I was at the Queensbay Mall last Thursday browsing book shelves at Borders looking for new literatures to buy to take advantage of the Borders' Citibank's card holders 15% discount for 2 books. At first I wanted to get some books related to work, but they were just too expensive and frankly, they were quite dry.
There's nothing on non-fiction or self-help that interest me and I can't be bothered about getting-rich-making-wealth books So, I went to my favorite subject - economics! I found Charles Wheelan's Naked Economics: Undressing Dismal Science - another interesting book which I just started reading last evening after finishing the other book.
So back at Borders; after finished browsing the economics section, I browsed the political science section - and I found the book that I really caught my attention and by grabbing my attention, I mean I'd actually finished reading it during the weekend. I read it in bed, in between finishing my work projects, and at Starbucks too!
T. R. Reid's The United States Of Europe: From Euro to Eurovision - The Superpower Nobody Talks About (paperback) is a must read on getting perspectives on how the world is now dominated "softly" by the European Union. In contrast to American "hard" approach through war, Europe send more troops for peace keeping missions, actually donates for money to development funds worldwide, and control (more seats = more votes) most of the important world bodies (such as International Telecommunications Union, G7, Kyoto Protocol, etc).
There were movements in the post-war's WWI, WWII, and Cold War to unite the whole continent but there were too much pain from war that it was hard to make any progress on the political integration front. So, the brilliance of Jean Monnet (of Cognac - photo here from Wikipedia) who architect cooperation in the steel industry (European Coal and Steel Community) proving that trade and economics actually work especially when most nations are redeveloping themselves after ruins of war. The development plan to aid post-war development such as Marshall Plan as well as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) were also borne out of these decades of continent rebuilding.
Throughout the years, shift of world bipolar power to a unipolar world controlled by the America made it much more sense for the integration to take on political, economical, business, and cultural integration. Thus, borne the idea of European Union and in a major step towards trade/economic integration; the introduction of new currency Euro.
Reid being the Washington Post's correspondent in London highlighted first person experience of the new currency - Euro. How hard it was for the different nations to leave their long used currency, how logistic nightmare it was to made the transition to new money on midnight of January 1 2002 at all ATM machines and stores, how interesting it was to design the new currency look and feel, and importantly how to make people really aware that world's biggest currency conversion at continental scale is going to take place.
The conversion was highly successful and years after the introduction the Euro has significantly appreciated against the dollars.
" Since its introduction, the euro has been the second most widely-held international reserve currency after the US dollar. The euro inherited this status from the German Mark, and since its introduction, has increased its standing considerably, mostly at the expense of the dollar. " - Wikipedia entry on Euro
The placement of EU in Brussels in Belgium was very symbolic for through many centuries of war in Europe, Belgium has always been the important battleground in many of the conquest. Brussels is also the headquarters to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
BBC country profile on Belgium concludes this about Brussels "Thus, it is the polyglot home of an army of international diplomats and civil servants." (Photo: American.edu)
T.R. Reid also wittily explores the cultural differences between European and the American. American-bashing is a favorite pastime in Europe that London's West End production of Jerry Springer: The Opera was a sold out! There's a British show that portray an American family of fat-loud husband and wife who only agree on thing such as gun. The French also have polls and track the index of their perception towards the Yankees. You can bet that anti-Bushism and anti-Iraq war don't make America very popular in the Europe.
Reid also writes on the new Generation E, thirty-something post-war European who are now living borderless and tariff-free-zone continent. Travel and trade are now made borderless as you can pass from one country to another without stop at borders for immigration check due to uniformity in customs law and border sharing. Also to note is the massive line of fast speed trains, tunnels, bridges, highways that interconnect the whole Europe. This generation travel easily and could go study, live, and work in another countries giving them the true sense of European identity. An example quoted in the book is a Polish who went to a French university and now work and live in England.
For a different take on cultural perspective, enjoy the following excerpt from the book (as available on the Penguin's website)
Let's conjure up a typical American couple—we'll call them Bill and Betty Yankee, of Syracuse, New York—heading out on a summer weekend for a typical American vacation. It will be a short vacation, compared to European-style holidays (as we'll see in chapter 6), because the Yankees are typically hardworking Americans who rarely take more than a few days off at a time. The Yankees plan to leave Friday and make a road trip to visit their son Bob in Chicago. They'll spend one night at Bob's place, and then set out early Sunday for the long drive home. They want to be back home in time for work Monday morning.
Bill is a maintenance man at Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., the electric utility serving about 1.5 million customers across upstate New York. Betty is a sales clerk at Casual Corner in the Syracuse Mall. Frankly, the couple is a little stretched at the moment, but they both badly need a break, so Betty has gone to the Household Finance outlet in the mall for a $750 loan. The day before the trip, Bill takes the family Jeep into Jiffy Lube for an oil change and then fills the tank at the Amoco station down the street. Early Friday morning, they pop a Dave Matthews CD into the car stereo, stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast—Betty skips the doughnut and sips a can of Super Slim Fast instead—and then start driving west. Except for another fuel stop, this time at a Texaco station, they stay on the road most of the day, snacking on Baby Ruth, Power Bars, and various flavors of Snapple. To keep their dog Yank happy on the road, Bill has a few cans of Alpo in the back seat.
After a long drive, the couple stops for the night at a Holiday Inn. Bill has a Miller Lite and smokes a couple of Lucky Strikes to soothe his nerves. Betty, a fan of historic fiction, curls up with a bottle of 7Up and a great new novel by Helen Scully that she ordered from the Literary Guild. The next morning, they fill the tank at a Shell station and drive on to Chicago. Betty doesn't let Bill smoke in the car, so he chews a wad of Bazooka bubble gum instead. As they approach the city, Betty calls Bob on her cell phone—both mother and son use the Verizon network, so the call is free—to say that they'll soon arrive.
At their son's house, the Yankees present the gifts they've brought along—a new Brooks Brothers necktie for Bob and a pair of Ray-Bans for his wife, Barb. Barb, a copywriter at the Leo Burnett advertising agency, proudly shows a portfolio of the new ad series she has created for her chief client, Dial Soap. Barb had to work that Friday, so she didn't have time to make dinner; instead, she pops a few Lean Cuisines into the oven. It's not fancy, but she does offer three different flavors of Ben & Jerry's for dessert.
After a pleasant Sunday morning with their son and daughter-in-law—Bob is excited because his newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, has run his story on the front page—Bill and Betty set out for the trip home. They gas up at a Total station and drop in at a Stop &. Shop to buy a couple of big bottles of Dr Pepper for the long drive. Unfortunately, the traffic is heavy, and it becomes obvious the Yankees are not going to get home at any decent hour that Sunday. So they stop at a Travelodge and watch part of A Beautiful Mind on pay-per-view before they drift off to sleep. Well before dawn the next morning, they set off again and made it back to Syracuse in time to go to work.
It all sounds like a thoroughly American vacation, full of American places, products, and services. In fact, this long weekend was about as American as apple strudel. Despite the familiar American brand names, just about every product and service the Yankee family bought or used on this trip came from European-owned companies.
The scenario above is very revealing at how European conglomerates as new breed of entrepreneurs are owning lots of recognizable brands in the world; 7-Up, Red Bull, The New York Post, Leo Burnett, BMG, to name a few.
If you have been reading business news since late 1990's you'd notice Microsoft anti-trust battle with the EU Trade Commission, Jack Welch's failed attempt in GE takeover on Honeywell, as well as AMD-Intel anti-trust legal battle that's going on right now. These events are very important to note that American businesses now have to comply with the EU standards ranging from competitiveness, metric systems, Genetically Modified food, to environmental.
Microsoft had to rewrite Windows code to conform to EU guideline. Jack Welch learned the hard lesson that in order to leverage on lucrative European market, the American business community have to listen what the EU Trade Commission is saying. Apparently, there are lots of American lobbyists now opening offices in Brussels.
There is a chapter discussing capability gap, i.e. military. I won't go in detail about that here but it's very interesting to note the American and the European point of view on Europe's small defense budget in NATO:
American: "We are the cook and the Europeans are the dish washer"
European: "Americans are war-maker and we the peace-maker.
One important section that you might want focus on if you have plan migrating to the Europe is the social system comparison. European VAT ranges from 17% to 25% on every purchase you made. The tax rate is so high that Bjorn Bork transfer his assets to his residence in Monaco to escape high Swedish tax rate during his successful tennis career.
What's beautiful about this tax model is that the citizens enjoy free education, social benefits, free medical (and hospitalization), good transporation systems, parental benefits, as well as unemployment benefits. Reid makes a startling comparison to his daughter blood test in the US for her school - it cost her $95 when it'd have been free in the Europe. This European social system is an important identity to the Europeans and they are very proud of it.
I have to praise Raid for his work on this book makes me much informed about contemporary post-war Europe. You not only learn a lot about economics in this book but also political science, history, and culture. It's enriching, satisfying, and eye opening. We need a bipolar world because American unipolar is bad for the world and bad for the American too.
There are other parts of the book that I don't want to review here and that's for you to find out. Do tell me what you think about this book. I also recommend that you read Wikipedia entry on European Union.