Anti-americanism redux

by John Q on November 25, 2005

Following the recent discussion here of critics of US foreign policy being labelled as anti-American, I saw a snippet in the Australian Financial Review (subscription required) in which the Wall Street Journal (also subscription required) applied the same epithet to Australians critical of US labour market institutions and their outcomes, even extending this to former Oz PM Bob Hawke, about as prominent a supporter of the US alliance as you could find, though, like many others, a critic of the Iraq war. The relevant quote

Even Labor leaders who have previously been strong supporters of the alliance have not hesitated to stir anti-US prejudices this time. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke warned that making it easier for workers to negotiate wages directly either their employers would be “a move down the path to” -horror of horrors – “an Americanisation of labour relations

Unfortunately, my efforts to find the full piece have been unsuccessful – I assume it’s behind the paywall somewhere. I’d appreciate it it anyone could supply the full text.

I’d be interested to know, for example, whether the WSJ has extended its net to catch that notorious anti-American, John Howard, who has warned against taking the “American path” in relation to gun ownership and tort litigation.

In the meantime, let me suggest that lots of American workers share the “anti-American prejudice” that they would rather have a union on their side than enjoy the benefits of direct “negotiation” with employers. For example, this Gallup Poll reports that 38 per cent of Americans would like to see unions have more influence, as against 30 per cent who would prefer less. And I’ll guess that the WSJ itself would be happy enough to endorse Howard’s anti-Americanism, at least as far as tort law is concerned.



Oskar Shapley 11.25.05 at 6:34 am

Chomsky {don’t mean to start a flame war here} once said that 70% of Americans want a socialdemocratic system and it can be read from the different polls. A direct answer wouldn’t yield such an result (too many people interpreting the question as being about communism), but if you ask them if corporations have too much power, if every American should have a health insurance, etc. the results go in one direction.


brendan 11.25.05 at 6:35 am

It has to be said repeatedly that when I criticise Tony Blair (as I have been known to do from time to time) no one accuses me of being ‘anti-British’. Likewise, when someone says rude things about Bob Hawke, do they get accused of being anti-Australian? Do people talk about a ‘wave of anti-Australian’ (or anti-Dutch, or anti-Italian or anti-Spanish) prejudice sweeping the world?

On the other hand, when people criticised the regime of Saddam Hussein, were they accused of being anti-Iraqi? Not outside Iraq of course. But inside Iraq…yeah probably. And if you criticise Robert Mugabe are you accused of being anti-Zimbabwean? Not outside Zimbabwe you’re not. But inside Zimbabwe…yeah, probably. And of course critics of Russia before ’91 were always being accused of being ‘anti-Soviet’.


abb1 11.25.05 at 6:58 am

…critics of Russia before ‘91 were always being accused of being ‘anti-Soviet’.

Critics of the Soviet Union, not Russia. They were ‘anti-communists’.

Likewise, if ‘americanism’ is an ideology or philosophy or religion – a worldview of some sort – with the US government being its incarnation – then criticizing the US government is indeed anti-americanism. The question is: does ‘americanism’ exist? What is it, exactly?


soru 11.25.05 at 7:48 am

Not outside Iraq of course. But inside Iraq…yeah probably.

Australia is usually considered to be outside the USA.

Critics of islamic politicians are commonly accused of being islamophobic, critics of Soviet foriegn policy of being McCarthyites, critics of Israel of being anti-semites, critics of the UN of believing in black helicopters, etc.

For it to be otherwise, every stupid person in the world would have to be pro-american (and not anti-anything else), which would be quite a claim.



Brett Bellmore 11.25.05 at 8:12 am

When roughly ballanced numbers of people want opposite things, and a nearly as large fraction likes the status quo, I think it’s just a tad misleading to suggest that the public prefers one or the other change, even if it’s ahead by a few percent.

Personally, I’ve been in union, and non-union shops, and while I think it’s handy to have the threat of unionization looming in the background to keep management reasonable, I’ve much prefered the non-union shops. Unions work much better as a threat than something you actually have to live under the thumb of. (Maybe I’d think differently if I *wanted* my money sent to the Democratic party.)

Mind you, at least some companies DO have to be unionized, in order for the threat to be plausible…


Peter 11.25.05 at 8:27 am

The question is: does ‘americanism’ exist? What is it, exactly? (post 3)

From the 1950s, those of us living beyond the USA were subjected to a television series called “Superman”, in which a voice-over in the opening credits said he was “For Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” This was a statement which Americans produced, not anyone abroad, and someone in those united states must have known what it meant.

Of course, a pedant could respond that since the voice-over mentions three items, then it would be reasonable to conclude that the American Way is something distinct from either Truth or Justice.


Tom T. 11.25.05 at 8:36 am

I think John Q may be overreacting a bit to the WSJ quote. If Hawke’s quote is correct, he’s criticizing a proposed Australian policy not on its merits but on the ad hominem basis that it looks like something the US would do. How is it this not an “anti-US” argument? The term need not imply that the writer thinks the target is demonizing the entire American polity and culture; it seems to me that the term can also apply where the target is using the US as a derogatory metaphor on a particular issue. Oskar Shapley’s point in #1 makes a good point in this respect: presenting an issue in terms of policy details may produce one result, while presenting it in terms of a more overarching label may produce another.

(Note: I have no knowledge regarding the merits of the proposed labor-policy changes and am not endorsing or criticizing them in any way. Nor do I have any knowledge as to whether Hawke has made merits-based criticisms elsewhere; I’m only looking at the quoted excerpt.)


Slocum 11.25.05 at 8:47 am

Of course, in the U.S. auto industry, it is the American firms who are all unionized and the Japanese, German, and Korean firms who have set up non-union shops in states amenable to ‘workers negotiating directly with employers’. The non-union workers for Toyota, Honda, BMW, Mercedes, etc, enjoy wages and benefits close to UAW levels (and considerably better than what else is available in their areas) and much better job security than those UAW workers with a contract, since ultimately (as current event at Delphi and GM are making abundantly clear) a thriving company is a much more dependable guarantor of job security than a collective bargaining agreement.

Which, I suppose, is why these particular workers have NOT shown that they “they would rather have a union on their side than enjoy the benefits of direct ‘negotiation’ with employers.” In fact, they’ve expressed exactly the opposite sentiment in every failed organizing drive at these plants. Why? Perhaps because to accept UAW representation would be to give up the cost advatage that their employers have over American firms with UAW workforces.

This process (non-union Asian and European transplant firms growing and unionized American firms shrinking — now, finally, to the verge of insolvency) has been going gone on long enough that one might argue that a substantial cohort of Americans has no direct experience seeing large unionized industrial firms as anything other than dinosaurs.


otto 11.25.05 at 8:58 am

The point is that the world outside the US is drenched with information, mostly of poor quality, about the United States, so often references are made to US policies, real or imagined, in policy debates.

In the US, there’s much less public discussion about the policies of other countries, largely because the average American has vastly less information, accurate or otherwise, about life, let alone policies, in other countries.


Matt Weiner 11.25.05 at 9:49 am

Here‘s a bit more context (the transcriber decided to Americanize the spelling of “Americanize” but not of “labour” which made it a bit hard to find). Tom T, the next sentence was

In the USA, minimum wages are just US $5.15 an hour and have not increased for eight years, leaving hundreds of thousands of the poorest working families living below the poverty line.

which shows that the USA is not being used as a metaphor for all that’s awful but as a place–backed by hard data–where workers can be badly off.

You might say that Hawke’s link to criticizing American foreign policy showed a tinge of anti-Americanism, but it’s outright absurd to claim that the quote shows that Hawke was criticizing Americanization because of its connection to America, rather than because of its ill effects on the worst off.


Tom T. 11.25.05 at 11:18 am

Matt, thank you for the additional transcription. I agree that the context helps. But I think my point is somewhat different: that there was no need for Hawke to mention the US at all. He could just as easily have said “This proposal leads Australia down the road to an unacceptably low minimum wage” rather than “This proposal leads Australia down the road to the unacceptably low minimum wage of the United States.” The fact that he in effect said the latter suggests that he believed that some desired portion of his audience would consider his position more powerful specifically because it was tied to a criticism of the United States.


P O'Neill 11.25.05 at 11:22 am

JQ — here’s the full WSJ piece.


Australia’s Labor Reforms
November 22, 2005

From the death of that most cherished of Australian traditions — the weekend barbeque — to couples divorcing and a rise in the homicide rate, no scare story is too far-fetched for die-hard opponents of labor reform down under.

Trade unions brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets of major Australian cities last week in the biggest protests the country has seen in seven years. And their Labor Party backers were quick to warn of all manner of dire consequences if Prime Minister John Howard succeeds in reforming Australia’s outdated labor laws.

Never far below the surface, the anti-Americanism of Sydney’s left — still furious at Mr. Howard’s resolute support over Iraq — is back with a vengeance in this latest battle. Even Labor leaders who had previously been strong supporters of the alliance have not hesitated to stir anti-U.S. prejudices this time. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke warned that making it easier for workers to negotiate wages directly with their employers would be a “move down the path to” — horror of horror — “an Americanization of labor relations.”

Such rhetoric belies the modest nature of the Howard government’s proposals. Even if its Work Choices Bill is enacted, all Australian workers will continue to enjoy generous labor protection — including an A$12.75 (US$9.30) minimum hourly wage, four weeks annual holiday, and a year’s unpaid leave for new parents.

What will change is a belated recognition that labor union protections, aside from infringing on human liberties, are obsolete in today’s Australia. Two decades of economic reform (much of it initiated under Mr. Hawke’s leadership) has produced a entrepreneurial economy where one in ten are self-employed and union membership has fallen to less than a quarter of the workforce.

You wouldn’t know that from Australia’s labor laws, which still ban employers from negotiating directly with their employees, unless they match the wages and conditions set by state-run arbitration bodies for workers in that industry across Australia as a whole. Remove that restriction, as the Howard government is finally proposing to do, and you remove one of the main reasons stopping union membership from plummeting even faster. Other reforms would further reduce union power by insisting that strike votes or other industrial action require secret ballots, and simplifying the maze of more than 100 laws currently governing industrial relations.

Hence the scare stories, and the ferocity of the counter-offensive by the union movement and its Labor allies. They represent an Australia of old battling for its political survival. Having already been dealt a blow by Mr. Howard’s reelection with an increased majority last year, and a swing in his favor among the blue-collar workers who were once Labor’s staunchest supporters, they know how much is at stake.

For all last week’s street protests, the chances are they will fail again. The Howard government’s parliamentary majority all but ensures the bill will be enacted. And modern Australia has shown through its voting habits, and changing employment patterns, an understanding of how true job security comes not through restrictive labor laws, but from a flexible labor market that helps fuel continued economic growth.

Devastating though it may prove to union membership, the bill is only a first step in this direction. As Mr. Howard said recently, “In a year’s time, people will look back and say why on earth did people try and exaggerate and scare us.”


otto 11.25.05 at 11:34 am

CT readers of this post may enjoy Garton Ash on Anti-Europeanism in America:


Matt Weiner 11.25.05 at 11:43 am

Tom T, I think the underlying thought is not “US bad!” but “State of labor relations in the US bad!” And that latter isn’t an anti-American position. The full editorial (thanks P. O’Neill) makes it clear that Australia currently has much stronger unions, more (as I would see it) worker-friendly labor laws, more generous leave policies, etc. than the US. In that context it makes sense to talk about “Americanization” rather than to list off every particular in which US labor relations differ from Australian labor relations.

No doubt a large portion of Hawke’s audience does take the criticism more seriously because it’s tied to an attack on US labor relations, but that seems to be based on a judgment of the merits of US labor relations rather than any broad-based anti-Americanism.

(The bit about foreign policy may be a cheap shot that could be considered anti-American, though I would call it anti-current American government. And as you can guess I’m all for that.)


C.J.Colucci 11.25.05 at 12:51 pm

Why is “Anti-American” a relevant concept here? We’re talking about Australia. It’s a foreign country, except to Australians. It has, quite wisely and correctly, decided not to fight a war against the United States and has maintained generally civil and even moderately friendly relations with it, but the business of the sovereign nation of Australia is to be pro-Australian, not pro-American. Australia does not impede our interests in the world, and sometimes helps advance them. It also avoids gratuitous insult. America had no business asking for more.


Pithlord 11.25.05 at 1:06 pm

As Quiggin alluded to, people who like many things about America may not believe it is perfect in every respect. Canadian conservatives occasionally talk about how bringing in class action legislation, say, will result in an “American-style” tort system. An American-style health system is not usually used as a compliment. This can be so, even if American-style entrepenurship, or American-style sense of national unity and purpose, is admired.

Most non-Americans know more about America than Americans know about any non-American country. That’s just the way it is.


a 11.25.05 at 2:23 pm

“Chomsky … once said that 70% of Americans want a socialdemocratic system”

And 65% of Americans say that they are overtaxed.

Chomsky’s a twit. Who knew?


goatchowder 11.25.05 at 2:54 pm

Well, that may be because 65% of us *are* over-taxed. To make up for the revenue shortfall, of course, the 1% at the top are way *under* taxed. But don’t ask them… they don’t want to pay anything.


abb1 11.25.05 at 3:09 pm

I think it’s more like 50% that think they are overtaxed. Also, “are you overtaxed?” is a silly question – depends on how it’s spent, doesn’t it?


Steve LaBonne 11.25.05 at 5:37 pm

At this point I would classify anyone who supports Bush’s “foreign policy” as an enabler rather than a true friend of the United States. (Yes, I’m lookin’ at you, Tony Blair.)


Pablo Stafforini 11.25.05 at 7:37 pm

Does “anti-Americanism” exist? What is it, exactly? Tom Paine has the answer:

Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil.

Those who criticize “America” generally object to the policies of the US government; while those who speak of “anti-Americanism” invariably read the critics as objecting to the character of US society. Seen in this light, the true anti-Americans become, ironically, the ones who “confound society with government,” and who, by censoring their fellow patriotic citizens whose criticisms tacitly acknowledge the distinction they ignore, dishonour their own country and demean the memory of one of the Founding Fathers of America.


Brett Bellmore 11.25.05 at 8:41 pm

“To make up for the revenue shortfall, of course, the 1% at the top are way under taxed”

I suppose that depends on how you define “under-taxed”; As paying less taxes than could conceivably be extracted from you, or paying less taxes than would be required to pay for the services you receive.

I tend towards the latter defintion, and by it the wealthy could scarcely be regarded as “undertaxed”.


abb1 11.26.05 at 3:58 am

‘Under-taxed’ as being allowed to keep too much of what they unfairly extracted from the rest of us. Redistribution of wealth is one of the purposes of taxation.


Anonymous 11.26.05 at 8:35 am

No one likes to pay taxes. What is relevant is whether you are willing to pay for government services (roads, veteran hospitals, education, law enforcement, healthcare…).

If you are unwilling to pay for those, then you are definitely overtaxed. But then, of course, you should not be able to make any claims on those services, because you would then be a free-rider.

As for me, I am willing to pay more taxes in order to ensure that everyone gets access to affordable health care, including me.


david tiley 11.26.05 at 11:04 am

From the WSJ: “Even Labor leaders who had previously been strong supporters of the alliance have not hesitated to stir anti-U.S. prejudices this time.”

See, there’s no anti-American more pesky than a secret anti-American, so devious he will go to war on your side.



Jim S 11.26.05 at 12:04 pm

From the WSJ article:
“What will change is a belated recognition that labor union protections, aside from infringing on human liberties, are obsolete in today’s Australia. Two decades of economic reform (much of it initiated under Mr. Hawke’s leadership) has produced a entrepreneurial economy where one in ten are self-employed and union membership has fallen to less than a quarter of the workforce.”

Unions infringe on human liberties? Gee, could this reveal the shocking fact that the WSJ would like to see all labor unions everywhere bite the dust? I’m just shocked that a fine reputable paper like that should wish to see all power go to the corporation and none to the employee. Shocked.

Let’s face it, if there were a truth in journalism law which the political right wing in the U.S. thinks would reveal the entire MSM to be a liberal tool, the label for the WSJ would read “A Republican National Committee Publication”.


Syd Webb 11.26.05 at 9:41 pm

The normally reliable abb1 wrote:

‘Under-taxed’ as being allowed to keep too much of what they unfairly extracted from the rest of us. Redistribution of wealth is one of the purposes of taxation.

Actually, no. I’ve just been reading The Origins of the American Income Tax: The Revenue Act of 1894 and Its Aftermath by Richard J Joseph. He audaciously attempts to discover the intent behind the Revenue Act of 1894 – declared unconstitutional by the Fuller Supreme Court in the Pollock case. Joseph argues that the 1894 Act is the direct antecedent of the 1913 Tariff Act, passed in the more permissive post-16th Amendment environment.

The 1894 Act imposed a 2% tax on incomes above $4,000. About 85,000 Americans were expected to become liable. The income tax was first and foremost intended to bridge a revenue gap following the depression of ’93.

It was in no ways redistributive of wealth. The wealthy could still grow wealthier, with 98% of their income stream available to grow their wealth, after having $4,000 allocated to living expenses. And the poor wouldn’t get richer as the Federal government wasn’t yet in the business of giving money to the poor – apart from veterans benefits.

What the Revenue Act of 1894 was intended to do was to reduce the Federal government’s reliance on customs duties and excises – taxes that fell disproportionally on the poor. It was a redistribution of burden shifting some of the burden of defence, foreign policy, payments on the national debt and governmental upkeep onto those with the greatest capacity to pay.

From 1913 until the early ’40s income tax was a tax on the few. Being liable for income tax was a sign that one had ‘arrived’. But with WWII and the need for vast revenues the income tax rates went up and the exemption levels dropped. Income tax had become the privilege of the masses and increasingly the wealthy had less and less to do with it.


abb1 11.27.05 at 6:58 am

Well, I am not an enthusiast of redistribution of income, wealth or burden (all amount to more or less the same thing, of course) via taxation. There are much better and more natural ways of reducing inequality – unionization of labor is obviously the best – and even the minimum wage laws ($17/hour where I live now, and no one is complaining) is certainly a better way.

But since everything else is missing in the US, progressive taxation is the means of the last resort. So, all things considered, I think I can say that the rich in the US certainly are undertaxed – on the basis that they’re facing no other constraints, no natural predators, like rabbits in Australia.


Z 11.28.05 at 10:08 am

$17/hour where I live now

Just wondering, where do you live abb1? (By the way, minimum wage where I live is $9.4/hour, and I live in France).


abb1 11.28.05 at 11:42 am

Geneva canton, Switzerland; I heard they bumped it from 18chf to 21chf last month. Sure, it’s a bit expensive here, especially where manual labor is involved (like car repair) but quality is better too – I guess people don’t hate their jobs, or, at least, not as much as if they had to do it for $5/hour.

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