Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dynamic America, Poor Europe

Paul Krugman recently wrote in a column for the New York times that Europe has an economy as dynamic as the US, and that the US should be
"Learning From Europe". His main argument for this was that from 1980 per capita income only increased slightly faster in America than EU.15 (in fact the US grew 72% and EU.15 grew 66%).

Other economist, such as Tyler Cowen and Greg Mankiw pointed out that Krugman ignores the much higher levels of per capita income in the US. This is important for two reasons. First, it is known in growth theory that in well functioning economies poorer regions/countries grow faster than richer ones, since they can adopt "low hanging fruits". It is remarkable that the US grew faster than Western Europe despite starting off at a higher level. Second, and most importantly, when measuring the productive powers of an economy it is the level that matters, not growth. Albania may have grown faster than Singapore one year, but no one would argue that Singapore is less productive than Albania.

From a policy perspective, if America follows Paul Krugman and Barack Obama in "Europeanizing" the American economy, what is most likely to happen is that levels of income will drop to Europeans ones (or lower, taking into account demographic differences). Once this happens, it is hardly a consolation that America will grow at the same pace as Europe.

During the current recession, the US GDP fell by a 3.3%. Theoretically if the US adopts European policies and immediately decreases to the levels of EU15, its per capita GDP would fall by 26.5%, 8 times worse than The Great Recession! (in practice the convergence would probably happen through years of reduced growth).

Here I will make three comparisons, two that have been done before (but that Krugman and his readers needs to be reminded of), and one that I believe is original.

1. First, let us compare the latest publicly available per capita GDP of 18 western Europeans countries and the US. We see that the US per capita GDP is $45.500, compared to $33.500 for EU15. Each American produces 36% more than each member of the EU15.

2. Second, let us compare the production of American States with European countries.

If France were to became an American state, it would be the 50th poorest, below Arkansas.

The EU.15 as a whole, which Krugman presents to his readers an economy as dynamic as the US, would be the 49th poorest state, below Alabama, a State that Paul Krugman ridiculed in 2005. Few Americans consider Alabama a dynamic state, because of the low average income (even though, hardly surprisingly, the poorer southern states have much faster per capita growth rates than the rich states such as New York). Why than should we consider Europe a dynamic region?

Even the richer European countries do not fare well against American states (the exceptions being oil rich Norway, financial city state of Luxembourg, free market Ireland and capitalist utopia Switzerland). Denmark and Sweden barely inch ahead of Kentucky, below
Louisiana, New Mexico and Missouri. Minnesota is 34.4% richer than Sweden.

3. These comparisons are still to generous to Europe. The United States is demographically more diverse than Europe, and for example includes a larger proportion of low skilled immigrants. We also know that some groups have cultural traits that make them more productive than others, such as trustworthiness and work ethics among Scandinavians. I believe that the most fair comparison of American policy environment and formal institutions and European ones would compare apples to apples, and take cultural differences into account.

Of course America did not did not drop out of the sky, it is largely populated by Europeans. All western European nations sent a considerable share of their population to America. Therefore I will compare each European group in America with each host country (some host countries have in turn taken in large groups of non-European immigrants. I will deal with this issue later, although it does increase the advantage of the US by a few percent). The implicit theory behind this comparison is that formal institutions (such as tax rates) and informal institutions (such as work ethic) determine income, that immigrants bring some of their informal institutions with them, and that we therefore should control for what economists refer to as "fixed effects" for each national group.

I discuss method and some problems below. All countries are included, except Spain, which Census does not include (due to the problem with separating European Spanish with people from Latin America who speak Spanish). I believe generally the figures to be most reliable for groups with large immigrant shares, but less reliable for the British.

The GDP per capita for Americans from EU.15 is
$53,000, compared to $33,500 for E.U15 itself. Those of European descent in America on average produce 58.6% more than they do in Europe.

In absolute terms, the $19.600 per capita wealth gap between Americans of European descent and Europe is as large as the gap between the Europe (the EU.15) and Turkey. In percentage terms the gap is almost large as the one between western Europe and Hungary.

Being the habitual
cheater he is, Krugman asks his readers to compare America to Paris, London and Frankfurt.

"For those Americans who have visited Paris: did it look poor and backward? What about Frankfurt or London? You should always bear in mind that when the question is which to believe — official economic statistics or your own lying eyes — the eyes have it."

If you stop and think about this for a second the problem becomes apparent. These are not representative cities, they are three of the absolutely richest areas of Europe!

According to Eurostat, which contains GDP per capita figures for European regions, each inhabitant of London produces 65.3% more than the UK average. The figure for inner city London, the area most American visiting would see, is an 279%. That is not a typo. Inner city London is the richest region in Europe.
Paris has a per capita income 272% higher than the French average. Lastly Frankfurt, the financial hearth of continental Europe, has a per capita GDP 278% higher than Germany as a whole. (Stockholm earns 37% above the Swedish average, for those curious).

These figures overestimate the wealth disparity somewhat, since cities contain more jobs than people, especially important for financial centers (one reason why Luxembourg is so rich). But statistics are not fooling us, central Paris is rich, which our eyes would confirm. The suburbs and most of the rest of France is not. The correct comparison for Frankfurt would be Manhattan, not the US average.

A meaningful question is not if 3 of the richest cities of Europe (randomly chosen by the dear professor for the benefit of his readers, no doubt) are backward, it is if typical Europeans earn less than typical Americans. Which they do, which the data confirms, and which an in-depth journey in Europe or a comparison of starting wages of various professions would verify
. The lesson? Trust your eyes, just never trust Paul Krugman.

Suggested by Tyler Cowen, I also constructed a "virtual Europe". This is what would happen if each European country had a per capita GDP level of their descendants in America (so instead of multiplying the Italian-American income by 17.8 million Italian-American we multiply it by 58.9 million Italians). The per capita income of this "virtual Europe" would be $53.600. Soon Europe will attempt a new version of the (largely failed) Lisbon Strategy. They should keep this figure in mind in setting their goals.

The total GDP of EU.15 is 13 trillion dollars. Assuming Spain performed at an average level, an EU.15 working at American wealth producing figures would have a total GDP of 21 trillion dollars! If we believe all the differences in outcome between Americans and Europeans is due to culture and policy (Krugman has no problem assuming all differences in health outcomes is policy alone), the loss in income for Europe from following Krugman's advice instead of current American policy is 8 trillion dollars, every year.

Milton Friedman famously said that there is no poverty among Swedish-Americans. Indeed their poverty rate is only 6.7%, half the national average. It would be interesting to compare absolute poverty between Swedes in Sweden and their American cousins.

For one country, Sweden, I have calculated the figures when excluding immigrants to Sweden. This reduced the American advantage from 55.4% to
50.5%. If we believe that this is representative of Europe (Sweden has a higher share of foreign born than most other European nations) the American advantage should be around 53%.

Krugman's dogmatic ideology aside, there is no doubt which economy that is most "dynamic".

/Tino Sanandaji, PhD student Harris School of Public Policy


I have calculated per capita GDP for the US and 18 western European countries. I have also calculated Gross State product for 50 U.S states and Washington D.C. In addition, as far as I know for the first time I have calculated imputed per capita GDP of Americans by European ancestry, and compare them with those in the home country. My sources for population and Per capita (purchasing power adjusted) GDP are
OECD Factbook 2009 (latest available GDP is for 2007, latest available population 2008).

My source for relative income for Americans of various ancestry is Census 2006-2008 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates. I use per capita income of each group relative to per capita income of the US (so if a group is 10% above average it will have a per capita GDP = 1.1*45489).
(click on Selected Population Profiles).

My sources for Gross State Products is
Bureau of Economic Analysis, Per capita real GDP by state (chained 2000 dollars) in 2007. I show the results adjusted to the OECD
GDP per capita figure (so again if a state is 10% above average it will have a per capita GDP = 1.1*45489).

UK includes British, Welsh, Scottish, Scoth-Irish and those that simply identify as "American".

British excluding "American" has population 41,181,917, per capita income $59775.5 and poverty rate 6.8%.

French includes French-Canadian and Basque. German includes Pennsylvania German.

A small group identifies as "Scandinavian", and a the group that call themselves "European" are included in EU.15 (of course technically some of the Scandinavians are Norwegian and Icelandic).

Some issue that should be taken into account:

1. The people who left may have been the genetic elite of the country, making the comparison unfair.

While this may be true for some countries, the opposite is true for most, it was the poor who left (although they may have been more motivated). For Sweden for example the number of emigrants was equal to about 1/3 of the entire population in 1850. One third of entire population group is quite unlikely to have been be very selective.

Most importantly, since the emigration took place more than one hundred years ago this effect would have disappeared through reversion to the mean. Unless we believe in extreme genetic determinism one generation of selection (on say motivation or IQ) will not have large impacts, especially since we know that the selection itself was not very strong. Indeed there is no difference between the IQ of Europeans in America and in Europe.

A slightly different argument would be that the cultural elite emigrated and have maintained their norms. While this is simply not true for most countries (consider south Italians and the Scoth-Irish) I will note that English Episcopalians are an elite in the US, and that one of the most important regions of emigration in Swedish was entrepreneurial "Småland".

2. The ancestry groups include recent immigrants (who are more likely to be elite).

This is true, but the effect is small. For example there are 4.3 million Americans with Swedish ancestry in the US, and only 55.000 people born in Sweden.

3. We are comparing Europeans in the US with a mix of Europeans and immigrants in the European countries.

Again this is true, but the effect is modest, since all the European countries so far have too few immigrants to seriously effect the numbers (and some immigrants are high-skill). Again using Sweden as an example, those born in Sweden earn 3.2% more than the Swedish average. This reduces the advantage of the US from 55% to 50.5%. The same adjustment should be made in other European countries with immigrants groups that have low income.

4. People who identify their ancestry in the US are more skilled than average.

I believe this is the most important problem. 6% of the population simply identity themselves as "American". This groups earns 12% less than the national average. This groups is particularly large in the Appalachian region, home of the white underclass, settled by the Scotch-Irish. Especially the result for British and Irish immigrants will be upward biased by this group (while for example Swedes are not likely to be affected as much).

In order to err on the side of caution I have included ALL those who identify as "American" as British, even though some are not even white.

5. The share with British ancestry are underestimated.

This is my guess, since groups have mixed a lot, people identify their recent ancestors more than the older, where the British were dominant. In 1790 63% of Americans were British. Campbell Gibson has estimated that 49% of the 1990 population was attributable to the 1790 population. In the 2000 census the sum of British and "American" (mostly British) was
20%, less than what we would predict from Gibsons estimate.


  1. Great post. They really need to move Krugman's column to the political hackery section of the NYT (which would be most of it). Krugman's economic are shoddy and second rate if he tries to put this kind of crap out. Unfortunatly, most of his readers are economically illiterate or come with their own set of priors.

  2. It would be interesting to track down enough information to calculate Manhattan and Wall Street.

  3. håller med Gudmundson
    Fredrik Segerfeldt

  4. Following has been said by someone much more clever than me in economic growth theory: By contrast, americans work at their jobs and europeans work in their sparetime.

    We can all try to figure out what kind of economic and political attitudes it is that creates such different environments.

  5. Awesome Tino! But don't stop commenting on other blogs - you keep them honest!

  6. I don't doubt that European Americans do economically better than European Europeans but I am skeptical of the particular numbers. I am not sure it is possible to calculate Sweden-Americans "GDP" that can be compared to the actual Sweden's GDP without comparing apples and oranges. And I don't trust any similar calculations that result in D.C. "producing" over 2X more than any other state. (And more than 5X than the least producing state; LOL).

  7. America has had cheaper labour and cheaper land since 1776. Its GDP level has been higher than that of Europe for over a century. Why should Europe be able to achieve the same output when America has cheaper inputs?

  8. The problem with all these comparisons is that GDP per capita does not mesure the standard of living and was never intended to. (If you want to compare output you would need to use nominal GDP not adjusted GDP)

    To compare standards of living someone needs to come up with the following statistic: net income (after taxes)+value of gov't benefits+some measure for leisure for the median citizen in terms of income. Until we have something like that all these comparisons are meaningless.

  9. Very interesting post. My only quibble is that while you seek to compare various American ethnic groups with their European cousins, for a total apples to apples comparison wouldn't you want to remove immigrant populations from the European countries? I would imagine, for example, to the extent Sweden has poverty much of it is to be found in immigrant communities.

    But still, this is more rigorous than anything Krugman has offered up.

  10. You are wrong because immigrants are self-selected (e.g. entreprenourial people are more likely to emigrate).

  11. Do more numbers necessarily mean more rigorous? I personally find these apples to oranges comparisons demeaning to all involved and the only fault that can be found in Krugman is that he participated. Be warned Tino, you participated as well.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Colin: I *did* adjust for immigrants for Sweden. Read it again.

    Carlos: I discuss this. Even if the first generation were more entrepreneurial (I think they were) this effect is long gone by now generations later. One of the most heritable traits that exist is IQ. Yet Americans do not have higher IQ than Europeans. Entrepreneurship is much less heritable than IQ (which means, even if you parents are more entrepreneurial than average your will on average be only slightly more entrepreneurial, and your children even less so).

    Dan: If I mange to get a job in the US I will earn about 50-70% than what I would earn for the corresponding job in Sweden, in starting salary (the difference goes up in time). Those are numbers, but numbers that reflect reality. There is no way to convey a wage difference without using numbers.

    The GDP figures are simply the weighted average of earnings differences across societies. Those differences are objective, and relevant. But again without numbers there is no way to communicate them.

    The last response of people who are on the losing side of a discussion is to question numbers and objectivity.

    Edward: Land is a very small share of GDP. At any case Sweden has the same population density as the US (and very valuable land, some of the most fertile agricultural soils, some of the richest iron and gold reserves in the world, and Forrest full of Green Gold).

    Aslak: I wrote a new post in response to your post about leisure (gov't benefits are on average exactly equal to net taxes, so unless you think government is much more efficient than the market at everything it does GDP takes this into account. GDP assumed that government is exactly as productive as the private sector)

  14. What do these numbers look like after they've been passed through a gini coefficient filter?

    The mean worker may be producing/earning 50% more, but what about the median worker?

  15. Tino: I was talking about government benefits as distinct from government spending - government spending on say defense or research, while worthwhile does not affect the standard of living (at least in the present). By government benefits I mean things like education, childcare subsidies, transfer payments, health care that benefits the individual citizen here and now. The government can spend money on lots of things that does nothing to improve the standard of living.

  16. Braveau! Good Post.
    But two Comments, you do not have to go to Frankfurt, London or Paris.
    Go to Berlin (very poor, relatively spoken), Barcelona or Stockholm and you could ask Americans the same question.
    Interesting (for further research :-) would be, how much of the 8 trillion $ gap can be explained by lesser working hours and how much by PPP-adjustments.

  17. Tino,

    You are correct, my apologies. Not sure how I missed that.

  18. The only reason the USA continues to grow is because it allows millions of people (new consumers) to immigrate to it every single year; in time this will turn the USA in to a 2nd world nation, because most of the immigrants now coming to the USA come from poor countries with a lower level of civilization, bad work habits, lower intelligence, etc.

    On the other hand, Europe doesn't allow as much mass-immigration in to their nations, and they are also much more selective about their immigrants, so they grow more slowly but in a much smarter way.

    Pure socioeconomic 'growth' is a bad thing anyhow, considering that we are massively polluting the Earth and degrading its environment with all of this 'growth'; it would be much better to keep things smooth and stable with an eye toward long-term sustainability.

    Have you personally seen what all of the 'growth' has turned the USA in to in the last few decades? The USA is increasingly an anarchic sprawling mess of a nation, ripe for eventual dissolution and breakup. Meanwhile, the more ethnically homogeneous and stable European nations will fare MUCH better in the long run. By 2050 the USA will be a 2nd world nation while Europe will still be sailing smoothly along.

    "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." - Edward Abbey

  19. Some of you so-called 'economists' are severely deluded. Comparisons of per capita income means nothing without taking in to account general living standards and other factors.

    An average salary in Sweden or even France of about 35,000 dollars will take you MUCH further in Europe than the USA - in other words, you would need a salary of almost double that, about 60,000 dollars, to live a comparable life in the USA. This is because in most of Europe you do not have to worry about health insurance, insanely over-priced car/home insurance, college loan indebtedness, and so on, plus in Europe the food is cheaper, crime is lower, commutes are shorter and public transport is cheaper, rents and mortgages are more reasonable, legal costs capped, and so on. In Europe people also work LESS than Americans, have more vacation time, more opportunities for continental travel, and so on. Americans have to work 40+ hours a week just to keep their heads above water and most are still in major debt, while in Europe people work only around 35 hours a week (or less), have much less debt, and have ample time to actually enjoy life...why did our ancestors work so hard in the past to create all of this advanced technology and the associated socioeconomic structures if we are just going to continue to work our lives away as near-slaves?

    Again, a 35,000 dollar per year salary in Sweden or France is about equal to around 60,000 dollars in the USA - if you do not understand basic facts such as these you really do not understand anything. In other words, a person in the comfortable upper-middle-class in the USA lives comparably to a middle-middle class person in Europe.

    The USA is rapidly descending in to 2nd world status for a majority of its citizens, while most of Europe will remain firmly 1st world assuming it doesn't allow itself to become overrun by tens or even hundreds of millions of immigrants as the USA is currently doing. The USA is morphing in to a Latin American-style plutocracy with huge wealth disparities whilst Europe is becoming ever-more democratic.

    By 2050 or likely even before the USA will break apart in to several separate nations owing to various economic, political, and ethnic instabilities, and the general living standards will then plummet to 2nd world standards for the average citizen -- if you do not realize that this is already underway you are living in an academic Ivory Tower far removed from everyday American workers.

  20. "Of course America did not did not drop out of the sky, it is largely populated by Europeans. All western European nations sent a considerable share of their population to America."

    This example is rapidly fading in to irrelevance. Have you been to any major American urban areas lately? Most are less than 50% White/European, some even less than 25%.

    Assuming trends stay the same, by 2050 the USA will be dip below 50% White/European, and to be frank that is when the real American decline begins as North America becomes just another Latin American or Brazil-like nation fraught with incredible poverty alongside insane wealth...oh wait, the USA is already a lot like that.

    You also must take in to account that the entire American economy is built upon a huge pyramid of debt, and that it almost came crashing down in the last couple of years. In other words, much American 'wealth' is entirely unreal, it is phantom paper wealth. This isn't likely to change very soon, and may even worsen; meanwhile many European nations are a lot less indebted and continue to hum along at a reasonable rate.

  21. Theo: Have you ever actually been to the United States? Your writings are seriously deluded. The cost of living in Europe is actually substantially higher than most parts of the US. Housing is much cheaper. See how much house you can buy in Kansas vs. Germany for $150,000. Crime, meanwhile, has been on a 15 year decline.

    For most Americans health insurance is not an extra cost as they receive it from their employer. And auto insurance? Funny you should bring up cars, as they cost at least twice in many European countries what they cost here. Gas is cheaper here too.

    The European way of life to be paid less than an American and pay more taxes. And burdens on business have resulted in high structural unemployment, especially among the young. But hey, at least you've got lots of vacation time to ponder all of this.

  22. Apologies for the length of this post, but there are so many problems with your approach.

    You should know that your use of 'reversion to the mean' is totally inappropriate, and for someone in your field who is using numbers to make an argument you should know better at this level of your studies. Regression to the mean implies sampling each time from the same population(s), which here is not the case.
    If you sample from a parent population and get an extreme result in the first generation of descendents, what is the expected value of the mean in further generations? Not the mean of the parent population. In fact further generations are just as likely to be more extreme than the first generation descendents.
    You're also assuming that sampling at the 2nd generation is random, from a large population, and discrete, which is also not the case. Think of the relative effects of 1) 'selection' and 2) the effect of random sampling on small populations.
    Furthermore your argument about IQ, 'motivation' and genetics is particularly ill-informed. You write:
    "The people who left may have been the genetic elite of the country, making the comparison unfair. While this may be true for some countries, the opposite is true for most, it was the poor who left (although they may have been more motivated)".
    You are saying here that poor people are genetically inferior, which in itself is an amazing thing to say in this day and age (maybe you're referring to their inability to apply statistics properly). Firstly find me a paper that links genetics to IQ or 'motivation'; there isn't one. Second, if there was a link, human populations cannot maintain their genetic individuality in any sufficient way for it to register at the level you're thinking of. 'Selection', the effect of which is a shift in gene frequencies in a population, operates on scales of 1000s of generations, not just a couple. Compare the effect of a shift in frequency of a single gene just by random sampling from one generation to the next (which, unless you have a systematic culling of offspring based on genetic makeup, is going to be greater than selection), with the influence of 'outbreeding' with other populations. And in human genetics we are almost never talking about 1 gene, but 100s, influencing character traits, and extremely rarely of closed populations, which in the US is certainly not the case.
    On a more general note, you treat being of Belgian, Austrian, French or whatever origin as a 'fixed effect', again a misappropriation. It is not fixed because 1) again you are not sampling twice from the same population 2) Being of one ethnic origin in Europe is not the same as being of that origin in the US (different political system, climate, socio-economic factors, US-specific traditions...), 3) there are interactions between your variables, and 4) there are so many confounding variables and inappropriate assumptions even a homeopath would think twice about basing a theory on the idea. For example: First you have to assume that the cultural differences were carried over from Old World to New when 1) as you say the sampling was not random and 2) the fact of emigrating and interacting with other cultures changes cultural habits. Second you assume that inter-cultural differences are larger than intra-, which if you've been to Europe you will know is another big assumption... You include the Basque with the French for example, which doesn't make sense culturally - or at least as much as separating them in the first place. Third you ignore confounding variables such as geography (ethnic groups tend to cluster). Fourth most in the US have more than one ethnic origin. I could go on, but hopefully you get the picture.

  23. Tino, first your arrogance is rather pointless and only serves to polarize arguments. Let your points speak for themselves.

    Secondly, why are you comparing wages in Sweden and the USA? Of course I question the objectivity of your numbers for several reasons. Your numbers do not account for ppp. Spending $1 ppp on housing versus $1 ppp on healthcare versus $1 on telecommunications varies drastically. There are many things that are cheaper here in America, but there are also things that are cheaper in Europe. Yes bigger houses are much cheaper here. But Europeans have us beat on telecommunications. I don't even have the option of purchasing the same tech levels that are standard in many European countries.

  24. There's a simple explanation for the difference in the GDP numbers between Western European countries and US. Europeans work a lot less, enter the workforce a lot later and retire a lot earlier. If you factor this in, there's not much difference. It all comes down to lifestyle and what prefer, a big pile of cheap crap from China vs a 4 weeks paid vacation...

  25. But Europeans have us beat on telecommunications. I don't even have the option of purchasing the same tech levels that are standard in many European countries.

    Dan, what are you referring to? I haven't noticed mobile phone communication in Europe to be particularly cheap. You might have a better case with technology, but I am also mindful that my Spanish girlfriend has received a lot of requests to bring back iphones from some of her family members (even though this doesn't make sense due to the need to purchase a contract).

  26. Theo: These are per capita figures, taking in low-skill immigrants lowers your per capita income, it does not increase it. If anything it is remarkable that the US maintains its advantage despite this (Europe also has third world immigrant, I am one of them).

    I don't dispute your claim however for the future direction of American per capita GDP.

    They are also Purchasing Power adjusted, which means that they are adjusted for what 1 dollar can buy in each country in terms of typical baskets of goods and services.

    GDP is also before taxes, so the issue you raise about heath care/college etc. Europeans do not get that for free, they pay for it with taxes. Americans pay with a mix of taxes and out of pocket. This would only matter if I were comparing wages, not GDP.


    You write a lot, I will just answer two point:

    "'Selection', the effect of which is a shift in gene frequencies in a population, operates on scales of 1000s of generations, not just a couple."

    That is exactly my point. One generation of selection could not have caused American genes to be better than European. Just read the post again.

    ""Firstly find me a paper that links genetics to IQ"

    The Task Force established by Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association in 1995 surveyed all the (until that point) available literature and concluded that the heritability of IQ was between 0.45-0.75.

    Here is a meta study.

    Bouchard, TJ (2004). "Genetic influence on human psychological traits - A survey". Current Directions in Psychological Science 13 (4): 148–151

    "Of course I question the objectivity of your numbers for several reasons. Your numbers do not account for ppp."

    All my figures are PPP adjusted. Do you still question my objectivity? (you should, objectivity is an aim to strive for, not something I always achieve).

    "Europeans work a lot less, enter the workforce a lot later and retire a lot earlier. If you factor this in, there's not much difference."

    Fewer hours worked explains less than half the US GDP advantage. But you forget that Europeans work more in the household sector.

    Americans have about 280 hours less leisure per year than Europeans. I calculated the value of this difference in another post.
    The "paid" vacation is also in the GDP figures (average American vacations are 3.9 weeks, Europe 7)

  27. WRT electronics. The price for electronic goods in europe is the same number as it is in the US, only in euros instead of dollars. For example a computer in the US listed at 1k dollars in europe would cost about 1k euros.

  28. @Tino

    It's not only hours worked, it's also a shorter worklife if I could call it that.

    Despite a tradition in the US to cook the numbers regarding productivity (just like they cook the numbers when it comes to real unemployment or inflation) Europe is not that far. There is this Business Week article in Der Spiegel saying that measuring the GPD per hour worked, Benelux is about 2% more productive than the US, France only 2% less productive and Germany 7% less productive, but they beat the crap out of everyone when it comes to exports. Western Europe is also better when it comes to energy efficiency and sustainable development, and as a driving force of the EU is the biggest exporter in the world. Anyway, why you choose to call the overinflated, credit and consumption driven economy of the US dynamic, is beyond me.

  29. Cornel:

    If trade between American states was measures as "exports", do you think that would change their living standards?

    Productivity per hour worked is very misleading when one economy has banished low-productive people into welfare-dependency. If we only allowed college graduates to work, our productivity per hour would skyrocket. Our living standards would plummet.

  30. If whole world is just a game (as it might be..), US would certainly be a player-vs-player arena part of it. Its a place where desperate, ambitious, reward seeking people go to "succeed", no metter the price. Whole place is mostly a huge melting pot chock-full with destructive antagonisms. So, when you need a cheaper iphone you buy it in that "jungle". But when you need normal and decent life, worth of human beings as much as possible, you live almost anywhere else.
    Those numbers mean nothing when you have a nation with 35 million people on food stamps while their government is waging infinite war all over the world for last 50 years.

  31. @Tino

    "If trade between American states was measures as "exports", do you think that would change their living standards? "

    EU is by far the biggest exporter without accounting for internal trade, despite the fact that some of the biggest exporting economies in the EU are quite hurt by an over performing Euro. This doesn't mean automatically that EU citizens live better than Americans, for that Europeans would have to consume a lot more (on credit), to live less frugal and save a lot less. My point was simply that you can't call the US economy dynamic on some GDP figures alone.

    "Productivity per hour worked is very misleading when one economy has banished low-productive people into welfare-dependency. "

    Developed countries don't choose to keep people unemployed. Regardless of what we wish/want, a lot of people would be unable to earn enough to live decently without aid in a developed country, economical hardships, mother nature and immigration be damned. The actual question is not why are people unemployed, but what is the moral thing to do for them.

  32. There is nothing magical about exports. What matters is production, which is what GDP

    Your point about debt would only matter if I had used consumption data. GDP is what Americans actually produce, not what they consume.

    "Developed countries don't choose to keep people unemployed."...

    Yes they do! Union wage floors, minimum wages, subsidies for the unemployed and taxes on work all work to make people unemployed.

    In 1970 11% of Swedish people lived of various forms of welfare/social insurance, in 2006 the figure was 22%. Coincidence?

    "The actual question is not why are people unemployed, but what is the moral thing to do for them.

    If you don't want to investigate the effects of your policies are you are not being moral.

    That is how Europe got where it did, with people using this line of reasoning: Not asking questions about outcomes, only caring about intentions.

  33. So, when you need a cheaper iphone you buy it in that "jungle". But when you need normal and decent life, worth of human beings as much as possible, you live almost anywhere else.

    Funny then that so many Europeans immigrate to the US, while fewer Americans make the reverse commute. Also interesting how many millions of people are clamoring to immigrate to such a horrible country from around the world.

  34. Tino, what I'm disputing is the mechanism you invoke for selection not operating, regression to the mean doesn't apply here. And you're confusing heritability with having a genetic link, they're two different things. Having a big house is heritable, but you wouldn't go looking for a 'big house' gene. IQ is heritable but no one has demonstrated a genetic basis for it.

  35. These calculationas are GDP per capita at purchasing power parity, right?
    Have you made same comparision per capita at nominal values?

  36. You are confusing a general argument someone taught you to parrot "heritability is not always=genetic" with an specific response.

    Monozygotic twins have far higher correlation in IQ than dizygotic twins raised in the same household. Because common environment is the same, your point about a bigger house is moot.

    This is why the scientific consensus is that IQ is partially genetic. Should I rely on the scientific consensus or your opinion, a non-expert who until a few hours ago was completely unaware of the heritability of IQ and of the link between IQ and income?

    By the way, while we are far far from mapping the genome, but already some of the genes that associate with g-factor have been identified. Genes have also been identified with brain-volume (before someone repeats the cliché, the recent research has shown that brain size does correlates with intelligence at 0.4)


    You are overconfident. You seem to think that because you have not heard of something it does not exist. That is a good recipe for losing debates.

  37. It's a little disappointing that Krugman tries to deny that Europe is poorer than the United States. Tino has an easy task proving him wrong. Indeed, if Krugman weren't such a high-profile figure it would seem almost bad sportsmanship for Tino to crush Krugman so badly, like a football team that keeps it first string in when it's ahead 70-0. But as long as there are still people out there who think Krugman the journalist is a serious economist, there's no such thing as overkill.

    The honest argument that Krugman could have made is that yes, Europe is poorer than the US, and less dynamic too, but that's a price worth paying to fulfill our moral duty to finance a welfare state that makes sure no one falls below a certain level. And if we were talking about a *global* welfare state I'd have to admit that the argument had a certain moral force.

    But it seems pretty obvious that there's no moral merit in securing a living standard for the narrow set of people who happened to be borne between certain lines on a map, while far larger numbers of people abroad remain far below that living standard. A global welfare state has some moral appeal but is infeasible. Failing that, it's the duty of people of good will to maximize the growth rate so as to hasten the day when we have enough to ensure a decent living standard for all mankind and not just a narrow well-born elite. And the way to maximize the growth rate is laissez-faire capitalism.

  38. I quote: "much higher levels of per capita income in the US": this is the typical way of thinking of "per capita income" addicted economists, -quality- of life is another thing, did you ever compare the quality of life in a middle sized european city like Padua (Italy) or Freiburg i.B.(Germany) or Toledo (Spain) with the quality of life in a city of comparable size in the USA? With quality of life I mean cafès, cultural events (and with the word culture I mean something which cames from the "genius loci", something you can't buy or have just for set up an orchestra in a theatre) or just the taste of having a stroll in a nice city centre which reflect a complex history? I found particularly ridiculous that "If a France were became an American state, it would be the 50th poorest, below Arkansas" oh yes this is -mathematically- sure but in the meantime I will wait the "per capita income" of Arkansas with a glass of Pinot Noir and a slice of cheese in the main square of Colmar...
    I stop here and I avoid all the discussions about the energy efficency of US compared to the EU lucky: I own a fuel efficent Alfa Romeo and not a gasoline-thirsty-shoebox-looking SUV ;-P

  39. Fidric:

    Your comparison is unfair. The debate is about what would happen to the American standard of living if they did what Krugman wants and adopted welfare state policies. Would they:

    * Suddenly develop the unique food culture that exists in Italy and France (and certainly not in for example Britain or Finland) and that is the product of 400 years of development?

    * Have pretty girls like Sweden?

    * Suddenly and out of nowhere develop the rich cultural products the renascence or baroque? Especially the kind you "cannot buy"?

    * Retroactively develop a 3000 year old "complex history" like Greece?

    * Demographically become homogeneous and escape from racial tensions like Finland?

    Of course not. It would be, to quote you, "particularly ridiculous".

    Something's that form the quality of life, like income, are effected by policy, and something's are not. It is pointless to debate the things we cannot affect. In the areas policy can affect America is doing far far better than Europe. (by the way, GDP takes into account most quality differences. If people in the US want to buy expensive cheese they have the extra income to do so).

    On the other hand, if you want to play this silly game, compare the quality of living in Sunny San Diego with the 8 month long dark winters of the Nordic nations? The culture, food and pulse of New York with typical European cities? C-span and HBO with Italian public television? Harvard with Bocconi?

    By the way, SUVs provides people with better driving experiences than tiny Italian cars. Europe is too crowded (not a function of policy) and too poor (function of policy) to afford such luxuries. In Sweden there are plenty of SUV:s, but they are mostly owned by the high income, and are a status symbol, whereas in the US ordinary people can afford them and their fuel. Instead you are left bragging about "energy efficiency"(!). Do you also want to brag about how "well-designed" tiny small European apartments are compared to comfortable American houses?

  40. Nath:
    Yes, arguing that 35% lower income would be "worth it" is the intellectually fair argument.

    You also have to acknowledge that a welfare state will not make America into Sweden, some advantages Sweden has are not products of the welfare state, but out history, demography and norms.

    Sweden in 1920, before the welfare state, had less poverty, lower crime, better life expectancy and more even distribution of income than most other countries. On the other hand perhaps some advantages of the US, certainly the least size of the market and maybe their entrepreneurial spirit, would remain despite high taxes.

  41. IMHO income is not happiness.

    But if you believe the contrary you should compare the disposable income for luxury.

    Finally to check whether you are comparing homogeneous groups you should check if the income distribution for each European group in America can be shifted and rescaled so that it matches the corresponding in the original country.

  42. http://harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=585

    Share Americans very satisfied with their lives: 58%

    Europeans: 31%.

    I personally don't believe you can compare countries with this type of survey, it just measures expectation and outcomes.

    The US does better than Europe in median income as well.

  43. Tino - got this in my inbox last week. His comment and my response are included. If you want to email him back, let me know how to get you his email.

    Arthur Sparrendahl wrote:

    A very interesting post!! It is certainly relevant but don't you use the official exchange rate when comparing. Wouldn't perchaising power parity be more illustrating? CIA WFB lists for instance the norwegian GDP as USD 276 billion dollars by PPP and USD 451 billion by official exchange rate, a significant difference. Also those who live in Stockholm tend to have less spending power than their bucolic compatriots because of higher living costs. Listing Stockholm as above average for Sweden may be confusing. The higher taxes in most of EU are relevant. What I can spend your self is closer to my hart than what can be squandered at a wim of my politicians. I would guess that the difference you are illustrating would be more pronounced if spending power was compared.

    Best Regards
    Arthur Sparrendahl

    Thank you, but I believe you have responded to the wrong author. The author of "Dynamic America, Poor Europe," Tino, has not seen fit to provide either of us with his address at present or I would forward it on to you. On your points, though, Mankiw made some PPP comparisons on his blog on the same subject. My sense is that the difference would be quantitatively different, but not qualitatively for his point, and you need to believe a larger set of assumptions to accept the PPP numbers. On your other point, while per capita disposable income numbers in PPP would be yet better, that ought to be offset again by monetarizing the value of government services in each country per capita.

    Derrill Watson

  44. Thanks.

    The national comparisons are already purchasing power adjusted.

    I don't think purchasing power adjustment on the level of European cities exists, otherwise I would have used it.

  45. Wow!
    With regards to your "We also know that some groups have cultural traits that make them more productive than others, such as trustworthiness and work ethics among Scandinavians" comment. Since we "know" this, I was hoping that you could enlighten me about a few groups. For instance what kinds of traits do we "know" Africans have? How about Mexicans? And the Irish, what do we know about them? There must be a few classes I missed at school, because I didn't know anybody still tried to suggest there are character traits inherent in certain groups that don't exist in others.
    I'll saw it again, Wow!
    Thank goodness I got to read your objective, dispassionate, well-rounded critique of that mindless moron nobel laureate!

  46. edawg:

    You are hinging your defense on Paul Krugman based on the argument that cultural differences between countries do not exist?

    Since the concept is new to you (must not have traveled much), start here.


    I will give you some literature on trust, norms, social capital when you are ready.

  47. "We also know that some groups have cultural traits that make them more productive than others..."

    This is very interesting to me. That cultural differences exist between countries and even between ethnic groups seems patently obvious.

    It seems plausible to me that differing cultural norms can engender different social institutions (and hence incentives), which may shape aggregate behavioral patterns and thus overall productivity.

    But do we have any evidence that cultural norms are sufficiently strong at the individual level so as to have this same effect?

    I'm inclined to think of culture as epiphenomenal at the individual level, while incentives and institutions play a much more decisive role in shaping behavior.

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  49. A major problem with this argument which has been stated above is absolute GDP divided by the total population does not equal standard of living. Also GDP divided by the population is not indicative of the average person due the massive disparity between the richest Americans and in the top 1% compared to Americans in the bottom 70%.

    A median income comparison would offer a much more unbiased comparison of wealth than mean income. A median income comparison would offer a truer picture of the 'average' American versus the 'average' European.

    The standard and cost of living are important considerations that need to be accounted for. Yes it might be more expensive to live in Europe (depending on where), but if a country takes cares of the basic needs of all citizens through universal health-care, low-income housing, subsidized food programs then that is important to remember. Versus in the U.S. where our federal, state, and city governments (for the most part) leave poorest American's out in the cold telling them its all their fault for being poor. For the most part, Americans and our leaders who have enough money to achieve a decent standard of living assume since they worked hard to get where they are today that anyone can do it. I don't think this is true, and if you are convinced it is then more power to you and kicking the poor while they are down.

  50. Great post, i just totally disagree with one point. I'm born and raised in the Netherlands and traveled through The Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Germany, Sweden, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, Bulgaria, Poland, Czech, Vancouver, Seattle, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, and Boston. My opinion? if you state that only cities like Frankfurt, Paris and London look good in Europe, you obviously never been there. In my experience, America may be richer, but looks way more poor and screwed up than any place in Europe I have been (excluding Poland and Czech)

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  54. Idiotic.

    Did the comparison control for the fact that the reason Europe started poorer and therefore achieved robust growth (your well-known "low hanging fruit" claim) is because much of the continent was literally reduced to rubble while the US was unscathed, indeed profited, from WWII and by way of massive deviations from free market fundamentalism?

    Did the comparison control for the fact that another consequence is that US finally and completely supplanted Europe as the leading raper of the 3rd world, extracting surplus in neo-colonial relationships?

    Did the comparison control for the nearly unprecedented resource endowment the US stole from 100s of indigenous nations that has no parallel in the history of Europe?

    Did the comparison control for the fact that income and wealth are more equitably distributed in most of western Europe and that any serious economist realizes that GDP is essentially meaningless as a measure of quality of life for average citizens? GINI > GDP in informational relevance as a comparison metric.

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  56. There is a central fallacy here. I salute the author's good work, but like all economists he is casting man as homo-economicus. In reality, "Income" does not matter; what matters is ([Income / cost-of-living] + quality-of-life + intangible cultural value). It is simply crazy to start from a premise that Americans live like kings compared to "those poor rubes in Western Europe".

    A Northern-European making $30,000 may well live better than an American making $60,000. I won't get into why, as most people with a passing acquaintance with the two places know what I mean.

    To say nothing of the "emotional pull of the nation", which the postmodern USA mostly lacks, but still exists in Europe.

  57. one of the most important regions of emigration in Swedish was entrepreneurial "Småland".

    Most Swedes settled as farmers in the Upper Midwest. Two of my 16 great-grandparents included. They were not some transplanted business elite by any means, like the Jews became.

    However, Sweden probably was deprived of many of its best, independent-minded elements by emigration. Leading to hardline Socialism and now the multicultural disaster.

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  60. One of the biggest mistakes of just using GDP per capita, is that parts of the GDP is not given to the citizens. Some stated that Stockholm doesn't have a higher standard og living than other areas in Sweden and neither do Paris, because the cost of living is higher.

    Fact is, in these places the income part of GDP is much smaller. Singapore is an example of this. In most places the income part is about 65-80%. In singapore it is 40%. Singapore may have one of the highest GDP per capita, but the people are not rich.

    I still think that some people have overconfidence in the European system. My experience is that Europeans are poorer than Americans and do have a lower standard of living. Americans in my experience can afford much more items, can go out much more often, can afford to have better and more cars and have much bigger houses.

    The only thing that was better in Europe was governmental services such as a proper subway system, more leisure time, and better security.

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  65. Even if you control for culture, quality of life, etc AND assume equal price levels, you STILL can't use GDP per capital to make meaningful inferences about standards of living: with GINI coefficients greater than one, the distribution of income will skew the mean to the right.

    If 1% earns 99% of the income, the median income will be higher in a nation with half the GDP/capital and a GINI of zero.

  66. Any statistic that says that France or Germany are behind the majority of single USA states in any term, is clearly wrong. If you have traveled a bit, or even read a bit, you will see this clearly. Anyway, you don't look interested in reality, only in numbers. Go on playing.. and I suggest you begin playing with China: I bet your play won't predict that China will be the first economy in five years..as will be.

  67. Interesting, but clearly showing how deceive figures can be.
    Inner London may have the highest GDP per capita in Europe but go and live in London and you will very quickly realize that by no means London has a very high living standard for average people (that inlcudes high earning professions like junior IBankers- I have friends there at top IBanks. They earn loads and live like students live in Berlin).In fact, it is a lot lower than in (Western) Continental Europe Frankfurt' s GDP per capita is high, yes, and Frankfurt is a rich city. But go to the German countryside and look around, there is no poverty to be seen ( at least not in West Germany). An average person living in Frankfurt is not better off than one in the country side in Germany.

    When comparing Europe to the US; longer working hours in America of course account for a considerable part of the higher GDP in the states. Germans take 25-30 days of vacation, Americans maybe 14? So on the paper the American may look richer, but while the "rich" American works his ass off, Germans, Swedes and Danes enjoy themselves on the beaches of Southern Europe or Thailand.
    Of course we don' t need to talk about the better government services, public transport, free education, better housing quality (ever seen wooden houses in Germany?).

    I can only agree with josep and advice people to travel or even live abroad for a while. I lived in the UK for a while and was a bit shocked by how much their living standard is behind Germany. I visited friends in Sweden and Denmark, and while my insight there of course was more limited, it is simply plain obvious that people are extremely well of there. Everything is nice, new, fashionable. The US is different- of course there is a lot of wealth, but at the same time I never saw as much poverty in a Western city as in San Francisco. By no means people there are 50% better of than Swedes or Germans.

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