Europeans blame economic mess on US 'anything goes' capitalism as Iceland faces a full meltdown.
The economic image of the United States as a high-rolling tycoon at a Vegas casino, willing to gamble and reap rewards, has always stood in stark contrast to that of the European bean counter.
Now here in Europe, long a bastion of distrust toward unfettered capitalism, there's a question running underneath the financial crisis: Is the era of "anything goes" free markets over?
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is refuting the infallibility of free markets. Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti is touting his best-selling book, a treatise against globalization. His German counterpart, Peer Steinbrück, points a sharp finger of blame at the United States, telling parliament recently that it is "the source" and "the focus" of the crisis.
"Some in Europe see the financial crisis as a win on points for the Continental financial system against the Anglo-American one," conservative commentator Friedhelm Hengsbach recently wrote in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a German daily.
These instances of schadenfreude and we-told-you-so have tapered off lately as Europe, seeing many of its own financial institutions fail in the past week, has been unable to hold up its financial systems as better prepared to mitigate an economic meltdown. Iceland, for instance, is at risk of "national bankruptcy," according to Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde.
But they underscore the fundamentally different philosophies of the US and EU toward market economics, and suggest that a deep-rooted disdain for US financial policy is peaking here. They also go some way to explaining how both sides of the Atlantic are responding to the crisis and which direction capitalism might take when financial systems finally recover and rebuild.