Ben Shapiro’s Weird Rant Against Europe
I have very little sympathy for the hate-America left, but perhaps journalist Ben Shapiro represents the other extreme. In a (relatively) recent episode of “The Ben Shapiro Show”, he went on a tirade against Europe which took me aback by its sheer vitriol. Now, this is not meant to be some in-depth debunking or to assert that Europe has nothing to learn from the USA, but given that human civilisation spans the globe, I think I can present some facts that will at least make one question why Mr. Shapiro chose to spit so much hatred and ire at Europe in particular. He did mention David Harsanyi’s new book “Eurotrash” in that monologue, so maybe the reason is that he had read that work shortly prior and was still very much under its influence.
Let’s start with what Mr. Shapiro said in the episode:
Let me just tell you something: I don’t care whether the Europeans see us as a leader. We are the leaders and they’re just gonna have to deal with it. And the fact is that Europe is a dying continent. […] If we wish to follow Europe down the primrose path, we can, but to pretend that we are subject to the moral whim of a continent responsible for two world wars[ and] a lack of growth, a spineless embrace of an enervated future, like — what makes us subject to the Europeans?
This was spoken in response to the suggestion that Joe Biden should demonstrate leadership at the COP26 climate conference. The most obvious thing to point out here is that, of course, Europeans were not the only ones outside of the USA to partake in the conference.
As well, it should be obvious that the USA cannot afford to take European acceptance of its leadership for granted. Admittedly, it is true that Europeans tend to want to work together with the USA: a poll of people in 12 EU countries in 2021 showed that 21% of respondents viewed the USA as “an ally” and 44% saw them as “a necessary partner”. That’s a combined figure of 65%, versus 42% for Russia and 40% for China. On the other hand, a 2021 policy brief by the European Council on Foreign Relations opines: “although Europeans feel much closer to the US than to China — and in most countries closer to the US than Russia (with the only exception being Bulgaria) — they do not see the growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing as their war”, which is a bit of a dark lining on that silver cloud. Transatlantic relations in general have soured in recent history. In any case, the Europeans still seem to think quite highly of their American counterparts, so Mr. Shapiro’s tough-guy posturing seems uncalled-for.
As for “two world wars”, it hardly seems quite fair to compare America favourably to Europe on that basis. Certainly, these wars were avoidable to an extent, but the first one especially seems to have been in large part due to European geography, wherein militarily potent states competed for power. Naturally, the USA could never become embroiled in a war of a similar kind, simply because neither one of their neighbours could pose a serious threat to them. No threat, no security dilemma.
I will come back to growth in a moment, but as for “a spineless embrace of an enervated future”, American conservatives like Mr. Shapiro like to point out that, despite being touted as examples of successful socialism, the Nordic countries have a fairly high level of economic freedom. Indeed, according to the Heritage Foundation’s 2021 Index of Economic Freedom, Finland and Denmark rank higher than the USA, and Sweden ranks just one place below the USA. Regarding the negotiations in preparation for TTIP, John Peterson writes:
Almost every case where European regulation was stricter — based on the ‘precautionary principle’ used (say) to justify bans of food made with genetically modified organisms — could be countered by cases where US standards turned out to be higher than European ones. The EU Trade Commissioner when TTIP was launched, Karel De Gucht, repeatedly pointed out that US consumers who were harmed by a product they had purchased were likely to be awarded much higher damages than European ones and that many US air and water quality standards were stricter than their European counterparts. In fact, the precautionary principle often was embraced in practice more on the US than EU side, leading to stricter US regulation of financial services, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics (pp.388–389).
The remark that Europe “is a dying continent” also seems a touch odd considering that, in the same episode, Mr. Shapiro laments low birthrates across the entire West, and cites a number of birthrates which show that those of some European countries are lower than the USA’s, whereas those of others are higher.
Mr. Shapiro continues:
They’ve been hanging on our coattails for well over a century at this point. [T]he United States […] is the basis for all global growth in the economy.
The “hanging on our coattails” charge is too vague to refute properly. I assume he is referring to his point about the USA’s contribution to global economic growth, as well as to the military support the USA have provided to Europe. It all looks a tad ironic considering that any tally of historical indebtedness between the USA and Europe would have to consider that the former would not even exist without the latter.
The point about military assistance is a strong one, but let me add two caveats. Firstly, Zbigniew Brzezinski argues in “The Grand Chessboard” that the Western side of the Cold War was actually placed at an advantage because the European states were so much smaller and weaker than their American senior partner. The fact that China was almost in the same league as the Soviet Union increased disunity in the communist camp. Secondly, Mr. Shapiro probably had in mind, among other things, European states’ failure to contribute their fair share of funds to NATO. As to this, the experience that Donald Trump was able to get them to up their spending by adopting a harder line on this issue shows that they were only spending so little to begin with because the USA were letting them get away with it. That is how it goes in international politics. It is a harsh world.
The contention that the USA “is the basis for all global growth in the economy” is false as far as I can tell. In a 2018 article, economist Javier García Arenas writes:
[U]sing data from the manufacturing PMI, we studied which countries have made the biggest contribution to global growth since 2015. We identified that the main driver behind the global economy in the last three years has been the US, with a weighting of 23%. It was followed by the economy of the euro area, with a weighting of 16.5%, and by the Chinese economy, with a weighting of 13.5%.
So yes, the USA have been the foremost driver of global economic growth, but the EU looks pretty decent in the international comparison (note that the euro area does not even encompass the whole EU). These data do not convey the appearance that the two players are in different leagues.
Beyond that, we can look at growth in terms of technological progress. After all, according to Zia Qureshi,
Productivity is the main long-term propeller of economic growth[ and t]echnology-enabled innovation is the major spur to productivity growth.
According to a 2020 index of the most innovative economies by Bloomberg, Germany has the world’s most innovative economy, with Switzerland (not an EU state), Sweden, Finland, and Denmark all beating the USA, which ranked ninth. By my count, thirteen of the top twenty states were European (including Switzerland, Norway, and the UK).
The World Intellectual Property Organization’s “World Intellectual Property Indicators 2020” report states (p.30) that in 2019, Europe (as a region) accounted for 16% of patent grants worldwide, 8,6% of which went to resident applicants. That may sound pretty lousy, but the USA don’t look to be doing astronomically better, either. North America as a whole accounted for 25,1% of patent grants, 11,3% of which went to resident applicants. Both regions were dwarfed by Asia, with its share of 55,3% of the world’s total and 40,6% thereof going to resident applicants. Again, it looks like the USA is doing better than the EU, but hardly so much better as to make Ben Shapiro’s tirade seem justified, especially when one considers the comparatively abysmal showing of Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. Again, Germany actually looks better than the USA, being ahead in terms of applications per unit of GDP and of “resident applications per million population” (p.16) — and a higher proportion of applications was actually granted in Germany than in the USA (p.21). The report also noted that (although vastly outperformed by South Korea, China, and Japan) “European origins occupy six of the top 10 spots for resident patent applications per unit of GDP” (p.17).
The OECD’s Regpat project has produced handy colour-coded maps that show the “Number of patent applications filed under the PCT [i.e., the Patent Cooperation Treaty] per million population” (p.25 & p.26). I didn’t find the actual numbers, but just visually, it looks like Germany and, to a lesser extent, Britain and the Nordic countries are approximately in the same ballpark as the USA.
Moreover, this juxtaposition exposes a major problem of comparing the USA to Europe, namely the fact that Europe is not a monolith, but rather composed of numerous countries with different levels of economic and technological growth and advancement.
Again, this was not intended as some sophisticated study (as evidenced by my minimal effort to distinguish between the EU and “Europe”, however Mr. Shapiro would define it), but rather as something of a “sanity test” for Mr. Shapiro’s wacky claims. While I generally respect the man, moments like this one allow me to understand many people’s distaste for him.