Here’s a good article from Joe Conason at Salon.com discussing social services in Europe.
[T]he French and other Europeans note pointedly that their societies routinely spend much more than ours to protect workers, women, the young, the elderly, and the poor from economic trouble, they’re merely making a factual observation. (France spends as much as 1.5 percent of GDP annually on childcare and maternity benefits alone.) Different as we are in culture and history, we might even learn something from their example, now that the blinding ideology of the past has been swept away.
By now, most Americans ought to know that Europeans treat healthcare as a public good and a human right, which means that they spend billions of tax dollars annually to insure everyone (although they spend less overall on the medical sector than we do). What most Americans probably still don’t know is that those European medical systems are highly varied, with private medicine and insurance playing different roles in different countries. Expensive as universal quality care has inevitably become, as technology improves and populations age, the Europeans broadly believe in their social security systems -- because they provide competitive advantage as well as moral superiority.
To Americans unfamiliar with the “social market” approach to public policy, the specifics of the European programs are stunning. In France, for instance, women are entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave following the birth of their first and second child -- and 26 weeks paid leave following the birth of each subsequent child, at 100-percent of their pre-maternity wages. Men are entitled to 11 days of fully-paid paternity leave, and both mom and dad can take advantage of an additional three years of parental leave with lower benefits. Childcare is subsidized by the state as early as 18 months and by the time children are 30 months old, they are guaranteed a place in France’s free public preschools, which are staffed by well-paid teachers with graduate training in early childhood education. Similar systems and benefits can be found in countries across Western Europe (with the exception of the United Kingdom) -- and the effects on educational performance can be seen in many comparative studies. They’re happier, too, by the way (and evangelicals please note that the divorce rate in Norway has fallen by six percent over the past decade, possibly as a result of reduced pressure on families).
I find stories like this very interesting. For years, we’ve heard nothing but awful things about the European system of health care. Opponents of health care reform like to compare a potential government run health care system to the DMV. The truth is, Europeans are better cared for and happier than we are.
I suppose that if we’re that happy, then we’d have nothing to complain about, and that would be un-American, wouldn't it?