Peter Baldwin of TNR has put together a very intriguing slide show that helps debunk the America is from Mars, Europe is from Venus myth by showing that on some very key measures (market regulation, public education, social policy, health care, crime, and the environment) we are very much alike.
Slide 3 (to see the others, copy "Are America and Europe Really All That Different?" and paste it into A Blue View's search box at the top right):
Social welfare. Everyone has heard that America's welfare state is minimal and paltry compared to those found in Europe. And it is, if the standard is taken to be Sweden or Germany. But compared with the span of social policy within Europe as a whole, by most measures, the United States fits comfortably into the lower half of the European spectrum, alongside Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, and the Netherlands.
Of course, when you tally public social spending by measuring monies channeled through the state, America appears at the low end of the European spectrum. That makes sense, because the United States has no universal system of health insurance, nor does it have family allowances, as Europeans do. But other avenues of redistribution are equally important: voluntary efforts, private but legally mandated benefits, and tax-based social benefits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. If we take all these together, the American welfare state is more extensive than is often realized. The total social-policy effort made in the United States falls precisely at the center of the European spectrum. The Swedes allot almost twice the fraction of GDP that Americans allocate to social policy, but the actual spending per citizen in the United States is only about 30 percent less than in Sweden.