I have just returned from a two-and-a-half week vacation to Europe. My wife Marsha and I traveled to the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland—some of the most modern countries on earth, next to the United States. In some ways, in fact, Europe seems ahead of us. For example there is a greater reliance on mass transportation and bicycles. There also is a deeper understanding that citizens can and should take personal responsibility for their actions, rather than sacrifice common sense to overbearing laws that limit the actions of individuals.
Marsha and I traveled with two other couples during most of the trip, and the six of us frequently commented on the level of personal responsibility that seems to prevail throughout Europe. For instance staircases in Europe do not always include railings, presumably because people are deemed smart enough to know that they might stumble and fall if they do not watch their step.
Unfortunately a sad extreme was played out while we were in the Swiss Alps, where base jumping is a popular sport. Base jumping involves literally jumping off a mountaintop and opening a small parachute during the descent. While in Switzerland, a young man doing a base jump was killed instantly when a sudden wind shear dashed him into the mountainside. My traveling companions and I expected a barrage of news stories, followed by public outcry against the dangers of base jumping. Instead, nothing. In Europe, it seems, there is an assumption that if you’re jumping off a mountain, you know the risks.
As I look at the tangle of rules and regulations in the United States that require banks to collect data and report it to the government, or to make copious (and unread) disclosures to consumers, I cannot help but wonder if the European banking industry is subject to the same asinine requirements. I did not take the time to determine the answer—hey, I was on vacation—but I doubt it. Given the refreshing personal-responsibility bent of Europe, I suspect that consumers are trusted to make decisions they feel are in their best interest, without looking to the Big Brother of government.
I returned home in time to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Dodd-Frank Act, perhaps the most intrusive act against financial personal responsibility in history. Welcome home!