The foregoing analysis of American exceptionalism supports several conclusions. First, other countries, because of their cultural roots, are simply better at socialism than we are. The Anglosphere in general is poorly adapted to large-scale, planned, centrally directed state enterprises or invasive measures to promote equality of outcome. Governmental mechanisms have been and will continue to be used on a pragmatic basis, but they are not immune to public-choice problems, as can be seen in the regulatory capture of the home-mortgage industry, or the taxpayer bailout of the auto industry.
Our history is filled with short-term successes of government action that eventually succumbed to these public-choice problems and required reform or abolition. The government financing of railroad construction after the Civil War was a scandal-ridden disgrace, for example. When we try to be like the French, Germans, or Japanese, we are particularly liable to poor implementation, because our cultural structures are dissimilar to theirs. Government-run enterprises in those countries are likely to work better than they would here. Even if it were desirable to imitate them, we would not be able to do as good a job.
For example, the deep-seated French spirit of equal opportunity supports a dedication to meritocracy — unequal outcomes are accepted, so long as every child has at least a theoretically equal start. This explains the creation of a school system oriented toward identifying talented students and channeling them into the elite polytechnic universities, from which they are fed into public administration. In America, by contrast, the brightest kids find many fields open to their talents, but few aspire to become senior government bureaucrats.
The result in France is an administrative state that is quite competent at, for example, identifying the best practices in nuclear power and building a safe, effective system that has significantly reduced dependency on oil imports. Once the decision was made to create such a system, the plan was executed with a minimum of delays and obstruction. America’s experience with nuclear power has been much bumpier because Americans simply do not possess a French-style centralized administrative state or have the trust in bureaucratic decision-making that permitted the French outcome.
This is only one example that shows that it is not realistic to cherry-pick the desirable aspects of other cultures, transplant them to the U.S., and expect equal results. Americans should not look to Western Europe as a model, as they are so frequently asked to do.
To the extent that we do look abroad, it’s most useful to look at other English-speaking countries for both good and bad examples — but even there, it’s important to be mindful of the whole context. For example, advocates of government health provision often point to Britain and Canada as models, but they rarely discuss the much less pro-plaintiff civil-law systems in those countries, which do much to limit malpractice costs.