In my post about laws and traffic laws, Erik of No Pasaran! took me to task in Comments. According to him, I’m an Allyagottado — i.e. a slave to the law. (I should mention that Erik and I go back a long, long way; he’s one of the good guys, a rarity in Eurostan, and I don’t take his criticism of me to heart.) Read his comment first, but let me say at the outset that it’s basically a rant against traffic speed limits, with which I don’t disagree that much. (I should also point out that the entire point of my post was that apart from traffic laws, which to me are a minor irritation, I’m anything but an Allyagottado, but whatever.)
But that’s not what I want to talk about today. One of Erik’s points was that speed limits, or rather the lack thereof on Germany’s autobahns makes for efficient driving and few crashes. That’s by and large true, although when you do see a crash on the autobahn, it’s a doozy: seldom fewer than four or five cars totally wrecked, and multiple cases of serious injury and/or deaths. However, there’s a point that is seldom made by people who love the no-speed limit on Germany’s highways: the Germans know how to drive. And that’s a very salient point, because to get a driver’s license in Germany, you don’t just get handed one after a couple weeks of driver’s ed in high school; you have to enroll in a State-authorized Fahrschule and pass both a theory- and practical examination (here’s a decent overview so I don’t have to go into detail). It is not a cheap process, it is extraordinarily difficult, and unlike here in the United States, the Germans treat driving very much as a State-granted privilege and quite definitely not as an individual’s right. It is quite common for licenses to be suspended, sometimes for life, after multiple traffic infractions, and with no appeal. (In Germany, if you get angry at another driver and just make a rude gesture, there’s a good chance that you’ll be photographed by one of the hundreds of thousands of traffic cameras on the autobahns — oh yes, we Americans would just love that degree of privacy invasion — and you’ll lose your German driver’s license, possibly forever if it’s not your first offense.)
To repeat: driving is treated in Germany far more strictly than it is treated Over Here. And thus a comparison of the two countries in this regard is not only difficult, but incongruent. “Why can’t we have highway speed limits like the Germans?” is answered simply by, “We could, if we wanted to live under a Germanic system of licensing and control.”
To get away from the Germans (something we should do as a matter of course anyway*); I’m always amused by people of the gun control persuasion who never tire of comparing the U.S. gunfire homicide rates with those of Japan (a favorite of theirs, by the way). “Why can’t we be more like the Japanese?” they wail as they wave around Japan’s 0.00000001% statistic. Well, we could, if we Americans were prepared to put up with the stifling social conformity and authority-worship of Japanese society, and the complete lack of a Second Amendment in our Constitution. But we wouldn’t, and shouldn’t.
Which brings us, finally, to the point of this particular post. Many foreign countries do certain things better than we do, or at least have it better than we do in certain respects. But as the above examples have shown, that superiority generally comes at a steep price, and is most often a price paid with a profound loss of personal freedom — or else, a profound loss of standard of living and quality of life — all of which are abhorrent to us.
If we are going to make an honest comparison, therefore, I’m not sure we Americans come off that badly, all things considered.
Oh, and Erik, if you read this: I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find too many instances in my writings where I “reflexively defend the authorities” — any authorities. But hey, if it helps you make your argument…
*Of course, I exclude my German Readers from this observation because to a man, they are my kind of people: hard-working, law-abiding, freedom-loving and lovers of firearms, to name but a few common attributes. (And to Reader Sam R. in particular, over in Germanland: Vielen dank für Ihre Großzügigkeit, if you’ll excuse my schreckliches Deutsch.)