third of incarcerated Americans get to participate in any educational, vocational, or pre-release programs while behind bars. One professor who studies our prison population estimates that roughly half of all people in prison are functionally illiterate. And partially as a result of these factors, about two-thirds of all parolees wind up back in prison within three years of their release.

To be sure, excessive spending and economic inefficiency are serious consequences of this inefficient system. But the heaviest costs that America bears for this human capital tragedy are not material. They are moral.

When we talk about a person who comes out of prison barely able to read and utterly unprepared for citizenship, we are talking about a person stripped of his basic dignity. When we see a person who is asked to re-enter productive society but has no plausible job prospects, we are looking at someone whose human potential has been badly stunted.

Through action and inaction alike, our society has effectively decided that there are millions of our brothers and sisters, the incarcerated and the formerly incarcerated, whom we simply do not need. At worst, we view them as human liabilities we must coexist with and manage at minimal cost; at best, as people we can tolerate and try to help. But as dormant assets to be enlivened and empowered? Hardly ever.

If we committed ourselves and our society to the moral principle that we need to need everyone, how would criminal justice policy change? Fascinating work on this topic already speaks for itself, and in the year ahead, expect to see more research on inmate education and reentry.

For conservatives and Washington-based Republicans, the mass awakening to the cause of criminal justice reform is a prominent, recent example of ideological-category scrambling that would have been difficult to imagine a decade ago.

For progressives and the Democratic Party, another side of that coin is education reform.

“Predictably, [charter schools] are turning out to be neither a total panacea nor an awful failure. Their successes depend hugely on leadership. So some have done poorly and others have saved kids from failing in traditional schools.

As a general matter, though, charters are really promising. A nationwide study published last year by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that kids in urban charters gained 72 more days of learning per year in reading than in traditional schools, and 101 days in math. Here in Washington, D.C., we have an excellent schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson, who has really gone to bat for charters.
And even though D.C. charters serve poorer kids and more minorities than traditional schools, they’re yielding faster improvement and better results.”
These findings and others paint a picture that is nuanced but still clear. As my AEI colleague Rick Hess explains after an exhaustive review of the research: “For poor parents trapped in dangerous and underperforming urban school systems, it is pretty clear that school choice works.”
So far, the political left has been sluggish to react to this emergent scholarly consensus. But politicians who choose the interests of organized labor over the common-sense recommendations of school choice advocates simply make the wrong choice. And while neither Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders have spoken up yet for the sorts of bold solutions that would really help vulnerable children build their human capital, an immense political opportunity remains within their reach.
Whoever ends up the Democratic nominee, they should deliberately try to re-create former President Clinton’s famous “Sister Souljah” moment by taking on a corner of their own constituency (here, the entrenched education interests that are happy to freeze the status quo in place). It would simultaneously make a bold moral statement and inject some appealing unpredictability into his or her political image.