It has become common wisdom on the Left that the United States needs to be more like Europe. Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton and, especially, Bernie Sanders can hardly contain their enthusiasm for the European model of the modern social welfare state. As Sanders puts it, “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.”
Obviously, this ignores Europe’s many problems — staggering debt, slow economic growth, high unemployment — but maybe Sanders et al. are onto something. Maybe there are some things we could learn from Europe.

For example, we could well benefit from adopting a Swiss-style “debt break.” By law, the Swiss government cannot run a budget deficit over an economic cycle. This is not, strictly speaking, a requirement for an annual balanced budget, but rather it limits the growth in government spending to no more than the average of revenue increases over a multiyear period, after adjusting for the cyclical position of the economy (as calculated by Switzerland’s Federal Department of Finance). This allows the government to smooth budgets during economic slowdowns, when revenues decline and expenditures rise, but prevents ongoing deficit spending. Nor can the Swiss easily raise federal taxes to finance more spending. Maximum tax rates at the national level — an 11.5 percent income tax, an 8 percent value-added tax, and an 8.5 percent corporate tax — are set by the constitution. They can be raised only through a referendum, in which the proposed increase would have to win both a majority of the national vote and a majority of the vote in more than half the Swiss cantons. The equivalent in the United States would be that every tax hike had to be approved by a majority of all American voters and a majority of voters in at least 26 states.