I spent three weeks with 471 fellow “explorers” through the Northwest Passage. Most were German, Scandinavian, or from the UK. Only 22 of us were American. Out of 150 staff and crew, only 1 was American (most were from the Philippines). Every day the ship provided us with a printed summary of news, organized by country. Thus, it turned out to be a great way to get the European perspective on current events.
[What was the racial composition of the passengers? The same as in American communities where residents hang Black Lives Matters signs and say that their top priority is racial diversity: 90+ percent white with the remainder being Asian.]
News about Jeffrey Epstein bewildered the Scandinavians and Germans. “If she wants to work as a real prostitute paying taxes she needs to wait until she is 18,” said a Dane. “But there is nothing illegal about a 15-year-old having a sugar daddy buying her whatever she wants. A 15- or 16-year-old is considered an adult in sexual matters.” Germans noted that the age of consent in their country was 14 and that prostitution, though not a career to aspire to, was legal.
A retired English lawyer doubted that Epstein had ever abused anyone: “the women kept going back.” She was scornful of the actresses who’d had sex with Harvey Weinstein and of the #MeToo movement in general. “I was the only female lawyer in my firm and then the only partner,” she noted. “I could have claimed harassment or discrimination dozens of times.” (Proof that criminal defense lawyers are right in wanting older women on juries in what used to be called “date rape” cases?)
The UK passengers were drawn mostly from the London/Southeast area and many had worked in multinational enterprises. Thus, the majority had voted to Remain, but there were quite a few Leavers. Nobody seemed to have any affection for the EU as an institution: “I voted to Remain,” said one woman, “but now that I’ve seen how the EU has treated us, if there were another election today I would vote to Leave.” The business experts noted that the EU had begun as a trade and customs union, but had morphed into an attempt to forge a single political entity. They considered that effort a failure, but the Remainers wanted to try to reform the EU from within (since reforming big centralized government has been so successful everywhere else?).
Just as with Americans, claiming to dislike Donald Trump is a mark of sophistication and intelligence. Hardly anyone wanted to admit that there was anything to like about our dictator. However, the folks who’d done business internationally said that Trump was doing exactly the right thing with respect to China and talked about how they’d been unable to get access to the market there without opening a factory and transferring technology. Others said that they thought Trump’s trade policies would be bad for Europe, but were in Americans’ best interest.
The Europeans were at least as hostile to low-skill migration as Donald Trump. They wanted a wall on Europe’s southern border. They wanted their welfare state, already stingier than ours (see Hartz IV, for example), further curtailed so that Europe would stop being a magnet for those who are helpless in a modern economy.
The Europeans who said that they didn’t like Trump also shared his fondness for low tax rates as a way of fostering economic growth. A Swedish business executive whose company has a U.S. division said that he thought U.S. taxes were currently higher than Sweden’s. He pointed out that Sweden has no estate (death) tax. What about their higher headline personal income tax rate? “Nobody pays that,” he said. “If you’re a corporate executive you will find a way to turn the income into a capital gain, taxed at 30 percent.” A Scandinavian who was generally in favor of big government earned most of his income through an Estonian corporation. As Estonia is tax free, he won’t owe any taxes on this income until he needs to get the money out and spend it, which could be 50 years from now.
It was interesting to be with people who don’t share our assumptions, but now I’m back in the land of GroupThink. From a Toyota at our local public library on Saturday: