Preface: I can understand why I've had people accuse me of being "anti-American", but they're wrong. There are many wonderful things about the US, but I believe patriotism should not be blind. It should be the love a parent has for a child: unconditional, but action should be taken when they do something wrong. The "America right or wrong" attitude is repugnant. So what follows is going to sound to some people like it's anti-American, but it's not. It's anti- a certain section of America who thinks they can get something for nothing.
On Saturday, while at a friend's birthday party in the De Baarsjes area of Amsterdam, I think I nailed down a key difference between the US and Europe. For the day to day life, you really won't notice much of a difference. You'll get up, have breakfast, go to work, go home, have dinner, hang out with friends at a pub or their house, and so on. On Saturday, we were drinking beer, talking about my friend's job and how his company is struggling, watching their children laugh and play, snacking on chips and cheese. Aside from lots of Dutch and French also being spoken, you wouldn't have seen much of a difference here.
It's when you step out of day to day activities that things change. Time and time again my European friends are amazed at how Americans are so insistent on not letting the government help people. While Americans give more to charity than other nationalities, many in Europe don't feel as much need to give to as much charity because that's what their taxes are for. And more importantly, they're happy to pay those taxes. Sure, you'll here the usual grumbling about the tax rates, just as you do in the US, but when directly asked, I've had plenty of Europeans tell me that of course they should pay those taxes: you're supposed to help one another.
A typical American response other's suffering might be "get a job, hippie". The Protestant individualist culture which grips America has created a nation of people who often equate money with personal value. If you don't have a job or don't make much money, you're obviously not very important. That it's gotten to such blatant class warfare as Republicans fighting like mad to ensure that millionaires keep their tax breaks (guess who votes for Republicans?) is a bit of a head scratcher.
So this boils down to:
USA: government is there to promote individual liberty
Europe: government is there to protect and promote the welfare of its citizens
Interestingly, while many Americans strongly object to the government helping people, they're pretty quiet about the government helping the individual states. Specifically, the states whose residents are more likely to vote Republican, object to universal health care or other government subsidies of social programs states who receive more aid money from the federal government than they pay in taxes. In Europe, it's the other way around. People don't mind helping people in their own country; they complain bitterly about helping people in other members of the EU on grounds that often sound rather similar to the Americans who don't want to help the poor.
So as you enjoy the fruits of your education — probably paid for with tax dollars — while driving to work on roads — paid for with tax dollars — and enjoy police protection — tax dollars — and living in a country protected by a vast military — tax dollars — or read mail delivered by your mailperson —educated with tax dollars — or marvel that your cabin on the lake in the middle of nowhere has electricity — tax dollars (Rural Electrification Act) — or are happy that so many criminals are behind bars — tax dollars — or enjoy that park — tax dollars — or admire the courage of the 9/11 first responders — tax dollars — perhaps you should ask yourself why you want your already low taxes lowered even more?
About the book I linked to, "Europe's Promise", I keep hearing good things about it and it's been on my radar for a while. However, many Americans are brainwashed into thinking that theirs is the only way. I don't expect any serious change from the US in my lifetime, barring a complete economic collapse.