62 Comments

Agree..... it is better to be helpful vs boastful. Two further points:

1) Culture: One of the key reasons for the difference between Europe and US growth rates is cultural around the topic of risk. The US system rewards risk and allows for creative destruction (at least away from government influenced markets). The European system/culture is more protective. It goes beyond regulation...it is deeply cultural.

2) China Manufacturing: I wonder about the accuracy of the Chinese manufacturing data. If you do final assembly, are you really manufacturing the good.. this is the case for cell phones.

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Let me steelman for a second - I think when people bring up comparative growth rates, they are not "sneering at the Europoors"; they are presenting real-world evidence about the outcomes of different economic choices.

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I agree with the central thrust of this post. The free world needs to come together to deal with the threat of authoritarianism, and the people who go out of their way to trash Europe vis-à-vis the US at every opportunity aren’t helpful.

That said, there were a lot of Europeans (and left leaning Americans) who did the reverse from around 2000 to 2022. The US was portrayed as a nation of backwards, bible-thumping lunatics who were utterly obsessed with guns and hamburgers. It was portrayed as practically a failed state for not having a robust form of socialized medicine, and the invasions of Afghanistan and especially Iraq were seen as outbursts of a limitlessly militaristic foreign policy. US warnings of Russian revanchism were thus dismissed as the US just wanting to relitigate the Cold War, and so European governments (especially France and Germany) instead opted for the old tactic of “let’s get the dictators to like us by sending them lots of money” that backfired spectacularly.

So while I think *excessive* criticism of Europe is bad, a reasonable amount is justified if only to counterbalance the decades when Europe was used to show the US as uniquely flawed. Social democracy on the Danish model looked great in 2005, but it was almost certainly unsustainable in the long run. Europe has effectively been living on its inheritance for the past few decades, but now that money is running out.

>they can taunt us with the fact that they’re more protected from the modern menace of browser cookies

I’m not sure if this is intended to be a joke or not, but it’s presented here with a completely straight face and nobody else has said anything, so I’ll make the point: almost every website uses cookies, and the fact that you have to click through a notification saying you understand they’re being used is just silly, and is a shining example of EU politicians not understanding tech policy. It’s like being forced to sign a small waiver before you enter any building, indicating that you understand there is “gaseous nitrogen” inside. It’s pure goofiness.

>Severe aging and lack of investment in education are other problems.

A lack of college education is almost never a *cause* of societal problems, as education is mostly just a zero-sum game. I’d recommend reading Bryan Caplan’s Case Against Education for more info on this. There might be some correlation, but college education really should be seen as a consumption good like wine or chocolate.

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Another unfortunate aspect of "bashing your friends" is that it makes it more difficult to adopt good policy ideas from them, such as much lower costs of building infrastructure.

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I think you are going to have a difficult time communicating this message politically.

For a very significant portion of the population, thinking globally is synonymous with sending the bulk of the good jobs for the not-highly-educated to other countries. Any rhetoric that can be characterized thus by opponents is going to run into some extreme headwinds.

But that aside, I think that the Trump personality stuff has distracted from a head on national discussion as to this urge for a return to a sort of pre-WWII isolationism. Often couched as a reverence for Eisenhower as the last US president who knew the real America.

A significant portion of the country is going to think it's all the better for America to be self reliant, build itself back up to the point that it can stay out of others' business. When you recount the foolishness of German reliance on Russian natural gas, they nod and think "Exactly, you never know what some other country is going to do down the road. Rely on yourself."

That there are serious ramifications for the US reverting to this kind of isolationism, that's an argument that needs to be made post-Trump, when his TV personality is no longer tipping the scales. But it will need to be made in terms of the implications for Americans, not "make the world safe for democracy" stuff which sounds more and more propagandistic as military action to accomplish it result in horrifying social media video.

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Excellent and concise analysis. And important point. One of America's greatest foreign policy and economic triumphs was helping the European and Japanese economies recover post WW2. So, you need only to think of that to understand the main point of your article.

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Feb 4Liked by Noah Smith

Well said, thank you.

Mostly It is just politics.

I thought this was a pretty good economic (rather than political take) on GDP and productivity comparisons

https://www.grumpy-economist.com/p/change-demographic-and-intellectual?

Japan comes off looking pretty good when we measure GDP per working age person.

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I think a lot of the American online “sneering at the europoors” is a reaction to poor European online behavior that constantly belittles Americans as dumb, obese, and overly complacent about our poor healthcare system and school shootings. The Europeans do not seem to think our problems are their problems, so why should we? (This doesn’t really apply to our East Asian allies)

Honestly, the question should be asked: Besides the U.K., are most of the European countries even our allies anymore? Most of them seem ambivalent at best about backing us up when it comes to China, but will gladly welcome our money and weapons when it’s going over there to handle the Russian invasion of Ukraine—which is primarily a European problem.

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I think Reagan said it best: “This, I believe, is one of the most important sources of America's greatness. We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people -- our strength -- from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation. While other countries cling to the stale past, here in America we breathe life into dreams. We create the future, and the world follows us into tomorrow. Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we're a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier. This quality is vital to our future as a nation. If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”

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I believe that the fact that some Americans sneer at Europeans has little to do with facts and figures. It’s more likely a way of making oneself feel better about your own situation., without any real sense of reality. ‘I’m not as well off as my next door neighbor, but my house is bigger than those shabby apartments that the Europoor live in’.

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Feb 4·edited Feb 4

I think the sudden UK change is not directly due to the financial crisis but rather immigration, something economists don't like talking about. Brexit obviously plays no part at all if you look at the actual graph, it can't even be seen. Nor is there any obvious way for the other factors to influence things, for example British banks haven't been unusually unstable since then.

It was around those years that the UK immigration numbers really exploded as the EU stumbled due to the GFC and lots of people packed up their bags. The massive population growth is not really visible in official data, which is recognised by the government to be completely wrong! But it can be inferred in other ways. Productivity is basically about investment in technology, and the usual reason to do that is some sort of upwards pressure on wages. If you allow essentially unlimited immigration for years though, wages flatline and the incentive to upgrade disappears.

A simple way to see this is to go spend time in Heathrow. The sheer number of people being pushed around on wheelchairs by the staff is astounding, you just don't see that elsewhere in other airports. One might ask why these people don't have their own motorised wheelchairs if they really need one at all, but if course with infinity cheap labour there is not a reason to have such things and thus the chair pushers drag down productivity.

The UK was especially affected by this because it was the most attractive destination for EU internal migration around that time due to lack of transitional controls on Eastern European joiner countries, and because the native language is English. So that led to an endless supply of ultra cheap labour often willing to work for less than the minimum wage in reality. The voters didn't like this but the political class decided to ally over it, the left for social engineering reasons and the right because it appeared to boost GDP (more people).

The issue isn't going to change anytime soon either. Net migration has exploded in recent years and the ruling parties have both basically decided that they will never give voters what they want, something they can do due to lack of clear alternatives. The Conservatives are essentially willing to commit suicide over the issue due to the dominance of their left wing "one nation" faction, and most right wing voters have concluded that the party must be destroyed and rebuilt if it's to ever be responsive on the issue again. Now Labour will likely win and so UK productivity will continue to go nowhere for the foreseeable future.

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The Europeans have been sneeringat the US and free riding for decades now. They came out of World War II and acted as if they had somehow discovered the right way to do civilization. Rainbows and sweetness from the US is not going to get them to re-evaluate their problems, they'll have to figure that out themselves.

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As an American who had worked in London & Germany, THANK YOU.

Here are just two of the points that baffled me:

1) Brits strangling housing with their "Green belt"/NIMBY while gaping in amazement at "The City".

2) Germans nurturing anti-American suspicions while allowing Russia to bribe their way into controlling the German economy.

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Europe has major problems with immigration. It spent centuries separating people into religious, linguistic and ethnic nations. As Noah points out, a major benefit to the growth of US GDP is immigration and I'd bet Australia has benefitted as well. The UK did until the bloody Tories got in and now look what they've done to themselves. I'm not sure that Europe has the capacity to accept and acculturate immigrants but given birth and fertility rates they really, really need to find a way.

We're going through a rough patch with immigration just now but I imagine we'll straighten out some of the BS and move on to a much more effective system by which I do not mean only MDs and PhDs make it in. Brad De Long in Slouching ...." notes that US growth faltered somewhat from 1924 to 1955 or much because of a period of anti-immigrant laws.

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I agree that there are certain parts of industrial policy which have promoted certain US industries and which may have been neglected by other countries. But regarding the western contention with Russia and China, it is not against the countries and peoples as much as it is against 2 individuals.

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Feb 5·edited Feb 5

Fair enough but Europe's collapsing population is cause to find a better way .... fast.

I'd focus less on source countries and more on a nation's capacity for assimilation. Assimilating MENA immigrants is likely difficult but in the US new immigrants have always been a horror to native-borns. The Irish were excoriated for their faith, a burden that followed them until JFK was elected president if you can imagine. Italians, Jews and so on. We turn out to be superb at assimilating the unfamiliar with the plenty of seeming trivialities like St. Patrick's Day parades and salsa sales larger than ketchup sales. Of course there are more meaningful assimilationist moves as well.

The problem to me is that Europe generally and individual countries more specifically are really bad at assimilation. Germany these days bleats on about its precious culture which sounds mighty dubious to me as if 'culture' is the new 'blood and soil'. The French stick their heads in the sand but never count French reactionaries out. I'm not sure of any good models out there but I'd love to find some.

BTW, I love having rational and reasonable discussions about big topics like this. Thank you for engaging.

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