Europe's economic success should be obvious even without statistics. 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.
This is just silly. Its like walking out on a single day and saying, "well, it doesn't seem any hotter to me" as a rebuttal to manmade global warming theory. I am sure I can walk the tourist and financial districts of a lot of European cities with their triumphal centuries-old architecture and somehow be impressed with their wealth. But the number of upscale shopping options on the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es has little to do with the standard of living of the average Frenchman.
Okay, where did you go in London? Covent Garden? St. James? Soho? Westminster? The City?
Oh, you didn't go to North Peckham, or Newham, or Hackney? You went to the rich areas of the most prosperous city in the country, and not, I don't know, Liverpool, or Leicester, or Middlesbrough? No, you've never been to those places, have you?
Well several million people live there, and no offense to them, but they're not quite as charming as the tourist districts in London. I don't think they'd look to kindly on some rich American spending a vacation watching the Changing of the Guard and taking in a show on Haymarket and concluding he knows about their country and their life.
This really gets back to my post the other day on triumphalism. This is EXACTLY why states build pretty high-speed trains and grand municipal buildings and huge triumphal arches -- as a way to distract both their own citizens (and outsiders) from their own well-being relative to others. Its the magician waving something shiny around in his left hand to take your eyes off the right. And it is pathetic that not only does a former Nobel Laureate fall for it, but he doubles down by telling everyone else to fall for it.
Relevant actual data, via Mark Perry (click to enlarge, this is 1999 data from a 2004 Swedish study but I don't think the relative positions have changed):
Triumphal arches and high-speed trains don't make people wealthy. Wal-Mart has done far more to make the average person wealthier than any number of government projects you can mention.
Along these lines, I have said for years that one of the reasons we spend more on health care than Europe is because we can. We are wealthier, and (rationally in my mind) people choose to spend this incremental wealth on their health and well-being.