What does the Future hold for Europe and the US? - Old and New Challenges in 2014 Maurice Mingay
Europe and the US

Economic and financial issues received much attention in the last year, both in Europe and the US, which proves the fact that the primary concern in first world countries is still the economy. However, there are multiple ways that help countries reach certain development and economic stability; finance is only one of them. According to the Eurobarometer (for European countries) and the New York Times’ most important problem (MIP) (for North America) surveys, the biggest problems that countries face are related to the economy.

 A small portion of Europeans are dissatisfied by other aspects that play crucial role in their countries and the EU’s economic and political development. A survey study conducted in 2012 showed that only 10% of Europeans considered security issues as the most important problem (terrorism and crime combined). Surprisingly, the issue of social security and pensions, which is expected to be a huge obstacle to Europeans’ prosperity in near future, is also neglected.

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In the US, economic issues have been widely considered as the nation’s most important problem, especially after the economic crisis in 2008.

The chart below shows that 86% of Americans mentioned economic issues as the nation’s biggest problem in 2009, while only 16% of Americans did so in 2007.

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The second most often cited issue in the US is crime. It is a well-known fact that lenient gun control laws, socioeconomic imbalances and a tendency towards violence are the main reasons for high crime rates. Today, the US has the highest number of prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants [1] and this number is much higher than in Puerto Rico, South Africa and Rwanda.

These figures point out a crucial fact, which has long been overlooked in developed countries: people are more concerned with short-term problems than complicated welfare problems. Solutions to national economic issues are usually provided by policy makers soon after those issues occur. Welfare problems, on the other hand, such as high crime rates and a weak social security system, require time, money and a majority of policy makers agreeing on a particular piece of legislation. Adopting strict gun law and/or empowering the disadvantaged social classes with welfare programmes, for instance, could lower crime rates. However there will always be interest groups that oppose these policies.

In Europe, the issues that most people overlook are social security system issues and rising integration problems for immigrants, both of which will have a crucial impact on future socioeconomic outcomes in Europe. It is a common belief that European states will soon have trouble financing their social security systems due to an aging population. Fertility rate is highest in Nordic countries and France as they provide generous welfare programmes aimed at families and childcare. The rest of Europe is likely to face structural socioeconomic problems unless stable welfare programmes are developed and enforced.

Economic problems were the most frequently mentioned issues both in the US and Europe in the last year. However, these economic problems are a phase of reoccurring business cycles and therefore are unlikely to last long. What does the future hold for Europe and the rest of the world in 2014? Are economic issues the most important problem the surveys abate? It is hard to answer that question. More important is that these societies immediately focus their attention on the overlooked socioeconomic problems that may affect national economies in the near future. Europe should find a way to finance its social security and keep providing generous welfare programmes, while homogenising its multicultural population. The US, on the other hand, should focus more on reducing crime rates and improving welfare programmes to provide a peaceful environment for its citizens. The US and Europe may well realise how important it is to solve these socioeconomic problems, be it in 2014 or the coming years.

 [1] It is 730 per 100.000 inhabitants according to The Economist.

Edited by: Svetli Vassileva
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Maurice Mingay