The Atlantic Divide In Black and White

Relations between Continental Western Europe and the US have never been so strained in recent decades as they are now. Is the cause a short-run disagreement about a specific issue, the war in Iraq? Or is the transatlantic ideological divide deep, pervasive, and unlikely to disappear anytime soon?

Before diplomats and pundits begin to paper over the two sides' differences, it is necessary to reflect on their sources. For we believe that the transatlantic divide does mirror fundamental differences in values--with the immediate caveat that these differences do not, and should not, bring the two sides into conflict.

The profoundly different values that America and Europe hold can best be viewed by examining how each perceives poverty, inequality, and the welfare state. According to the World Value Survey, a respected attitudinal study conducted in about 40 countries, 60% of Americans believe that the poor are "lazy," a view shared by only 26% of Europeans. Nearly the exact opposite proportions (60% of Europeans and 29% of Americans) believe that the poor are trapped in poverty.

Similarly, evidence drawn from surveys about well being indicates that Americans are much less bothered by inequality than Europeans. In fact, even the American poor do not mind inequality, which they see as a social ladder that they can climb. The European poor view inequality as an insurmountable social obstacle.