Dishonoring America's Promise of Religious Freedom

By Kenneth Jost

". . . but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” - U.S. Constitution, Art. VI, cl. 3

The Framers could hardly have been clearer, but political history has made short shrift of their effort to create what in 21st-century parlance would be called a non-sectarian state. Over more than two centuries now, every president of the United States has been a Christian _ and as a practical matter required to profess as much.

Still, nothing in American history provides a precedent for the extraordinary episode over the past weekend [Aug. 28-29] in which a radio and television commentator with no known theological training went on national television to depict the sitting president as a bad Christian. For that is what Americans who did not spend Sunday morning in church got if they watched and listened to Glenn Beck attack President Obama for what Beck called the president’s devotion to “liberation theology.”

In Beck’s telling (on “Fox News Sunday,” under relatively friendly questioning from his fellow Fox-man, Chris Wallace), Obama is wrong about how to achieve salvation. Beck says that instead of seeing salvation as requiring an individual relationship with God, the president views salvation through the collectivist lens of “liberation theology.”

“You see, it's all about victims and victimhood; oppressors and the oppressed; reparations, not repentance; collectivism, not individual salvation,” Beck said. “I don't know what that is, other than it's not Muslim, it's not Christian. It's a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it.”

Perversely, Beck’s critique of Obama’s supposed religious views came by way of an apology for his previous description of Obama as a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred of white culture.” So, now, instead of seeking to estrange Obama from his followers on the unacceptable basis of race, Beck chooses religion instead. And he did so in the context of the widely shared view among Republicans and conservatives that Obama is actually a Muslim.

Beck’s religion-based attack came one day after he presided over his self-styled “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington, which drew an impressive if not overwhelming crowd stretching from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. The three hours of speeches were largely clear of political divisiveness, but in their overt Christianity _ to the exclusion of other faiths _ they carried the taint of sectarianism.

It is worth recalling that for 170 years, it was a recognized fact of political life that the president must also be a Protestant: no Catholics need apply. John F. Kennedy broke that barrier, but only after satisfying a “religious test” that he would not take his Catholicism into the Oval Office when making political decisions.

The country today is more religiously pluralistic and in some ways more religiously tolerant than ever before. Joe Lieberman’s religion was of course remarked when Al Gore selected him as the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000 and the first Jew ever to run on a national ticket of a major party. But Lieberman’s religion never amounted to an issue in the campaign.

The country’s religious pluralism definitely has its limits. Could a Jew be elected president today _ or in your lifetime? The odds are no better than 50-50. Can a Muslim be elected to Congress without controversy? No, as Rep. Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Democrat, learned when he took the oath by swearing on a Koran instead of the Christian Bible.

And one need go no further than the pages of the week’s newspapers to know that religious divisiveness is spiking these days. Exhibit No. 1: the debate over the proposed Islamic center to be built in lower Manhattan, a few blocks from “Ground Zero.” Even if one grants the particular sensitivities of some Americans to siting a mosque _ one of the planned uses of the center _ so near to the epicenter of the Sept. 11 attacks, there is also exhibit No. 2: the apparent torching of construction equipment at the site of a planned mosque in Murfreesboro, a town in Tennessee hundreds of miles from New York City.

Beck’s understanding of “restoring honor” to America had no room for an appeal for tolerance for those who do not share his Christian faith, no room for denouncing the acts of intolerance and even violence against Muslim Americans. As a Mormon, Beck should know better. Mormons themselves were and still are depicted as un-Christian by many Christians, who see them as worshiping a false savior other than Jesus.

Beck’s rally was at the same site, and on the same date, as the historic “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” in 1963. Among the great anthems of the civil rights movement was “We Shall Overcome” with one of its refrains celebrating “black and white together.” On the dais that day, and in the audience, Christians and Jews were conspicuously united in a cause truly dedicated to “restoring honor” in the United States.

Sadly, Beck’s rally did not appeal to that unifying sentiment. There would have been honor indeed had he done so, but little real honor in its absence.

Are strikes by unmanned aircraft ethical?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher report on "Drone Warfare" by Thomas J. Billitteri, August 6, 2010.

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid ranked high on the roster of global terrorists. He was jailed in connection with the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, thought to have managed finances for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and, as the No. 3 official in Al Qaeda, was widely viewed as a prime conduit to Osama bin Laden. [Footnote 1]

Yazid's life apparently came to an end in May when a missile from a CIA drone aircraft hit him in the lawless tribal region of western Pakistan. Al Qaeda claimed Yazid's wife, three of his daughters, a granddaughter and other children and adults also died.

The attack on Yazid, also known as Sheikh Sa'id al-Masri, was part of a massive and controversial expansion in the use of “unmanned aerial vehicles,” often called UAVs or drones, for battlefield reconnaissance and targeted killing of suspected militants.[*]

The boom in drones has stirred a variety of concerns among critics, but the greatest has been over strikes carried out covertly by the CIA under a classified, but widely reported, program of strikes against suspected militants inside Pakistan. Critics say the intelligence agency's drone attacks violate the laws of war because they are executed by civilian agents and occur inside another nation's sovereign territory. Others, however, defend the strikes as lawful acts of war and national self-defense in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.[Footnote 2]

So far, the Obama administration has carried out at least 101 drone strikes in Pakistan, more than twice the 45 executed by the Bush administration from 2004 through 2008, according to the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank. [Footnote 3] Allegations of high civilian casualty rates have heightened the drone controversy. About a third of those killed by CIA strikes since 2004 were non-militants, foundation researchers concluded.

Meanwhile, some question the attacks' effectiveness at stemming Al Qaeda and the Taliban insurgency. The Reuters news agency found that the CIA had killed roughly a dozen times more low-level fighters than mid- to high-level leaders since the summer of 2008, when drone strikes in Pakistan intensified. [Footnote 4]

Critics also argue that drone strikes are fueling anti-American sentiment and spurring more terrorism. They point to Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistan immigrant living in Connecticut who tried to set off a car bomb in New York's Times Square in May. Shahzad, who pleaded guilty, suggested U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere helped motivate him. [Footnote 5]

But drone supporters argue that strikes are precise, limited in collateral damage compared to conventional bombing or artillery attacks and save the lives of U.S. soldiers.

On Aug. 3, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit with potentially broad implications in the debate over targeted killing. The suit contests a Treasury Department rule requiring lawyers to get a special license before they can provide legal services benefiting a U.S.-born radical Muslim cleric thought to be hiding in Yemen whom the Obama administration has reportedly placed on a kill list.

The New York Times said the suit could test “some of the most deeply contested disputes to arise in the conflict against Al Qaeda — including whether the entire world is a battlefield for legal purposes, or whether terrorism suspects who are found away from combat zones must, in the absence of an imminent threat, instead be treated as criminals and given trials.” [Footnote 6]

The growing use of unmanned warplanes is part of a much broader embrace of drone technology for both military and civilian uses — everything from environmental monitoring and U.S. border patrol to drug interdiction and post-disaster searches. But it is the expanding robotic technology for war that is stirring the greatest debate.

In recent years the U.S. military has spent billions of dollars to expand its fleet of unmanned planes, which has gone from 167 aircraft in 2002 to more than 7,000 now. Last year, the Air Force trained more pilots to fly unmanned planes than traditional fighter pilots. [Footnote 7]

Drone technology itself is astonishing in its capacity to reconnoiter and kill. In the case of the Predator and its even more powerful brother, the Reaper, controllers sit at computer consoles at U.S. bases thousands of miles from harm's way and control the aircraft via satellite communication. With the ability to remain aloft for long hours undetected on the ground — Predators can fly at altitudes of about 50,000 feet — the planes can do everything from snap high-resolution reconnaissance photos of insurgents' vehicles to shoot Hellfire missiles at them.

A secret archive of classified military documents controversially released in July by the group WikiLeaks revealed the lethal power of the Predator. As reported by The New York Times, in early winter 2008 a Predator spotted a group of insurgents suspected of planting roadside bombs near an American military outpost in Afghanistan. “Within minutes after identifying the militants, the Predator unleashed a Hellfire missile, all but evaporating one of the figures digging in the dark,” The Times said. “When ground troops reached the crater caused by the missile, costing $60,000, all that was left was a shovel and a crowbar.” [Footnote 8]

The Times noted that the U.S. Air Force flies some 20 Predator and Reaper aircraft a day in Afghanistan, almost twice as many as it did a year ago, and that allies such as Britain and Germany have their own fleets. The leaked incident reports, the newspaper said, show that missions include snapping reconnaissance photos, gathering electronic transmissions, sending images of ongoing battles to field commanders and attacking militants with bombs and missiles, plus supporting U.S. Special Operations missions.

“Killer drones are the future of warfare,” Afsheen John Radsan, a former CIA lawyer who teaches at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., told a House panel in April. [Footnote 9]

But overshadowing that future is a fierce debate over how, where and by whom drones are being used. Of particular concern is the CIA's drone program, which reportedly has targeted suspected militants in western Pakistan and other remote trouble spots where the United States is not engaged in open hostilities, including Yemen, where a 2002 drone strike killed a group of Al Qaeda suspects that included a U.S. citizen. [Footnote 10]

The CIA attacks have raised important legal questions about the role of targeted killing in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Administration officials contend that such killings are legal under established principles of self-defense, international laws of armed conflict and the Authorization for Use of Military Force — the so-called “law of 9/11” passed by Congress following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

In March, Harold Koh, the State Department's legal adviser, defended the administration's use of unmanned aircraft for targeted attacks, asserting that the United States “may use force consistent with its inherent right to self-defense under international law.” [Footnote 11]And CIA Director Leon E. Panetta called drone strikes “the only game in town in terms of confronting and trying to disrupt the Al Qaeda leadership.” [Footnote 12]

But critics say CIA attacks inside Pakistan violate international laws of armed conflict because the United States is not at war with Pakistan, is not using its drones as part of Pakistan's own military operations and its drone strikes are carried out by civilians in secret far from active battlefields. “You can never, at the end of the day, find a legal basis for the CIA to be doing this,” argues Mary Ellen O'Connell, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, who says militants like Yazid should be pursued through law enforcement means, not covert attacks.

In a report this spring, Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, sharply criticized targeted killings of terrorism suspects and the use of drones to carry them out, citing “the displacement of clear legal standards with a vaguely defined licen[s]e to kill, and the creation of a major accountability vacuum.” [Footnote 13] He also warned against “a ‘Playstation’ mentality to killing” with drone technology. [Footnote 14] A CIA spokeswoman told U.S. News & World Report that “without discussing or confirming any specific action, this agency's operations are … designed from the very start to be lawful and are subject to close oversight.” [Footnote 15]

In a groundbreaking exposition of the CIA's drone program, New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer wrote last fall that “embrace of the Predator program has occurred with remarkably little public discussion, given that it represents a radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force. And, because of the CIA program's secrecy, there is no visible system of accountability in place, despite the fact that the agency has killed many civilians inside a politically fragile, nuclear-armed country with which the U.S. is not at war.” [Footnote 16]

On Capitol Hill, where hearings on drone policy were held this spring, U.S. Rep. John F. Tierney D-Mass., chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, noted that “the use of unmanned weapons to target individuals — and, for that matter, the targeting of individuals in general — raises many complex legal questions. We must examine who can be a legitimate target, where that person can be legally targeted and when the risk of collateral damage is too high.” [Footnote 17]

At least 40 other nations, including China, Russia and Iran, have “begun to build, buy and deploy” unmanned planes, according to Brookings Institution senior fellow P. W. Singer. [Footnote 18] Last year, U.S. fighter jets shot down an unarmed Iranian spy drone over Iraq. [Footnote 19] And drones are in the arsenals of non-state actors, including Hezbollah, the Lebanese paramilitary group. National-security experts worry that if drones fall into the hands of terrorists, the United States itself could be at risk of attack. “Simple logic tells us that every day drones become a greater threat,” says Gary Solis, a former law professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who now teaches at the Georgetown University Law Center.

“What you have moving forward is a debate not just about what can these systems do, but who can use them,” says Singer, author of Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. “That question of who can use them covers the gamut from the military to the federal government to local police forces to civilian actors.”

The Issues:
* Do drone strikes comply with international law?
* Are drones an effective counter-terrorism tool?
* Is drone technology ethical for use in war?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Drone Warfare" [subscription required] or purchase the PDF

[1] “Senior Afghan al-Qaeda leader ‘killed in Pakistan,’” BBC News, June 1, 2010, . See also Eric Schmitt, “American Strike Is Said to Kill a Top Qaeda Leader,” The New York Times, May 31, 2010; and Zeeshan Haider, “U.S. believes it killed al Qaeda No. 3,” Reuters, June 1, 2010.
[2] For background, see the following CQ Researcher reports: Peter Katel, “America at War,” July 23, 2010, pp. 605–628; Thomas J. Billitteri, “Afghanistan Dilemma,” Aug. 7, 2009, pp. 669–692; Peter Katel, “Rise in Counterinsurgency,” Sept. 5, 2008, pp. 697–720; Peter Katel, “Cost of the Iraq War,” April 25, 2008, pp. 361–384; and Robert Kiener, “Crisis in Pakistan,” CQ Global Researcher, December 2008, pp. 321–348.
[3] Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, “The Year of the Drone,” New America Foundation, 2010. Bergen is the CNN national security analyst and is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.
[4] Adam Entous, “Special Report: How the White House Learned to Love the Drone,” Reuters.
[5] Andrea Elliott, “Militant's Path From Pakistan to Times Square,” The New York Times, June 22, 2010.
[6] Charlie Savage, “Rule Limiting Legal Services in Terror Cases Is Challenged,” The New York Times, Aug. 3, 2010, .
[7] Drone inventory figures and pilot-training facts are from statement of Rep. John F. Tierney, D-Mass., chairman, House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, hearing on “Rise of the Drones: Unmanned Systems and the Future of War,” March 23, 2010.
[8] C. J. Chivers, et al., “View Is Bleaker Than Official Portrayal of War in Afghanistan,” The New York Times, July 25, 2010.
[9] Statement of Afsheen John Radsan before the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, “Loftier Standards for the CIA's Remote-Control Killing,” April 28, 2010.
[10] “U.S. defends Yemen strike,” BBC News, Nov. 10, 2002.
[11] Harold Hongju Koh, “The Obama Administration and International Law,” U.S. Department of State, March 25, 2010.
[12] Mary Louise Kelly, “Officials: Bin Laden Running Out of Space to Hide,” National Public Radio, June 5, 2009.
[13] Philip Alston, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,” United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, May 28, 2010, p. 3. See also Charlie Savage, “U.N. Report Highly Critical of U.S. Drone Attacks,” The New York Times, June 2, 2010.
[14] Ibid., p. 25.
[15] Quoted in Alex Kingsbury, “CIA Drone Strikes Draw United Nations Fire,” U.S. News & World Report, June 10, 2010.
[16] Jane Mayer, “The Predator War,” The New Yorker, Oct. 26, 2009, p. 38.
[17] Statement of Rep. John F. Tierney, D-Mass., Chairman, Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, April 28, 2010.
[18] P. W. Singer, “Defending Against Drones,” Newsweek, Feb. 25, 2010.
[19] “U.S.: We shot down Iranian drone over Iraq,” CNN, March 16, 2009.

Kagan Confirmed; Takes Oaths Saturday

By Kenneth Jost
Supreme Court Editor
      Elena Kagan will be sworn in on Saturday (Aug. 7) as the 112th justice of the Supreme Court following the Senate’s 63-37 vote on Thursday confirming her for the post almost completely along party lines.
      All but one of the Senate’s 57 Democrats joined the two Democratic-leaning independents and five Republicans in confirming Kagan Thursday afternoon following three days of partisan debate over her nomination.
      Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, the only Democrat to break ranks on the nomination, cited opposition from his constituents and Kagan’s lack of prior judicial or legal experience in explaining his decision to vote against her.
      The five Republicans who voted for her — South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg, Indiana’s Richard Lugar, and Maine’s two senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe — generally said they were deferring to President Obama’s selection of Kagan to succeed the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
      Kagan, 50, will take two oaths of office in ceremonies at the Supreme Court on Saturday afternoon. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will first administer the constitutional oath of office in a private ceremony to be attended by members of Kagan’s family. He will then administer the judicial oath of office in a second ceremony that will be attended by what the Supreme Court’s public information office called “a small gathering of Elena Kagan’s family and friends.”
      Republicans maintained strong opposition to Kagan’s nomination up to the end of the debate, depicting her as a potential judicial activist. They cited Kagan’s actions as associate White House counsel and later deputy domestic policy adviser under President Bill Clinton in warning that as a justice she will be hostile to Second Amendment gun rights and to legislated restrictions on abortions. They also criticized her actions as dean of Harvard Law School in limiting official access for military recruiters for a period because of her opposition to the congressionally mandated “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy limiting service by gays and lesbians.
      GOP senators also complained about Kagan’s lack of legal experience, including no judicial service and no courtroom advocacy before assuming her current position of U.S. solicitor general. In his final remarks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reeled off Kagan’s record of supporting Democratic candidates and serving in Democratic administrations to charge that she had “advanced a political ideology . . . at the expense of the law.”
      Democratic senators praised Kagan’s academic credentials and accomplishments, including her selection as the first female dean of Harvard Law School and her role in quieting ideological divisions among the faculty. They defended her actions on military recruiters, citing her testimony that recruiters had access to Harvard students through a student veterans’ group. They also said that her White House experience would be an asset on the court. In addition, they cited Kagan’s pledge in her opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee to decide cases impartially and “modestly,” deferring to legislative and executive branches on policy matters.
      In his final remarks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada emphasized that Kagan’s confirmation will mean that the court includes three woman for the first time, making it “the most inclusive court” in history. Currently, two women serve on the court: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appointed by Clinton in 1993, and Sonia Sotomayor, appointed by Obama in 2009.
      Kagan received five fewer votes than Sotomayor received one year earlier as Obama’s first nominee to the high court. Congress watchers cited election-year politics as one explanation for the shortfall.
      Kagan is the fourth new justice to join the court in the past five years after a long, eleven-year period with no changes in the court’s membership. President George W. Bush named Roberts and a second conservative, Samuel A. Alito Jr., in 2005. Roberts was confirmed with 78 votes, Alito in early 2006 with 58 votes.
      Despite the changes, the court appears likely to remain closely divided along conservative-liberal lines. Roberts, Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas generally vote along conservative lines. Kagan is expected to join Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Stephen G. Breyer in a liberal-leaning bloc. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a moderate conservative, often holds a decisive vote on ideologically charged cases.
      A formal investiture for Kagan will be held on Friday, Oct. 1, three days before the court opens its new term on the traditional first Monday in October —
Oct. 4.
      The court has thus far accepted about thirty-eight cases for review during the new term. Kagan will have to recuse herself from several because she participated in the government’s role in the case while solicitor general. Kagan’s recusal will create the possibility of leaving some cases unresolved if the remaining eight justices are evenly divided four to four.
      No additional changes in the court’s membership are expected in the near future. Ginsburg, who is 77, and Kennedy, who is 74, have both given interviews in recent weeks saying they have no intention of retiring any time soon. Scalia and Breyer, the other justices in their 70s, also are widely expected to stay on the court for the foreseeable future.

Can EU nations still afford expensive welfare programs?

To follow is an excerpt from the Overview of the CQ Global Researcher on "Social Welfare in Europe" by Sarah Glazer, August 2010:

Gema Díaz, 34, counted on a range of benefits to supplement her relatively low salary when she took a job as a purchasing agent with the city of Madrid. Now, as Spain initiates a fiscal austerity campaign, she is seeing those benefits eaten away. Her $2,000 a month salary, like those of all public employees, is being cut by 5 percent; her pension is likely to be frozen instead of growing with the cost of living as guaranteed by Spanish law; her subsidized child care will cost more. Even the $3,300 baby bonus she was depending on when her second child is born in August is being eliminated.[Footnote 1]

Governments across Europe are expected to cut back on their legendarily generous social welfare programs as they attempt to deal with the current economic crisis, most notably mounting deficits that threaten the integrity of the euro. Joining Spain recently in announcing cutbacks and higher taxes are Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Denmark, France and Great Britain.

Europe's cradle-to-grave welfare provisions — from universal health insurance and subsidized child care to generous unemployment and retirement benefits — have often been proudly touted as “social Europe” — a place where social solidarity and protection from poverty are assured, compared to the more individualistic sink-or-swim philosophy of America.

Conservative economists have long argued that generous welfare states are a drag on European economies, making them less dynamic and less productive than the United States. In exchange for a less secure system for those down on their luck, they argue, the United States provides greater mobility up the income ladder and a more flexible labor market. Historically, people are fired more easily in the United States than in Europe but also hired back more quickly following economic recessions.

Unemployment benefits, which are typically more generous and last longer in Europe, can be followed by welfare payments with no fixed time limit in countries like Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. “The more you spread the safety net, the easier it is to be unemployed and the more people will be unemployed longer,” says Vincent R. Reinhart, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank in Washington. “Those economies that have more elaborate safety nets are ones that grow a little slower.”

Although the American economy grew faster than Europe's devastated nations in the aftermath of World War II, much of that growth in total national income, or gross domestic product (GDP), was due to America's expanding population and immigration. If measured on a per-person basis, most rich countries actually enjoyed their highest growth rates in the era of the big welfare state, 1975–2006.[Footnote 2]

Studies of the last 15 years show “European welfare states grew just as fast if not faster than the United States,” says Timothy Smeeding, a professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and coauthor of the new book Wealth and Welfare States. Smeeding and his coauthors argue that welfare programs plus capitalism “make nations rich.” When public education — not usually considered welfare — is counted along with health care and Social Security, the United States is one of the nations that has benefited from its welfare programs, though tilted heavily toward public education.[Footnote 3]

And going from rags to riches, long a staple of the American dream, turns out to be easier in welfare-state Europe than the United States, judging from recent international comparisons of men's ability to move out of their father's economic class. Although America boasted greater economic mobility than Europe in the postwar economic boom, since 1975 those at the bottom of the income ladder have had a harder time climbing up as the economy slowed.[Footnote 4]

One reason may be that the United States has lost its historic lead in education, including the percentage of citizens with college degrees. European countries, many of which offer free preschool education and free university education, have caught up and surpassed the United States, measured by college degrees and test performance.[Footnote 5]

“The well-to-do in America can afford to do anything they want for their kids (including paying for college). Others can't. We have less mobility in the United States because the main system for mobility — education — doesn't work as well,” Smeeding says. And almost all of the growth in income recently has been limited to those Americans with college educations.[Footnote 6]

Ron Haskins, a conservative champion of American welfare reform at the Brookings Institution think tank, used to believe that Europe was “socialist and soft” on unemployed welfare recipients, he says, but his recent research on work requirements has revealed that Europe “really wants to get people back in the labor force as fast as possible; that's the focus of their policy.” Recent trends suggest some European countries are more successful than the United States in getting adults back to work. Since 2002, the United States has dropped from first place in the share of its population that's employed to third behind the Netherlands and Britain, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data.

In the current economic crisis, to what extent will European governments rethink the generosity of their welfare systems? So far most of the attention has focused on freezing pensions and delaying retirement ages. Europe faces a growing retiree population, but declining fertility rates mean there will be a relatively smaller work force that won't be able to support social security systems funded by current workers' payroll deductions. Even France, whose government avoids the mention of fiscal austerity, has proposed raising the legal retirement age from 60 to 62.

Despite some proposals to cut other programs, like benefits for children, most experts think it unlikely that European governments will remove the foundations of the welfare state. “So far, I don't think you could find any cutbacks that are in any serious way undermining the cornerstones of the welfare state as such,” says Gøsta Esping-Andersen, a prominent welfare expert and sociologist at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. He calls the cutbacks in Spain “desperate measures conceived of as a temporary stopgap” in response to pressure from international markets. “I don't think any of these reforms are aimed at long-term erosion of the welfare state.”

But the crisis has revived the long-standing debate over whether welfare states detract from economic growth or contribute to it by providing healthier, better educated, better paid workers. As the recent street protests in Greece, France and Spain indicate, changes to the welfare system could threaten social peace within European countries.

Tougher economic times could lead so-called Eurozone countries to turn against the more marginal members of their society who benefit from the generosity of welfare benefits. Denmark recently capped its monthly per-child cash benefits, a political move aimed at immigrant families with large numbers of children, Danish-born Esping-Andersen says. Denmark's coalition center-right government depends on the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party for support.

“The debate is pretty intense pitching to a rather strong electoral group that thinks we shouldn't coddle immigrants as much as in the past — that they are sucking too much out of the welfare state,” he says. The Social Democrats, Denmark's party of the welfare state, “see this as a direct threat to the basic values of solidarity and universalism,” he notes.[Footnote 7]

The European Union's economic interdependence, demonstrated by the current euro crisis, means rich European countries could become more like the United States — less willing to redistribute welfare benefits to poorer, failing countries outside their own homogenous “tribe,” Richard Burkhauser, professor of economics at Cornell University, predicts. “My sense is the Swedish tribe thinks they have enough moral cohesion to control all members of their tribe, so they don't have to worry about the behavioral consequences of a guaranteed income in Sweden,” he says. Employed Swedes are comfortable paying cash transfers to fellow citizens who don't work, because they attribute it to bad luck, not laziness, most experts agree. But as some countries face mounting debt and unemployment, “even the Swedes won't be willing to do that for the Spanish, let alone the Slovenians,” Burkhauser predicts.

Still others say the welfare states are crucial to keeping peace among the bloc's diverse countries. As the recent protests against welfare cuts suggest, if countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal find the violation of their social contract too disruptive, they could defect from the European Union, potentially threatening the euro and the common economic bloc. For some on the Left and much of the French political class, the fear is that “the high-cost social welfare model” can't be maintained by small individual countries in the face of global competition without the combined economic power of the EU, The Economist magazine recently noted.[Footnote 8]

The Issues:
*Do Europe's generous social welfare programs make its economies less productive than the United States?
*Do European welfare states have less social mobility than the United States?
*Can European welfare states afford their generous benefits?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Social Welfare in Europe" [subscription required] or purchase the PDF

[1] Suzanne Daley, “Safety Net Frays in Spain, as Elsewhere in Europe,” The New York Times, June 27, 2010.
[2] Irwin Garfinkel, Lee Rainwater and Timothy Smeeding, Wealth and Welfare States: Is America a Laggard or Leader? (2010), pp. 32–34.
[3] Ibid., p. v.
[4] Julia B. Isaacs, “International Comparisons of Economic Mobility,” Chapter III, p. 1, in Isaacs, et al., “Getting Ahead or Losing Ground: Economic Mobility in America,” Brookings and Pew Economic Mobility Project, February 2008.
[5] See Garfinkel, et al., op. cit., pp. 80–84 and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
[6] Thirty-eight percent of 55-64-year-olds have an associate degree or higher-a higher percentage than most European countries for that age group. But for 25-34-year-olds, Norway, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark and France have a higher percentage of college graduates, and Spain and the United Kingdom have the same percentage-39.2 percent; “Education at a Glance,” Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2008; “Percentage of Adults with an Associate Degree or Higher by Age Group,” data from Timothy Smeeding.
[7] Denmark's ruling center-right Liberal Party governs Denmark in a coalition with the Conservative Party and the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party. The Social Democratic Party, Denmark's second largest, has been a strong supporter of redistribution under Denmark's welfare state. See “Denmark Freezes Welfare Payments,” Ice News, May 30, 2010.
[8] “Staring into the Abyss,” The Economist, July 10, 2010, pp. 26–28.