In 2007, the comparative law scholar James Whitman wrote a fine article comparing the United States and Western Europe not on traditional social-welfare/laissez-faire grounds, but rather on the axis of consumerism and producerism. The U.S., he argued, can best be described as a consumerist legal culture, in which the law tends to favor protection of individual consumers (the demand side), rather than producers. Thus, American legal policy tends to favor policies which deliver lower-cost goods, even if they may result in consolidation and uniformity (i.e., Wal-Mart moves in and drives a bunch of local, family-run stores out of business, but delivers unbeatable low prices and convenient to the surrounding region).
European policy, says Whitman, is characterized by "producerism":
Despite all the global pressures to embrace economic consumerism, when continental Europeans gaze upon the modern marketplace, they remain much more likely than Americans to perceive rights and interests on the supply side, rather than on the demand side. Thus when it comes to basic labor law, they remain much more ready than Americans to think of workers’ rights as fundamental. When it comes to competition law, they remain more likely than Americans to focus on the rights of competitors to market-share, rather than on the rights of consumers to benefit from competitive prices. When it comes to the law of retail, they remain more likely to find ways to protect small shopkeepers against large retail outfits. I will offer numerous other examples too. In particular, I will argue that old guild and artisanal traditions are far more vigorous in Europe than they are in the United States. Indeed, the strength of their artisanal traditions has much to do with the successes of continental economies, which are specializing in high-end, luxury, and precision goods. The net result is a continental Europe where artisanal traditions remain strong, where small shopkeepers benefit from important legal protections, and where workers’ rights are far more important than gender or race rights. Europe, I will conclude, is not turning into the United States.
Whitman also suggests things like store-hours regulations, limits on advertising and sales, and extensive and strict regulation of the trades (which means your average neighborhood butcher has had years of carefully-supervised training, and is likely to really know a lot about meat) are also aspects of "producerism." I can recommend the entire article (which you can download from the given link) — Whitman's prose is clear, and there is surprisingly little legalese in it and a lot of acute cross-cultural observation.
I also find that his interesting consumerist/producerist distinction pops up in a lot of my thinking about cross-cultural differences now. For instance, when I read this in the New York Times:
[American] book publishers and booksellers are full of foreboding — even more than usual for an industry that’s been anticipating its demise since the advent of television. The holiday season that just ended is likely to have been one of the worst in decades. Publishers have been cutting back and laying off. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced that it wouldn’t be acquiring any new manuscripts, a move akin to a butcher shop proclaiming it had stopped ordering fresh meat.
Bookstores, both new and secondhand, are faltering as well. Olsson’s, the leading independent chain in Washington, went bankrupt and shut down in September. Robin’s, which says it is the oldest bookstore in Philadelphia, will close next month. The once-mighty Borders chain is on the rocks. Powell’s, the huge store in Portland, Ore., said sales were so weak it was encouraging its staff to take unpaid sabbaticals.
Andy Ross, the former owner of Cody’s, told me that buying books online “was not morally dubious, but it is tragic. It has a lot of unintended consequences for communities.”…
Sales of classics and other backlist titles used to be the financial engine of publishers and bookstores as well, allowing them to take chances on new authors. Clearly that model is breaking. Simon & Schuster, which laid off staffers this month, cited backlist sales as a particularly troubled area. Michael Barnard, who owns Rakestraw Books in Danville, Calif., not far from Berkeley, was more critical of me. He said that I was taking Ms. Lesser’s work while depriving her of an income, and that I would regret my selfish actions when all the physical stores were gone.
In Germany, by contrast, there is a classic "producerist" regulation which is intended to preserve the viability of small publishers and bookshops, so that there's a "bookstore on every corner." It's called the Buchpreisbindung (g) or the "fixed book-price regulation." It specifies that, for the first 18 months after a book's release, it may not be sold by any retail outlet for less than the price specified by the publisher. The purpose of the regulation is to prevent large retailers from driving small local bookshops out of business, and supporting small or specialty publishers. Of course, it also means less price competition for the ultimate consumer — but that seems to be something most Germans are willing to accept. (Which is not to say that there is not active controversy over the rule anyway).
Germany is a place filled with dozens of tiny, specialty bookstores that seem to be able to coexist with the big chains like Mayersche and Stern-Verlag. Germany also seems to have an enormous number of small publishing houses everywhere. Some of them seem to be almost mom-and-pop operations. There are at least three "publishing houses" (cottages?) within a 15-minute walk of my home. This means that, to a bibliophile like me, that Germany is heaven. It is to book diversity what the Amazon is to biodiversity. If the fixed book-price rule has anything to do with that — and most booksellers seem to think it does — then I'm all in favor of this form of "producerism."