While I was in the United States, both presidential candidates gave major speeches on June 14 about the economy while campaigning in Ohio. What was striking to me is how both men chose Europe as their cautionary example, even though they were making exactly opposite points.
President Obama called for a growth agenda, led by government investment in training and infrastructure.
In the fall of 2008 a financial crisis plunged the world into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Throughout history it has typically taken countries up to 10 years to recover from financial crises of this magnitude. Today the economies of many European countries still aren’t growing and their unemployment rate averages around 11 percent.
But here in the United States, Americans showed their grit and showed their determination. We acted fast. And our economy started growing again six months after I took office and it has continued to grow for the last three years.
He has warned that too much austerity weakens demand and increases unemployment, creating a downward spiral as seen in Europe. England is what could happen if the Republicans win.
Governor Romney drew the opposite conclusions.
President Obama has us on a path to become more and more like Europe, with bigger and bigger government taking more and more from the American people, directing our lives and telling us how to run our enterprises.
You want four more years of that? You call that forward? That's forward over a cliff. That's forward on the way to Greece.
Romney often draws comparisons to Europe, saying “This President takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe; we look to the cities and small towns of America.”
There is a lot of windmill tilting going on here, both sides selectively using facts to build an imaginary enemy they can slay. And, ironically, Mitt’s policy proposals put him much closer to European austerity programs than Barack’s. This hasn’t gone un-noticed in the press either.
And, after a flirtation with austerity economics, there is a growing consensus in Europe that forcing government cutbacks and free market policies onto weak economies pushes them further into recession. Voters in Europe are also rebelling, turfing out business-oriented leaders in Greece, Italy, France, and the Netherlands.
It’s kind of a laboratory for what might happen along either road, or to either candidate.
So, then as Europe turns towards growth policies, should Obama follow; should Romney flinch?
This is what troubles me:
If you believe we live in an age of abundance, then you should support growth policies.
If you believe we live in an age of limits, you should support austerity.
The simple fact is that both candidates are putting forward policies that directly conflict with their convictions about the times we live in.
Our White House should reflect the best of who we are, not the worst of what Europe has become.
But what becomes of America when policies are all about windmills and not about reality.