US vs. Europe: Standard of Living

NY Times | Paul Krugman | Learning From Europe

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-Élysées has little to do with the standard of living of the average Frenchman.

South Bend Seven put it well:

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):

EUUSAHOUSEHOLDS

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.

  • Stan

    Bryan Caplan highlighted some of Krugman's idiocy on his EU worshiping here: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/01/alabama_vs_the.html

    Apparently Alabama is growing slightly faster than the wonderful EU.

  • ElamBend

    Krugman simply beclowns himself here by becoming a parody of limousine liberal. He simply just has not perceived a lower standard of living in Paris in all the visits he's made to conferences there at high-end hotels, while staying himself in the Ritz.

  • Dan

    There's wealth, and then there's wealth. If you consider wealth to mean having access to cut-rate prices on cheaply made goods from China at the nearest Wal-Mart, that's fine. That's not how most Europeans would define the good life.

    Europeans tend to live in smaller houses than people here in the U.S., and on narrower streets, and may not have access to big-box discount stores. But there are quality of life measures that aren't necessarily picked up by comparing GDPs. I've been all over Europe - mostly to the touristy areas, but also to areas off the beaten path (I have a friend who lives in a small city in Spain, and spent some time there). From my admittedly limited experience, I would say that quality of life is actually better in Europe. People don't need to go into debt to buy and maintain a 3,000 pound vehicle to get their food and clothing, neighbors know one another, greasy fast food isn't as prevalent and there isn't the numbing sameness of the typical U.S. subdivision.

  • me

    To the two previous commenters: Go travel one day, and you'll find out why (and where) quality of life/cost expended is notably higher in Europe. The attitude of denial where "there's something obviously going very well in country X that's not going so well at home, maybe we should examine the differences" is replaced by "those should love their own country, where we all know all is always best" doesn't really serve to advance our own quality of life.

    Cost and quality of housing, urban planning, more cost-conscious consumers, more diverse media and education encouraging critical thinking would be differentiators I can think of w/respect to the US for at least one European nation I happen to be acquainted with rather well.

  • Jakob

    "Wal-Mart has done far more to make the average person wealthier than any number of government projects you can mention."

    So true, yet how can we get people to understand? You say this at a college and you are laughed off campus. *sigh*

  • http://mjb.biglaughs.org m

    "People don’t need to go into debt to buy and maintain a 3,000 pound vehicle..."

    There's a difference between "don't need to...buy" and "aren't allowed to...buy".

  • DrTorch

    Wow. How did Krugman actually get a graduate degree, let alone win prestigious awards? Substituting anecdotes for data? Hmm, although that might explain how the US Gov't tends to overlook the decay it is imposing on Middle America.

    Dan, you might enjoy this

    http://www.julianroeder.com/workdetail/SLUMS+IN+EUROPE/9

  • ElamBend

    me:
    your presumption that I have not traveled is misplaced. I have been to several countries in Europe; I visited china over 20 years ago, before things started getting better; I've been to Argentina (including some of the less desirable sections of BA) and I myself grew up in a very rural area of Missouri surrounded by poverty. Your conceit that I or the other commenter must not have traveled and thus cannot comment is also a false one.

    I agree, Europe has so many very charming places (more so in those with no communist legacy). I would also love to live in several places in Europe, though short of an internet company or such; I'm not sure how I could support myself there. The aesthetic of many of those places are an accident of history and new construction there isn't always as pleasing. It is also a lucky accident of history that LeCorbrusier was not given the chance to raise downtown Paris according to his monstrous plan. Though you can see the legacy of his ideas in the awful Parisian suburbs.
    As for this comment:
    "Cost and quality of housing, urban planning, more cost-conscious consumers, more diverse media and education encouraging critical thinking would be differentiators I can think of w/respect to the US for at least one European nation I happen to be acquainted with rather well."
    This can equally apply to many places in the States. I personally like living in a somewhat cramped apartment in downtown Chicago, but for not much money at all, I could live in charming bungalow in a nice part of St. Louis and have all that your describe. I simply prefer a larger city. That some people prefer much larger houses and a semi-rural, neigh sub-urban, life is their business and, thankfully, in this country, it is their option as well.

    Further, please note, I was not criticizing Europe in my comment, but rather Krugman's poor logic of using his luxurious experience in travel to Europe as an example of its dynamism. If I were to proclaim in the wonders of America after a trip to Manhattan, Beverly Hills and San Francisco, I should just as well pilloried. Save the strawman arguments for elsewhere.

  • the other coyote

    We recently had a French customer stay at our ranch while she was in the States on business. She is the daughter of a wealthy French developer. Their family would probably be considered "rich" in France.

    We, on the other hand, are solid upper-middle-class.

    We have the option and ability to spend money on things she could only dream about. We can build whatever style and size of home we want, and air condition it if we want. We have money to pay for our retirements (the French are dependent on a pension, which may or may not be there). We were able to purchase a ranch - we didn't have to inherit it. Just about everything in our house evoked the admiring comment "it's so big!" The washer, the dryer, the toilet, the pickup - she could not get over how everything actually WORKED.

    Americans have a choice to live like Europeans if they want to - go to any university town and you'll see plenty of grad students, professionals, and people who never left town emulating the lifestyle. But unlike my French friend, I have a choice. If I want to work harder and have more stuff, I can, and I can find employees who will work just as hard along with me. In France, she'd just pay it all in taxes anyway, and can't find a labor force that will agree to put in the hours, so why bother?

  • the other coyote

    One thing Krugman missed. The Europeans can take it easy [a lifestyle he seems to admire] because we take care of them. Since WWII, we've given them money, protection, advances in medicine, drugs, inventions, technology, you name it and it came from here. Why work when the Americans will do it for you?

    But what happens when the Americans don't want to work any more? Who takes care of us? Spain? I don't think so...

  • me

    @ElamBend - apologies, I totally misread you there. My knee-jerk reflex has an exceedingly short fuse when I believe someone to be wrong on the internet. I really ought to look into ways to get that under control ;)

    I had to laugh at the quote of Krugman's "Europe as an example of dynamism" - quality of life is quite a bit higher in the places in Europe I'd love to live in compared to at least what I've seen of the States, but, err, "dynamism" is probably the last word that would come even to my rosy-bespectacled mind.

  • me

    @the other coyote

    And here I was thinking it were the universities of Europe that churned out a whole lot of the people doing research and high tech work in the states. Not to mention the money, medicine, inventions and technology those Europeans hand out.

    Spending on overwhelming military might, granted, they don't do that as much. Then again, there's a case to be made that inventing first and foremost into areas that might pay a dividend instead of the military might actually be beneficial. I'll ask the former Soviet Union about that next time I see her.

  • DrTorch

    me,
    your arrogance again trumps reality.

    "Then again, there’s a case to be made that inventing first and foremost into areas that might pay a dividend instead of the military might actually be beneficial."

    Makes at least two logical fallacies. First is that the US doesn't spend R&D like Europe. That's simply false. The US spends more on all sectors of R&D than any other country, and a higher percentage of GDP on research than virtually any other.

    And names like Townes and Bardeen are being equalled by Venter, Jobs, Page and Brin. It's pretty clear the US isn't sliding.

    Second is the ridiculous notion that inventing in the military pays no other dividends. DARPA alone boasts GPS, the Internet, GaAs use. Current research into robotics leads the world.

    Military investment in medical research and care has provided significant gains.

    As for Europe's research, this quote sums things up well, "European R&D spending is expected to continue to slide compared to the rest of the world."

    http://www.rdmag.com/Featured-Articles/2009/12/Policy-and-Industry-2010-Global-R-D-Funding-Forecast-An-Overview/

    My personal experience is that the quality declines further each year as well. It is often poorly designed, lacking clear objectives, and mediocre in execution. I'm sure there are good scientists in Europe, but they're fading.

  • Plungerman

    Herr Krugman was sounding uncharactersticly informed right up until he got to Frankfurt. I spent a whole lifetime there one day. Whenever I hear him speak on matters outside of his speciality (narrow though it is) it seems clear that he is one who has been too long at the fair.

    Take your Nobel winnings and retire comfortably, somewhere out of earshot.

    P

  • Dan

    One more thing about quality of life: It's not just how big a house you have. I work at a large multi-national company, and most of my overseas colleagues in Europe and Australia enjoy twice as much vacation time as I get here. I've never understood the insistence in the U.S. that we must be chained to our desks 50 weeks out of the year.

  • Dr. T

    To the Eurolovers: Bullcrap.

    My daughter lives in Dortmund, a mining and steel-making city near Dusseldorf, Germany. The lifestyle and standard of living of typical Dortmunders are not higher than that of typical Americans.

    Food and rent are expensive. Apartments are small and drab. So are the cars (for those who can afford them). When you wish to go somewhere, you have a choice of walking (it's cold and damp most of the year) or waiting for buses or subways. A one mile ride on a train costs almost $3. If you don't qualify for a discount monthly pass, then train travel is expensive.

    The stores are small. They have no equivalent to a large department store. Walmart bought land and tried to build a store in Dortmund, but political pressure kept it out (just like Chicago). It took me twelve days of walking and train-riding all over Dortmund just to get simple furnishings for my daughter's apartment. I had to walk many miles because some of the stores were not near train stations or bus stops. When you buy goods, the prices are high because of the high percent overhead of small stores and because of the 19% value added tax.

    Restaurants are more expensive than in America, and they tend to have less variety and fewer choices. You have to beg to get a plain glass of water with your meal: they want you to buy a quarter-liter bottle of mineral water for three euros ($4.40). Deserts at a so-so restaurant are typically 4-6 Euros ($5.75-$8.75).

    Almost no businesses will accept credit cards, debit cards, or checks. That includes restaurants, grocery stores, drug stores (that are very small and sell everything in small sizes), gas stations, electronics stores, etc. This is extremely inconvenient and dangerous: my 4' 8" daughter needs to carry hundreds of Euros in cash on her shopping trips.

    If you're into simple vices, alcohol and cigarettes are highly taxed and expensive. We didn't look at cable TV prices, but I bet they are high. Since it's Germany, pornography is readily available with more hardcore and perverse choices. (No, I didn't check this out; it's advertised openly.)

    My daughter has lived in Dortmund for almost six months, and she likes it less each month. The locals aren't very friendly despite her good command of German. Most of her friends are international students. The local youth are as callow as American youth: they no nothing or recent history or politics, they were surprised that I knew more about German reunification than they did, their big interests are soccer and political protests (about anything that gives them an excuse to gather, chant, and vandalize).

  • Dr. T

    I fixed that last paragraph:

    My daughter has lived in Dortmund for almost six months, and she likes it less each month. The locals aren’t very friendly despite her good command of German. Most of her friends are international students. The local youth are as callow as American youth: they know nothing of recent history or politics, they were surprised that I knew more about German reunification than they did, their big interests are soccer and political protests (about anything that gives them an excuse to gather, chant, and vandalize).

  • Bob Smith

    Cost and quality of housing, urban planning, more cost-conscious consumers, more diverse media and education encouraging critical thinking would be differentiators I can think of w/respect to the US for at least one European nation I happen to be acquainted with rather well.

    Are you saying the Europeans have it better? I heartily dispute that. Diverse media? In Europe you have the left and the far left. Anybody resembling an American Republican, let alone a libertarian, gets publicly ridiculed as "far right wing", that being their MSM's code words for "people so far beyond the pale you must never listen to them". Europe still has official government newspapers and television stations too. How's that for ideological diversity?

    Housing is expensive and shabby, "urban planning" makes it a pain in the ass to get anywhere, and once you do you have to waste huge amounts of time shopping 20 tiny stores selling stuff thats twice what it would cost in the US. Too bad you don't have a car to take it back to your tiny flat, so you'll have to carry it yourself, because taxes are so high to subsidize the rail systems you probably can't afford a car. If you should be so fortunate as to own a house, there are wonderful schemes like Denmark's, where you get taxed on the phantom income the government determines you could have received if you had leased the property to a tenant. Oh yeah, that's on top of property taxes.

    Education there is just as socialist as here, and any student stupid enough to start quoting Friedman or Hayek does just as much damage to their ability to graduate. Critical thinking my ass.

    Don't forget the brownshirts. They aren't called that anymore, they're called "antifas" (anti-fascists, how's that for irony), and they're the unofficial enforcement arm of European leftist orthodoxy. They harass, assault, and vandalize the "far right wing" (there never seem to be mere "right wing" people according to their MSM). It's quite amazing how antifa's timing and selection of targets seems to be in accord with whatever people are currently thorns in officialdom's side, though naturally nothing is ever proved and events always ascribed to mere coincidence.

  • Bob Smith

    Cost and quality of housing, urban planning, more cost-conscious consumers, more diverse media and education encouraging critical thinking would be differentiators I can think of w/respect to the US for at least one European nation I happen to be acquainted with rather well.

    Are you saying the Europeans have it better? I heartily dispute that. Diverse media? In Europe you have the left and the far left. Anybody resembling an American Republican, let alone a libertarian, gets publicly ridiculed as "far right wing", that being their MSM's code words for "people so far beyond the pale you must never listen to them". Europe still has official government newspapers and television stations too. How's that for ideological diversity?

    Housing is expensive and shabby, "urban planning" makes it a pain in the ass to get anywhere, and once you do you have to waste huge amounts of time shopping 20 tiny stores selling stuff thats twice what it would cost in the US. Too bad you don't have a car to take it back to your tiny flat, so you'll have to carry it yourself, because taxes are so high to subsidize the rail systems you probably can't afford a car. If you should be so fortunate as to own a house, there are wonderful schemes like Denmark's, where you get taxed on the phantom income the government determines you could have received if you had leased the property to a tenant. Oh yeah, that's on top of property taxes.

    Education there is just as socialist as here, and any student stupid enough to start quoting Friedman or Hayek does just as much damage to their ability to graduate. Critical thinking? Yeah right.

    Don't forget the brownshirts. They aren't called that anymore, they're called "antifas" (anti-fascists, how's that for irony), and they're the unofficial enforcement arm of European leftist orthodoxy. They harass, assault, and vandalize the "far right wing" (there never seem to be mere "right wing" people according to their MSM). It's quite amazing how antifa's timing and selection of targets seems to be in accord with whatever people are currently thorns in officialdom's side, though naturally nothing is ever proved and events always ascribed to mere coincidence.

  • Noumenon

    Vacation time is the biggest standard-of-living thing I envy about Europe, and I can't buy more of it here without quitting my job.

  • me

    @Dr T

    Ouch, I feel your pain.

    I have to add that my personal experience is somewhat different - where rent and real estate are concerned, probably a matter of location; if I compare Seattle to Essen (close to Duesseldorf) and Berlin, equivalent apartments tend to cost 3-5x more in Seattle. The multiplier for houses is even higher.

    As far as stores are concerned - Kaufhof would be a good and amazingly well stocked store, and it's easily reachable by personal transport. Real/Media Markt/Lidl/Aldi etc are the local equivalents of Walmart (the Walmarts I know of failed because they consistently attempted to apply American style promotions with otherwise higher prices, which didn't work so well with German shoppers who actually did the full math.)

    As far as suggestions for enjoying the stay go: get a local debit card (eurocash cards are accepted everywhere except in mom-and-pop type stores - electronic funds transfer is the usual way of handling money, so checks are frowned upon), get a month or year card for the local Verkehrsverbund (nobody except visitors buy individual tickets). Also, notice that there are a number of differences between American and German approaches to interaction. Boasting is considered incredibly bad form there while almost necessary to get a foot in here, competing with friends is a no-no (it's more about sharing), social events tend to be less formal (go and start inviting people for tea/coffee to your apartment).

    Germany is absolutely no fun unless you have a circle of friends. Acquiring that should be the highest priority for your daughter; if she has trouble connecting, a good way (everywhere) is to move in with other folks ("Wohngemeinschaft") to get a "starter set" of contacts. Sports clubs ("..., e.V.") are great in that respect as well (typically there are dozens of dirt cheap clubs in walking distance in every neighborhood). Winter, btw, is generally a miserably cold and wet time, summer will in all likelihood be better.

    On pornography, note that the standards differ quite a lot - I started to blush seeing just regular old commercials; conversely, the US is incredibly prudish by European standards. The Jackson Nipple, gay marriage or the Clinton cigar wouldn't raise an eyebrow there. On the other hand, violence is seen as something much worse and worthy of condemnation.

    I think what your post drives home for me is that the lifestyles of Americans and Germans are sufficiently different that approaching living the "other" culture is bound to be difficult if following the tried and true principles of the home culture.

  • http://thebastidge.blogspot.com thebastidge

    RE: "rich areas" of London: I've been several times for short visits, stayed in tourist areas, and STILL every public restroom I used there was filthy and smelled of urine. Even in nicer restaurants. Large areas of alleys and streets as well. That inspiring historic architecture also means that modern amenities are often lacking or completely missing. Every hotel I stayed in was cramped, most of them lacked simple comforts such as in-room refrigeration, the heat was impossible to adjust to a comfortable level, cooling was unavailable in those times when it would have been a blessing, the bathrooms were typically far inferior to a like-cost American hotel. In short the accommodations sucked, the food wasn't much to write about, shopping was horribly expensive (coming home from Iraq with no nice clothes for a night out at the clubs and pubs) one outfit of shirt, slacks, and belt cost over $400 for items I could get at yes, *Walmart* for under $80. Service in those pubs was lackadaisical most of the time, with eastern European grunt labour taking over for nearly every service job in London. Average service at a mom and pop or fast food restaurant in the States is better than everything but high end restaurants in London.

    I would not permanently trade an American lifestyle for a European one. It's fun to visit, and I would like to spend more extended stays there, but nothing I've seen there would convince me that the average person is better off than the average American. Take away the munificent overflow of American largesse and economic power from the world and Europe would see another dark age indeed.

  • O Bloody Hell

    FYI: No Oil for Pacifists also did a short piece on this.

  • O Bloody Hell

    > Then again, there’s a case to be made that inventing first and foremost into areas that might pay a dividend instead of the military might actually be beneficial.

    Uh, no.

    Invest in dividends, and ignore the military, and you know what happens?

    The guy who invested only in HIS military comes in and takes all those dividends away from you.

    Balance is the key -- the military must be "good enough" that no one wants to futz with you to get what you have...

    That's the problem behind the libtard caterwaul (what, there's one that doesn't have a problem?) about how "it will be a fine day when the schools have all the funding they want and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber".

    Ignore the military and your educational system won't be a problem. It'll be the problem of the country that didn't ignore its military.

    Defense against external threats IS the first priority of a government. Always

  • O Bloody Hell

    > Whenever I hear him speak on matters outside of his speciality (narrow though it is) it seems clear that he is one who has been too long at the fair.

    What? When the f*** have you heard Krugman speak on economics when it wasn't obvious his cranium was inserted up to his neck in his rectum?

    Has it been anytime in the last decade?

    You'll have to prove it with a link, 'cause I ain't buying that pig in a poke.

    The man's still a Keynesian, for crying out loud. You can't be a Keynesian after 1985 and NOT be a total incompetent (and yes, that includes "NeoKeynesian" as well. Talk about lipstick on a pig).

  • O Bloody Hell

    .

    > I’ve never understood the insistence in the U.S. that we must be chained to our desks 50 weeks out of the year.

    Compare national per-capita GNPs and you might actually get a clue about that one.

    The USA is roughly one twentieth of the world's population. Throughout most of the 90s and well into recent years, the USA produced one THIRD of the world's wealth with those people (With China and India developing, our slice of the now-larger pie has become closer to 25%).

    Another third of the wealth was produced by the people of all seven of the other G-8 nations, and the only reason that was true was because of Japan -- All of Europe's G-6 contribution to same was roughly equal to Japan's (Japan has a USA-like work-ethic).

    So there is an apparent difference between what you make for busting your hump and what you make when you take long holidays. Whoodathunkit?

    I just wish the morons who are so enamored of Europe would just friggin' GO THERE and stop trying to F*** this place up for the rest of us...

    .

  • Max

    I think the best example for this grand-standing of cities in Europe is Pisa, Italy. You have this very nice northern quarter where all the tourist sites are. It's "mignon" as the french say. But if you go to the south, over the river and enter the poorer areas, you think yourself to be in some Northern African town. It's dirty, it's poor, there is graffiti everywhere and the people are depressed and downtrodden. The northern quarter is perhaps a fifth of the city that is actually beautiful, while the rest is a place you don't wanna live in.

  • Jamie Anderson

    I, too, have spent time abroad (France) and have met many families from all different socio-economic strata. I agree with poster above that there are some things that add to quality of life that are not possessions. Many, many Americans would give up some of their baubles to have free health care, free education, and more time off with their families. The image of a poor, destitute European is just not accurate. Most families I spent time with led very comfortable lives. Did their kids have fewer Ipods? Yes. Do the French think that it is necessary to own 17 pair of jeans? Are their apartments smaller? Yes, by our standards. But my French mother-in-law got better care than my mother did when they both got identical breast cancer diagnoses. And...she did not pay a cent for it! What's more...she was not expected to try to go to work during her chemo for fear of losing her job or not getting paid. And while many French children are not indulged with the material possessions that American children are indulged with (that is, unless those US children are part of the 28% of US children who live in poverty...not so in France), they are served better food at schools, receive a better education (according to scores on international measures), and do not have to go 100,000 in debt for a college education.

  • http://grouchyconservativepundits.com Mike C.

    Last time I checked, there were a lot more upscale shopping opportunities at the Galleria in Houston than there were along the Champs Elysee The Champs Elysee is much prettier, though.

    To hear an economist, and a Nobel winning one at that, tell you to not look at numbers...

    I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the entire discussion over right then and there ?

  • rxc

    Well, I actually live in France, and I can assure everyone that life here is certainly "different" from life in the US. Better in some ways, but worse in others. I like to describe France as a giant amusement park for adults, because it contains many attractions that adults appreciate, in the area of culture, history, food, and drink. The health care system here is quite good, and reasonably priced, but the health care professionals are not rich like they are in the US, and although France does do quite a bit of research, I don't think they do as much as the US, so I think they do benefit from work done in the US.

    The administrative life is quite a hassel, needing LOTS of papers to get anything done, waiting in lines, dealing with difficult officials. We have to get our "green cards" renewed each year, which is a pain, but evidently the US gives furiners just the same amount of aggravation. One big difference is the fact that everyone, French, EU citizens, US citzens, and illegal immigrants, can be "controlled" at any time by the police - "papers pleaze" - and you must be able to prove to these people that you are here legally or else you get to take a trip to the local gendarmerie for a more detailed discussion/examination. And since we have a boat and two cats, we even have LOTS of separate papers to show that we do not have to pay VAT on our US-purchased boat when we travel around, and we also have even more papers (including ID cards and "health passports") for the 2 cats, coutesy of the damn Brits. Everyone here has an identity card, and they also have health identity cards, so it is really difficult to "fly under the radar" here.

    Taxes for us are not high, except for the VAT, because all os our income is US source, and under the double taxation treaty we only pay US income taxes. Our real estate taxes are low because we live in a small hamlet in the countryside - in Paris or other cities, they would be MUCH higher.

    The French work very hard to keep people living out in the countryside, because it is difficult to keep them down on the farm after they have seen Paris, so we have good services here at reasonable rates, and will likely get fiber-optic internet connections soon. The French have also done a lot more than the Germans seem to have done to modernize, in the credit cards are accepted everywhere here, even in some of the market stalls. I think this is because the French understand that electronic commerce makes it easier to monitor and collect taxes, and there is still quite a sizeable underground economy to avoid taxes, but it is getting harder and harder each year to avoid the "fisc". You can go on-line to look at all of the French administrative documents down to the level of the property boundary maps, and the financial transfer system is quite sophisticated. Unfortunately, transfers to other EU countries are not quite as easy as payments in the US from one state to another, with large charges to cash a foreign check (even in euros).

    I agree with the comments that Krugman is nuts to use capital cities to do comparisons - life in the countryside is not the idylic paradise that he makes it out to be, and he would be advised to avoid a large fraction of the suburbs of Paris at all times of the day and night, because of all the "troubled youth" who reside there. But the French are very proud of Paris, in a way that does not exist in the US, so the French have little problem spending a LOT of money on infrastructure to make life in Paris quite pleasant. The US political system is not set up to allow such things to happen in Washington.

    It is a _different way_ of living. Some will find some parts better, some parts worse. I think it all depends on what you value. I don't think that most Americans would like to see the sort of control that is necessary for a system like this to work in the US, but we have given up some privacy rights in the past to try to improve security, so the calls like Krugman's are really a call for more of the same.

  • ElamBend

    Rxc,
    Thanks, that was a great report. On one of your points, the acceptance of credit cards, I think the large number of expats living in France, particularly the south, particularly Brits also had an influence upon this.

  • Ted Rado

    I travelled to Europe many times on business, and lived in a small town in England for several months. I visited relatives in Hungary on several occasions. I concluded that many of the differences in standard and style of living are cultural and done by coice. Some examples:

    A Belgian engineer invited me to his home for dinner. A hired person prepared and served the dinner. They were stunned to hear that when I entertained guests in the US, my wife cooked and served. They were also astonished to hear that I, an American engineer, painted the trim on my house, washed my car, and mowed the lawn. A European engineer would never think of doing such menial labor.

    Look out in the street at 7 Am in Europe. Very little traffic. In the US, all is hustle and bustle.

    I was to visit an office on business. I said I would be there at 8 AM. They said to come at 9:30, which I did. We then had a half hour of pleasantries, followed by a couple of hours work. Then a two hour lunch, with wine and brandy. We then worked until 6 PM.

    The Europeans take much more vacation time, and work shorter hours, and enjoy life more (from their point of view).

    The bottom line is that they enjoy the good life, living like lords and ladies. They are willing to have smaller houses and less material benefits in order to pay for their lifestyle. They wear clothes that an American would have long ago given to the Salvation Army, drive small cars, etc.

    If someone wants that sort of life, it is fine with me. I don't fault it, but I much prefer the American way: work harder, have more material benefits, and forego the air of superiority. I once had a European tell me "all you Americans have is money. We have the culture". No problem. You keep your lifestyle and I'll keep mine.

  • Rebecca

    "I’ve been several times for short visits, stayed in tourist areas, and STILL every public restroom I used there was filthy and smelled of urine. Even in nicer restaurants. Large areas of alleys and streets as well."

    Seconded. The restrooms were disgusting. My first trip to London was with family, and my now-husband stayed home with my puppy. Naturally, I missed them both, and tried to call every day. Unfortunately, this meant having to use the disgusting telephone booths that were soaked with urine and diarrhea and wallpapered with pornographic ads. I would wipe down the handset and stretch the cord out as far as I could so I wouldn't have to actually stand all the way inside the booth. It was horrifically nasty, and this was in the "nice" parts of town and around big historic sites.

    As an aside, I'm not fond of eating there either. We stopped at several grocery-type stores to stock up my cousin's apartment a bit (he lived there for several years) and everything was incredibly expensive and nothing special.

  • me

    @O Bloody Hell:

    I couldn't agree more on balance (my point was that certain nations managed to spent themselves into oblivion by uncontrolled military sector spending). The US is looking like a good candidate for another example of this type: http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending. We could easily cut spending in half and not have to fear the invading forces of Canada or Mexico (or, for that matter, Russia or China, who spend 1/9th of the amount we sink into "defense").

    As far as per-capita GDP is concerned: consult http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)_per_capita, and notice that Europeans apparently manage roughly the same and sometimes a better GDP/head while working significantly less. Mostly, that tells you that GDP is a number with, ah, a lot of variance to estimation and should be consumed only with several grains of salt.

  • MGW

    I think you forgot your economics class. Nominal GDP per capita is not the way to look at quality of life. You need to look at PPP http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita Based on this, France is almost 30% poorer than the US. They may work less, but they're also a lot poorer.

  • http://thebastidge.blogspot.com thebastidge

    "The US is looking like a good candidate for another example of this type: http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending. We could easily cut spending in half and not have to fear the invading forces of Canada or Mexico (or, for that matter, Russia or China, who spend 1/9th of the amount we sink into “defense”)."

    We, and the rest of the world, receive major dividends on the money we spend on exporting security. While we spend roughly double what some other nations such as German y or France spend on defense, it amounts to several magnitudes greater capability. And it's still well under 4% of our GDP. Look at the percentage put into social welfare programs if you want to see where we're spending ourselves into the poor house.

    As someone daid above, the first job of our government is defense of the nation. To that end, spending on the defense department is justified both under the Constitution and by common sense.

    http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/budget_pie_gs.php

  • me

    @MGW

    My point exactly. The numbers are not a representative indicator of quality of live. I believe that practically, QOL is much lower in Iceland than in any of France, Japan or Germany. That said, there are regions of France I would not want to live in. There few parts of Germany that I'd hate that much. There are parts of either that rank as my highest priority places to live worldwide, for personal reason. For professional reasons, I don't. There are places in the US I'd much rather live than where I live now, but equally, there are places you couldn't pay me to spend time in. Summa summarum - GDP and PPP numbers are rather meaningless where individual quality of life questions are concerned.

    @thebastidge

    The benefits of exporting security are unproven. The argument could be made the other way (the current US engagements promote growth of terrorist organizations). According to the chart you send we spend more than twice what all of Europe combined is spending on defense (and nearly 10 times more than China or Russia). Defense is the single largest item in the US budget.

    "The first job of government..." is a rough simplification. The US is located in one of the most geopolitically peaceful areas of the globe. It spends twice more than any other nation on defense. The question discussed above is not whether or not there ought to be defense spending, but how much and on what. As such, the level of spending is not justified by either the Constitution or common sense (show me where it says 'thou ought to outspend everyone else by a factor of two'). In fact, it's questionable how it is justified or if it is justifiable.

    That the healthcare, social security, welfare and bailout spending of the US government will bankrupt this nation within the next 50 years unless dramatic reductions are enacted is not a reason to spend more on defense. It's a reason to spend less on everything.

  • Glen

    That's why we're better? We've got more stuff from Walmart? Well, it's one measure.

    1)What about living longer, with better health?

    2)What about great parks, schools?

    3)What about living the American dream of poverty to riches?

    4)What about more family time, more vacation?

    5)What about time for religion and church?

    And if you're wondering:
    1) Europe beats US by almost every measure.
    2) US National parks are a jewel, California, Texas and other state universities define world class. Europe has great history and art museums.
    3) Go to Europe for much better odds at living the American dream.
    4) No contest, Europe.
    5) Studies show Europe to be more religious, although Africa wins world wide.

  • rxc

    Glen,

    My take on your questions goes like this:
    1: Live expectancy is about the same. The medically uninsured here do not worry about getting sick, but I think the live expectancy once you are born (not again) is about the same. In the US, we have different ways to measure infant mortality that skews the numbers against the US.

    2. Parks in the US are better, because we have more spectacular things like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. The mountains in Europe have been taimed, and are groomed for sking in the winter or hiking in the summer. I don't have any kids, so I cannot comment on the schools, but my impression is that the US university system is better than Europe. Friends here are proud of the fact that the higher education system here is free, but not as many people are accepted - in Germany(As I understand it), kids are tracked starting around age 12, so if they develop later they cannot escape into something different.

    3. The AMerican dream is more likely to be achieved in the US, because there is more mobility, and more people appreciate mobility. My family, dirt-poor immigrants from Italy, is a good example.

    4. There is more family time here, but it is a cultural thing here. Dinner with the family every SUnday, overseen by the family matriarch. You should go see the move "le Divorce" for an explanation. Vacations are better in Europe - 5-6 weeks/year - but they are taken en masse. There are set times for school holidays and the roads(!) and the trains are jammed around those vacations. The Autoroute from Lyon into Paris is backed up for hundreds of km (no exageration).

    5. Our experience is that the French are much LESS religious than Americans. We are personally not religious, and we have encountered no born-agains here, or any other groups with strong religiousity, except the muslims. I think there is more religion in Italy and Spain, and maybe Poland, but not in France. Here, the State(!) owns ALL of the church facilities, and they are leased back to the religions. Not going to happen in the US.

    I had the choice of where to live after retirement, and I chose France because it seems to be more fun. We have had both positive and negative experiences here, and may consider moving back after 5-10-15 years, but mostly because there are things we want to see/do back in the western hemisphere by boat. We like the food (but also miss some favorite foods from the US and otherwise outside France), the society is reasonably rational (even those some of the values are quite "different" from our own), and we like the cultural opportunities.

    The nicest part of all of this is that the Internet (invented by the US, Al Gore in particular) gives us LOTS of connectivity back to the US, and to elsewhere in the world, and there is lots of freedom for us to relocate when we decide to do so. THis is actually one area where Europe is quite far behind the US, because the multiple languages and cultures is a strong limitation on relocation of people from one country or region to another. It really limits EU-wide decisionmaking at the government level and also personal development, because it is difficult for a French person to easily start a business in Italy, or Spain, or Greece, where the language and customs and laws are so different. As Americans, we enjoy the diversity, but if there were 50 different languages in the US, it would be quite a different society.

  • rxc

    "live"=life" Cold fingers...

  • rxc

    Oh, one more comment - Walmart and Costco are AWESOME. We ALWAYS have a shopping list for trips back to the US, and have even figured out how to convince the French Douane that we are just tourists when we arrive with 4 large pieces of baggage...

  • http://diaryofagolddigger.blogspot.com/ The gold digger

    I don't know where this myth got started that Americans get only two weeks of vacation. You start with two weeks of vacation and get more as you progress in your career. My husband has three weeks of vacation, although he should have five: his company had to cut everyone's vacation last year because of the economy. Well. They cut the American employees' vacation. The Europeans still have theirs because of all the legal issues, which means he has to work even harder to pick up the slack. Once things improve, the vacation will be restored.

    When I was working, I was up to three weeks of vacation after four years of working at this company and would have four weeks after seven. I should have had more, but neglected to negotiate four weeks vacation when I started. My fault. Yes. Vacation can be negotiated once you are established in your career.

    It was a big problem at the factories that there were so many old timers who had six weeks of vacation. We don't all go on vacation at the same time here - the US does not shut down in August - so how to schedule those vacations without shutting down the plant was an issue because the plant was not overstaffed.

  • http://www.jamesgraham.bz James

    I'm not up-to-date on this but in the 1960s when I lived in France one-third of the apartments in Paris did not have bathrooms. Occupants shared a down-the-hall facility.

    How many American apartments compare? My guess: zero.

  • http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com Assistant Village Idiot

    Dan's comment sums up a great deal of one side of the argument: But DUDE, you get to live in Europe and be European, and how cool is that? Please.

    Each culture has its own quiddity, and I enjoy history and architecture, so Europe will always have its charms as a place to visit. But the people are not often polite, except to those they consider of their own set. While they seldom waste energy on overt hostility, their treatment of shopkeepers, waiters, and others in a queue is deplorable. (The Irish are an interesting exception to this, while the Swiss were especially bad.) Ethnic contempt extends not only to Roma and colonials, but to Walloons, Eastern Europeans, or Sicilians, depending on where you are. I am no fan of the EU, but certainly agree that nationalism has not worked for these peoples.

    And the restrooms, as above, absolutely seal the deal. Equivalent to American campgrounds, or gas stations in the 70's.

  • DOuglas2

    If anyone wants to test the statement "Real/Media Markt/Lidl/Aldi etc are the local equivalents of Walmart" they can do so because Lidl now has a large US presence.
    My experience of Lidl shops in the UK, Europe, US, and Canada is that they are all in the neighborhood of 12,000 sq. ft. in size, and carry abou the same number of product lines.

  • DOuglas2

    DOH, I meant Aldi, not Lidl. Lidl is a clone of Aldi and when I've lived in markets that had both I preferred it.

  • me

    Another comment on the data - keep in mind that it's from 1999. I suspect 2009 data would look rather different, given the economic developments in both regions.

  • Dan

    This is a very interesting discussion and I'm learning a lot, particularly from those who've posted here who live in Europe. They do remind me of a lot of things I noticed about Europe that I did not miss when I returned to the U.S., such as the restrooms, the lack of a wide variety of ethnic foods, the annoying fact that languages changed every 100 miles or so, etc.

    And obviously, it's a good point that not all of Europe is downtown Paris or London, and that not everyone is all that friendly in Europe.

    Also, someone made a good point in response to my comment about American vacations, in that yes, most people start with two weeks and move up from there (I have three myself). But I have seen studies showing that many Americans don't use all their vacation time, and although I forgot what the actual average is, it's something like 10 days a year.

  • O Bloody Hell

    > Many, many Americans would give up some of their baubles to have free health care, free education, and more time off with their families.

    And yet, strangely, THEY DON'T. The obvious solution would be to emigrate to somewhere in Europe, but the net flow is and has been consistently to America from every Euro nation.

    Funny. The option for many of those things is always there. They just don't take it. Even the boomers got materialistic as they matured.

    So maybe your idea is more unappealing than you grasp.... Where do you live, again...?

    > But the French are very proud of Paris, in a way that does not exist in the US

    I grant I haven't been to Paris, but:
    a) clearly you haven't been to New York.
    b) Don't mistake Gallic arrogance for pride. Not the same thing, but very similar in appearance.

    =====
    In general, I agree that many people might prefer to live in Europe under the conditions they have there. And I have no problem with that.

    What annoys me are two things, but aspects of the same thing:
    a) Idiots from over there who come over here and try and tell us we should do things like they do there. "WTF are you HERE for if it's so great over there?"
    b) Idiots from here who look at how they do things over there and think that it must be better than the way we do things. Same quote as "a" applies.

    The short form is "Stop trying to f*** things up here -- if you're so damned enamored of the way THEY do things, then go move over there and stop trying to SCREW UP MY LIFE."

    I call attention to the large number of Hollywood idiots who swore they would leave the country if Bush won in 2004. As of 2007, very few had actually done it, or showed any signs of actually doing it. I have no problem with those who did -- John Malkovich prefers it in France to the USA (Though I believe he was there long before Bush even took office) -- and I don't find fault with that... it's his life, he should be able to find the best conditions under which to live it. But the USA is fairly unique in the world as far as its qualities go, and I don't see why it's needed to make this place like Europe. If you want Europe, by all means -- GO THERE.

  • O Bloody Hell

    > As far as per-capita GDP is concerned: consult http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)_per_capita

    The numbers on that page are rather specious. Example:
    France, CIA World Fact Book
    Pop: 64,057,792
    GDP (PPP): $2.133 trillion (2008 est.)
    2 trillion divided by 64 million equals $33k, not $44.7k that that page cites. Probably it's the PPP element, but it says that the French aren't doing anywhere near as well as is suggested by that table, with a PPP adjusted per capita GDP that is 2/3rds that of the USA's (14.4 trillion vs 307 million = $46.9k).

    I like wikipedia, but it's dominated by lefties, and if it's something that lefties can slant, they will, and one should always be conscious of that when looking at things there. When I looked at those numbers they looked questionable -- they don't make sense in terms of the USA's vastly greater GDP while only somewhat larger than the others in population -- so I did my own examination and find one glaringly questionable example on my first try. That table is hinky, period.