The language of EU rural development policy appears more interested in social inclusion and that of US policy more interested in market competitiveness. We seek to determine why policies directed at rural development in the EU and the USA differ. In both contexts new rural development policies emphasize partnership and participation but we find local participation is used to promote social inclusion in the EU and market competitiveness in the USA. An examination of these dimensions illustrates important transcontinental differences and similarities in rural development policies. We explore the socio-historical reasons for differences in the commitment to social inclusion, while also noting similarities in the priority of market competitiveness.