January 6, 2012


Even Europe’s best-performing large country, Germany, is about 20 percent poorer than the U.S. on a per-person basis (and both countries have roughly 15 percent of their populations living below the poverty line). While Norway and Sweden are richer than the U.S., on average, they are more comparable to wealthy American microeconomies like Washington, D.C., or parts of Connecticut — both of which are actually considerably wealthier. A reporter in Greece once complained after I compared her country to Mississippi, America’s poorest state. She’s right: the comparison isn’t fair. The average Mississippian is richer than the average Greek.

Europe is undergoing not one but two simultaneous economic crises. The first is a rapid, obvious one — all about sovereign debt, a collapsing currency and austerity measures — that we hear about all the time. The second is insidious but more important. After decades of trying, Europe as a whole still can’t quite figure out how to be flexible enough to compete in the global economy.

Europe hasn’t tried all that hard to be flexible, because flexibility generally comes at the expense of power on the part of the political/managerial class.

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