Value Systems : Superpowers

America the superpower. America, the worldís moral and military guardian. The champion of personal liberty. Unstoppable.

Europe, an inward looking and increasingly irrelevant place. Focused on rules and treaties. The home of socialism, putting internal peace before all else.


The usual stereotypes. But how different are the USA and Europe in reality? Is the language getting in the way or reality? What are the leadership implications? We'll look at some hard data, before we jump to conclusions. We will look at value systems (based on the groundbreaking work of Geert Hofstede), some very recent transatlantic public opinion, and then what history tells us about what it means to lead a real superpower.


Let us start by quoting Robert Kagan:


"It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power - the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power - American and European perspectives are diverging.


Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kantís ìPerpetual Peace.


The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might. That is why on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus."


I have to declare a personal card or two before going forward - I am a Brit.  More, I thought of myself as a European when that was unfashionable in the UK.  Yet for almost 28 years I worked for Fortune 50 American companies for which I still have the highest regard.  I was a US corporate officer, one of my children has a US passport, and many of my closest friends are American.


All of those excuses made, I am saddened by today's America, and disappointed by Europe.


American is rightly taking a leadership role, but its unilateral actions are becoming increasingly divisive. And, whilst Europe is indeed inwardly focused, partly for good reasons, this should not be at the expense of the world community.


Personally I am tired of "superpower" talk on both sides of the Atlantic, and what appears to be an almost deliberate misunderstanding of each other. This terminology is getting in the way in almost every issue we collectively face. And the terminology is also adversely affecting the way the leaders think and act.


First, some recent background.


  • The Herald Tribune reported an increasing concern amongst strategists that the real threat to stability in Iraq is no longer Saddamís supporters or inbound terrorists ñ but ordinary people who are sick of occupation. And there is also likely to be an "embarrassing lack of donations to help rebuild Iraq" from other Countries.
  • Time Magazine carried an interesting view from Michael Elliot that America is mad at France  because France is acting just like the US.  Both are simply looking after their own National interests  a point central to Condoleezza Riceís policy philosophy when she declared ìThere is nothing wrong with doing something that benefits all humanity, but that, in a sense, is a second-order effectî.
  • The Economist carried the leader "The charming outcome of the Cancun trade talks" illustrated by a cactus giving the world the finger! The US, Japan and Europe have much in common it seems. It is all a market, and usually we win.  But not always. 

The WTO system was set up mainly by the US [and backed by the Europeans] to encourage global trade and openness.  It is as we know increasingly under attack.  Why?  Well, we ask the rest of the world to open their doors to free trade, whilst resolutely defending our farming constituencies.  Neither the US nor Europe appear ready to back away from farm subsidies - declared unfair competition by the developing world. The developing Nations also got rather carried away with their won rhetoric and ignored the benefits of free trade. They walked right into the hands of those who prefer bilateral or limited agreements to the benefits of open, global trade.


So, let's first look at value systems on the two continents.




Leaders of course must truly understand the values of their constituencies. Europe and the US are both similar and yet both different at the same time.  Europe is full of countries whose differences between themselves are sometimes bigger than the ìglobal differencesî between the US and Europe.


Let us offer a brief introduction to the ideas of Geert Hofstede. He conducted one of the largest scale cultural studies ever done to this day.  It ran across 66 countries with 117,000 respondents in 1968 and 1970. And it was conducted inside one global corporation [IBM] to provide a standardized organization and work environment - so focusing on deep rooted social differences. 


He published follow up study in 1991, and his work led to more recent classifications and theories from people such as Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden Turner.  Yet Hofstede's original results are still valid and illuminating today.


Hofstede identified four axes of similarity and difference in this study.  As noted, several sub-streams have since been added by others - but Hofstedeís core remains "Masculinity/Femininity", "Uncertainty Avoidance", "Individualism /Collectivism", and "Power Distance"


[The data below is based on "Culture's consequences: International differences in work-related values" Sage Books, 1980. Hofstede also wrote "Cultures & Organizations" in 1991, which elaborates on his earlier work. Any errors in the analysis are mine].


We will just look at the US, the UK, Germany, France and Italy ñ in many ways the major protagonists in the recent spats over Iraq strategy - and the Netherlands as an example of a ìsmallerî Country. We are also including Mexico as a critical part of NAFTA.


1. Masculinity: the dominant values in society are material success [money and things] versus caring for others and the quality of life [Femininity]


High/Masculinity: Stress on equity, competition, and performance - Managers are expected to be decisive and assertive

Low/Femininity: Stress on equality, solidarity, and quality of work life - Managers use intuition and strive for consensus


USA ranked 13 of 39                  - Moderate Masculinity                         

UK ranked 8 out of 39                 - High Masculinity

Germany ranked 9 of 39             - High Masculinity

France ranked 29 of 39               - High Femininity

Italy ranked 4 of 39                      - High Masculinity

Netherlands ranked 37 of 39       - High Femininity

Mexico ranked 6 of 30                 - High Masculinity


In line with accepted wisdom, Italy, the UK, Germany and Mexico are more ìmasculineî than the US. I would hope this suggests that the US is more moderated in its approach to equality and balance. On the other hand France is "feminine", with Scandinavia and the Netherlands ranking the most feminine [read that ìcaring and nurturingî] in the world.


2. Uncertainty Avoidance: The extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous circumstances and have created beliefs and institutions to avoid such conditions.


High Uncertainty Avoidance: Many rules & low tolerance of deviant ideas; resistance to change

Low Uncertainty Avoidance: Few rules & high tolerance of deviant and innovative ideas


USA ranked 31 of 39                   - Low Uncertainty Avoidance                 

UK ranked 34 of 39                     - Low Uncertainty Avoidance

Germany ranked 20 of 39            - Moderate Uncertainty Avoidance

France ranked 6 of 39                 - High Uncertainty Avoidance

Italy ranked 16 of 39                    - Moderate Uncertainty Avoidance

Netherlands ranked 25 of 39        - Moderate Uncertainty Avoidance

Mexico ranked 11 of 39               - Moderate Uncertainty Avoidance          


Here, the famous US/UK "special relationship" comes to the fore - the people of neither Country like rules being applied to them, so it is not surprising they like each other. Yet the French want to really know where things stand, whilst other European countries seem to be in the middle.


3. Individualism applies to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after themselves and their immediate family.

Collectivism applies to societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive groups, which throughout peopleís lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.


High Individualism: Identity is based on the individual - Task prevails over relationship

High Collectivism: Identity is based on one ís social grouping - Relationships prevail over task


USA ranked 1 of 39                    - High Individualism                                           

UK ranked 3 of 39                       - High Individualism       

France ranked 11 of 39               - High Individualism

Germany ranked 15 of 39            - Moderate Individualism

Italy ranked 7 of 39                      - High Individualism

Netherlands ranked 5 of 39         - High Individualism

Mexico ranked 29 of 39               - Low Individualism


So individualism is one thing the Americans, the Brits, the Dutch, the Italians and the French all share.  No wonder we are all trying to pursue our own agendas.  In fact, most of Europe is moderate or high on this count - it is in Asia and Latin America where things really move towards collectivism.  Europe might have been the birthplace of Socialism ñ but apparently we all still prefer to be individuals.


Perhaps Condoleezza Rice has a point - but, if so, we must recognize that in talking to Europe one is talking not to one State but a collection of States who all want to be treated as individuals.


By the way, note Mexicoís scores ñ what does that mean for NAFTA or indeed the Hispanic USA?


4. Power Distance: the extent to which the less powerful expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.


Low Power Distance: Boss should be resourceful democrat - Hierarchy in organizations seen as exploitive

High Power Distance: Boss should be benevolent autocrat - Hierarchy in organizations reflects natural differences


USA ranked 25 of 39                   - Moderate Power Distance

UK ranked 30 of 39                     - Low Power Distance

France ranked 8 of 39                 - High Power Distance

Germany ranked 29 of 39            - Low Power Distance

Italy ranked 22 of 39                    - Moderate Power Distance

Netherlands ranked 27 of 39        - Low Power Distance

Mexico ranked 2 of 39                 - High Power Distance


Again, lots of similarity between the US, the UK, the Italians, the Dutch and the Germans ñ although I find it interesting that UK bosses were expected to be most ìdemocraticî. This is also an area where there is one of the biggest separations with France - as that Country is in the company of most Asians and Latin Americans on this criterion. And consider Mexicoís position.


So what do I conclude from Hofstedeís four criteria? 

There are indeed differences between Europe and the USA, and some of them support Kaganís views.  But it seems that there are often more telling differences inside Europe.  France and parts of Southern Europe are indeed measurably different to the North, which is in fact often more in tune with the US.


That said, how should we compare the US and Europe as a whole?


People immigrate to the USA to join the American dream.  They can retain their cultural identities, but within that one dream.  They are subject to essentially one legal and political system - and whilst there are differences between the two coasts, the mid west, and many other parts of the US, there is a certain homogeneity of beliefs and systems across the country - the Starbucks universe, one assumes.  Put another way, the US, too, operates to a set of rules - just as Kagan says the Europeans are doing.


By contrast, it is rather remarkable that a Europe full of proud, individualistic States can have done such a good job of joining together inside the EU.  They have a history of war going back centuries.  And, what is wrong with the pursuit of peace?  European countries all zealously guard their own unique identities ñ even Scotland and England have different legal systems ñ and the only way to make that all work is with clear rules of engagement.


And, whilst this is not the scope of this article, I find the US - Mexican data of interest for the future of NAFTA, and indeed for the Hispanic US itself.




Leaders should also reflect the way their constituencies are thinking about the future in building workable collective programs. Europeans today seem to like the US less than last year, whilst Americans have not really changed vis a vis the Europeans. And whilst Americans are more likely to want to apply force, both seem to give NATO as much legitimacy in dealing with global issues as they give the United Nations Security Council.


A survey [Transatlantic Trends 2003] was conducted in June 2003 with 8,000 Americans and Europeans.  It was conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Compagnia di San Paolo, based in Turin, Italy. A similar study was run last year [Worldviews 2002]. Here are a few results:


o        On a thermometer scale, Europeans ranked 570 on their warmth to the US, versus 640 last year.  The US warmth towards the Europeans remained at 600.

o        The UK and Italy were ìwarmestî to the US, at 610, with France at 500. A relatively small difference between bottom and top.

o        Yet the UK was at 570 towards the EU [below even the US at 600] and well below Italy at 800, Germany at 750 and France at 730. It seems that the EU engenders more emotion in Europe than the US does!


o        Europeans now question the role of U.S. as superpower.

o        Throughout Europe, the majority expressed disapproval of current U.S. foreign policy, with disapproval ratings among Italians and Germans soaring up 20 points from the 2002 survey.

o        Who in Europe approves of George Bushís handling of international affairs?  Virtually no one.  Britain, 35%.  France, 15%. Germany, 16%. Netherlands, 37%. Italy, 40%.  Only Poland [58%] exceeds the 50:50 mark.


o        Americans support U.S. involvement overseas in record numbers. Interestingly Americans also continue to see a leadership role for Europe.

o        The highest percentage of Americans since 1947 [77%] said they were in favour of an active U.S. role in world affairs.

o        Support for isolationism was at a record low [15%].

o        Most Americans [80%] said strong EU leadership was desirable.


o        The poll showed that Americans and Europeans share similar views about global threats. International terrorism, weapons of mass destruction in North Korea and Iran, Islamic fundamentalism, and the Israeli-Arab conflict ranked as their top five concerns.


o        But when asked how to respond to global threats Americans and Europeans expressed sharp differences. Americans were more likely than Europeans to support the use of military force to rid countries of weapons of mass destruction and to bypass the United Nations if vital National interests are at stake.

o        73% of Americans support United Nations backed force, whilst only 43% of Europeans do.

o        Almost the same number of Europeans supported military action in Korea and Iran backed by NATO as they supported it backed by the United Nations Security Council [43% and 46% respectively]. 

o        Americans voted about equally for the UN and NATO, at 73%.  This at minimum suggests that the ìsnubbingî of the goodwill of European NATO by the US post 9/11 was a strategic error by the Administration.

o        Americans also were more willing to exert pressure on Palestinians and Arab States than were Europeans. Europeans tended also to put blame on Israel. In fact, more Europeans than Americans were willing to send a force to separate the Israelis and the Palestinians [33% versus 26%].


o        It gets of course more complex when one looks at Country differences inside Europe.

o        55% of Britons want strong US Leadership, yet only 27% of French people do.

o        And the German position has totally reversed ñ last year, 68% thought a strong US leadership role was desirable ñ this year, it is only 45%.

o        Wh

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