Between the Pundits: Explaining myself


This afternoon, a certain Megapundit—not Andrew Cohen—declared himself mystified by my “aversion to European comparisons.” He was referring to my complaint, in response to Cohen’s very good column in today’s Ottawa Citizen admonishing Canadians not to revel in their purported superiority to Americans, that I find very few useful points of comparison between Canada and small northern European nations. Regular readers might recognize this as a common hangup of mine. “Of course there are major differences between Canada and Denmark,” this Megapundit very reasonably argued. “But surely within the rubric of developed countries, there’s value in comparison.”

My response, more or less, was as follows:

It’s not the comparison that bothers me so much. It’s the idea, of which Cohen’s column today was a particularly stark example, that Canada should just intrinsically be like a bunch of small European countries. I’d love us to “spend lavishly on culture” and to be able to go to national museums for free, but as far as I can see, that’s not what most Canadians want. It’s not a good quality, if you ask me, but that’s democracy. If you don’t like it, I say, make a Canadian case for change or move to Germany. Perhaps Cohen’s taking boarders.

I pick on Denmark because I can hardly think of a less analogous country to Canada. It’s geographically minute, relatively ethnically homogeneous, overwhelmingly and densely populated by native Danes speaking Danish, and thousands of miles away from us across a vast ocean. The United States, like us, is geographically enormous, ethnically diverse, mostly anglophone, and full of vast empty spaces across which things and people need to be transported—and it shares thousands of miles of mostly undefended border with us. Maybe we shouldn’t be like the US or Europe… but perhaps it’s no accident we share so many qualities with the US.

That said, I have no quarrel with those who aspire to Scandinavian levels of happiness, wealth, health, taxation, salmon consumption and sauna usage. It just doesn’t resonate with me. I think medium- and long-distance public transit in Canada is an ongoing disgrace, for example, but I refuse to feel worse about it just because some European country the size of Nova Scotia with 8 million people living in it has fast trains. The Scando-comparison strikes me as almost the self-loathing flip-side to the self-aggrandizing “we’re better than Americans” one.

That said, I’m sure I have, in the past, allowed this unusual pet peeve get the better of me in some cases when a simple comparison is all that’s being proffered.

And as penance, I hereby offer to tour the northern European nations in search of a better mutual understanding, at their governments’ expense.

Filed under:

Between the Pundits: Explaining myself

  1. That’s a very gracious offer, Chris. I’m sure the northern Euro alliance will meet to review your offer soon.

    On the matter of comparisons, I gather the North Euros tend to want to compare their economic and social progress statistically with smaller countries in Africa.

    Needless to say, in this regard, all the major indicators show major progress being made among North Euro countries relative to Africa.

    – JV

  2. First, allow me to out myself as the megapundit in question. (Actually, I’m just enjoying the opportunity to refer to myself as a “megapundit.” I’d love to put that on the resume.)

    And next, allow me to agree with pretty much everything you’ve written here. It’s not helpful to point to the astonishing train network in the Netherlands, say, without noting that the entire country and its 16 million people could nestle comfortably into the Golden Horseshoe with room left over for Luxembourg. Or something like that. (I’m not looking up statistics for a blog comment.)

    But there are many other instances in which Canada and the northern European countries are similarly situated and we would do well to ask ourselves why they are doing so much better than we are.

    Finland is a telecom giant. Finland? It’s Northern Ontario with the population of Atlantic Canada. Why isn’t Atlantic Canada a telecom giant? Not enough trees?

    Sweden is a resource-exporting country that has put environmental concern at the operational centre of public policy; Canada is a resource-exporting country that has put environmental hypocrisy at the operational centre of public policy. Do you suppose we might have something to learn here?

    And sometimes, the differences between Canada and European countries actually underscore the point. Denmark is a world leader in alternative energy even though its geography has given it a mere fraction of the natural advantages Canada has in that field. So how did they do it?

    Lots of good stuff, I’d say. Of course this work would require more Canadian journalists to spend time in some of the most pleasant countries on earth, but dammit, they’re professionals. They’ll do whatever it takes.

Sign in to comment.