What happens if we don’t do it?

One of the comments on David Medienkritik discussion about German anti-amercanism claims that it is the result of differences in the willingness to trade risk for reward (attitudes towards personal responsibility).

Perhaps the reason is that Americans are consistently more lucky (see prior post on how to get lucky more often) and that causes resentment. But I don’t even think this luck sufficiently characterizes the picture. We are a country of immigrants desparate to escape from terrible conditions in other countries. It would be hard to say that the early colonists attempting to escape religious wars in europe were optimists or that they are less risk-averse.

Fleeing immigrants are not more optimisti or less risk-averse. Instead, they just view the status quo as more risky. They are just much more likely to ask “what are the risks of doing nothing?” When presented with a proposal for action, they are more likely to ask “What are the risks of not doing it?”

The result is less trust in government and institutions in solving their problems and more trust things will only improve if they take care of it themselves. The debate around the recent Iraq war and the larger issues of post-9/11 basically have this form.

Pro-war people asked “what happens if we don’t do something about Iraq now?” Anti-war people asked “what happens if we do?” Anti-war folks generally trust international institutions to solve problems when they emerge and are willing to allow things to progress much further before overcoming their preference for the status quo. Pro-war people generally don’t trust to get anything done and therefore believe it is more necessary for the US to go it alone and work with a “coalition of the willing.”

The difference is also apparent is the different levels of individual generosity. Americans are much more likely to give individually and to worry less about the risk of free-riders. Europeans are less likely to give individually and worry quite a bit more about free-riders.

Some might say that attitudes toward the environment contradict the above (with Europeans more likely to be green). But, if you look at the actual examples, you’ll see that, even here, the Europeans are much more predisposed towards international institutions and much less predisposed to changing behavior themselves and then exhorting others to do the same.


One Response to What happens if we don’t do it?

  1. alex, are you implying that US citizens enthusiastic about invading iraq are less risk-averse and therefore more lucky? that seems a little psychotic.

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