Continental Matchups:  USA vs. Europe

Economics Europe France International UK

            New Orleans     There are more important things to think about when we wonder – and worry – about whether the new Conservative Party pick for prime minister is jumping from the devil into the deep blue sea in Britain, or whether European countries are going to freeze to death at the hands of Russia’s wartime pique at not being allowed to seize Ukraine for itself.  Although it seems ridiculous to care, I found a comparison in The Economist between the USA and Europe fascinating.

Ignore the fact that the columnist’s main objective was to throw shade on the US and have it pale in comparison to Europe and the UK.  Once you get past that, there are some intriguing comparisons that might surprise more than just me.  Take these:

Gross domestic product (GDP) per person is almost $70,000 [in the US]. The only European countries where it is higher are Luxembourg, Switzerland, Norway and Ireland, where figures are distorted by firms’ profit shifting. In Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, GDP per person (adjusted for purchasing-power parity) is $58,000. That puts it level with Vermont, but far below New York ($93,000) and California ($86,000). The comparisons are even less flattering for other European countries. Incomes in Britain and France are equal to those in Mississippi ($42,000), America’s poorest state.

Are you with me?  I’ve spent a lot of time over the last decade in Britain and France.  ACORN has large and successful organizations in both countries.  Living in Louisiana with a lot of time spent in Mississippi and Arkansas, I know something about the poorest states in America.  I’ve lived in them all my adult life, except for a very brief sojourn in Massachusetts.  Nonetheless, thinking about our members and my colleagues in the UK and France as being cheek to cheek with Mississippi is mind blowing for me.

The quick retort is that their health care costs put us to shame and must be a huge leveler, given how pricey that is for us on this side of the water.  But, wait, a pin seems to be put in that balloon, too:

The OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, estimates that a hip replacement in Norway costs seven times as much as one in Latvia and Lithuania. In any case, while American prices are higher than European ones, the gap is not big enough to account for the difference in health-care consumption: Americans also undergo lots more medical treatment.

Furthermore, we have a better score on cancer treatment, so in some situations, we may be getting value for our money.

There’s no winner in this spite and envy affair, and the columnist concedes:

…while arguments can be made for Europe, there is no way of slicing the data, despite your columnist’s best efforts, to make the continent’s biggest economies richer than America. Even in the areas where Europe does consume more than America, the old-world economies are not ahead by much. Maybe the true lesson of the comparison is that neither side ought to be satisfied: Europeans should be unhappy with their lower incomes; Americans really should be getting a lot more from their riches.

Amen to that!