Weak States, Poor Countries
This commentary was originally published in September 2013.
PRINCETON – In Scotland, I was brought up to think of policemen as allies and to ask one for help when I needed it. Imagine my surprise when, as a 19-year-old on my first visit to the United States, I was met by a stream of obscenities from a New York City cop who was directing traffic in Times Square after I asked him for directions to the nearest post office. In my subsequent confusion, I inserted my employer’s urgent documents into a trash bin that, to me, looked a lot like a mailbox.
Europeans tend to feel more positively about their governments than do Americans, for whom the failures and unpopularity of their federal, state, and local politicians are a commonplace. Yet Americans’ various governments collect taxes and, in return, provide services without which they could not easily live their lives.