Cherry picking

While I understand the hip thing to do these days is, as always, make comparisons of the US to individual European countries in the course of arguing against American practice A or policy B, but just exactly how relevant is a comparison of a small, homogenous country of a few million (such as, say, Sweden, for the usual suspect) to a continent-spanning multicultural/multiethnic country (such as the US)?

Shouldn't the relevant comparison unit be all of Europe? Or at least non ex-soviet-territory Europe? The US has to include its poorer regions in its aggregate statistics, yet you can pick a rich & homogenous (and territorially tiny) European state and get all sorts of unfavorable comparisons. From health care to spending, a small, concentrated, homogenous, and rich polity can get away with things that a large, dispersed, heterogenous (yet rich) polity cannot easily do. I'm sure California or Massachusetts alone compare very well with European states, for example, and doing some quick mash-up stats on Europe I've found that when you add in the bulk of Europe to any particular stat mix (in any reasonable conglomeration of states), the US does much better comparatively.

I wonder why we don't see these apples-to-apples comparisons more often?

Share this

I think you should check out

I think you should check out

With a former editor of the International Herald Tribune, I have developed this website which is the first of its kind. We present links to news about the U.S. written outside the U.S. Much of it is written originally in other languages - so we provide translations, which you can access at a single click. You can therefore read what the Iraqis, French, Germans, Saudis etc. are saying to each other about the U.S. . A lot of the material we have is therefore not available in English anywhere else in the world. It is updated continually. The grab is "Discover What the World Thinks About U.S."

I have already had a few radio interviews in LA since people are getting that the site is utterly ground-breaking. Now the written press has noticed us. Of course, the blogs and forums are too. (You can hear the first interview by clicking the link on the page.) I am now in New York, to drum up some excitement about us here.

Robin (Koerner)

also don't forget that

also don't forget that European countries in general spend much less on their military since they know the U.S. will address the worst problems even in their backyard (i.e. Bosnia) and many European nations have mandatory 2 years military service for men (i.e. France).

Spoonie Luv, France no

Spoonie Luv,

France no longer has a draft. The draft there ended in 1996 and the last drafted soldier, sailor, etc was mustered out in 2000 or stayed on voluntarily. This is part of France's post-Cold War transformation that they've been undertaking since the early 1990s. Less personnel and more money spent on high-tech, mobile, etc. weapons systems. Gee, where have I heard that idea before. :)

France spends approximatly 55-60 billion Euros on national defense every year. Their GDP was I think 1.6-1.7 trillion last year. Britian is roughly similar. Both are the only credible militaries in Europe outside of Russia; they can both send thousands of troops to a rough spot somewhere across the globe when need be in other words. Spain is trying to build up. Italy appears to be tearing down what military it has. Germany's military can't figure which way it wants to go.


Well its rather easy to compare the EU to the USA; just look at the back end of the Economist. Why you would pick any other combination of European states outside the EU I dunno. Maybe throwing in Iceland, Norway and Switzerland might be fair (since they are all three fairly wedded to the EU's market), but outside of that I don't see why the EU shouldn't be the point of comparison.


Gary, Generally speaking I


Generally speaking I would agree with you, though using the EU as the comparison point, until recently with the addition of some Eastern Euro states, suffers from the problem of direct and implied subsidy from the US and is still somewhat of a cherry pick (though not nearly as bad as the asinine Sweden-to-US comparisons or Any-Euro-State-to-America ones).

The US has its regions where there are poor people and poor development, and we can't wave a wand and say "Well, we're only going to look at the states that weren't in the CSA" or "We're only going to look at the Sun Belt" or "We're only going to look at New England", etc. The US is the US, despite significant regional differences.

The EU (prior to expansion) also has less population than the US, more densely packed, and within states more homogenous (by centuries of design, bloodshed, and forced migrations) than the US. If you want population balance, you need to add in a few more states from the former Warsaw Pact (which severely dilutes any of the 'potemkin' statistics of the EU, such as infant mortality, poverty, income, etc). If you want to get comparable population densities you have to add in parts of the former Soviet Union (Ukraine, Byelorus, perhaps even European Russia itself), etc etc.

The further you get from the old Cold War Core of Western Europe, the weaker and weaker EU statistics get. And EU-wide there is precious little difference between the US and EU except for dramatically higher taxes and unemployment. Which is of course why you rarely see EU-US comparisons in the lefty blogosphere, but rather tiny rich enclaves within Europe to all of the US.

Robin, Thanks, looks like an


Thanks, looks like an interesting site!

Brian W. Doss, Well, from

Brian W. Doss,

Well, from experience, I can say that - except cultural diffierences, differences in what people eat, etc. - I find very little difference materially speaking between France and the U.S. Notably I always say that capitalism works in France despite the state's best efforts (that might be true of the U.S. as well!), but it works and people are relatively well off, and their are entrepeneurs, etc. I do think that both the U.S. and Europe have some problems with pensions, etc. they have to deal with if they are going to remain prosperous. but I expect both to wake up i just enough time to deal with it. Anyway, my heart* cannot do without either country, so they are required to fix these problems otherwise I will become annoyed. :beatnik:

*It drives many insane that I am such an ardent Francophile. But what one loves, one loves.

One is of course reminded of

One is of course reminded of Milton Friedman's (apocryphal? anyone have a source?) comment: on being told by a Swedish economist that "there is no poverty in Scandinavia", he responded with something to the effect of "interestingly, there's also no poverty among Scandinavians in America".

Gary, Absolute population


Absolute population size matters. While France, Germany, and Britain are at least very populous and relatively large, they're still only equivalent to California or Texas, not the US. I'm fine with comparing state to state, but state to continent-sized polity? Not so good.

I'm with you, though, on wishing that the Europeans had better government. I'm not a Europhobe, I just intensely dislike the socialists that infest the halls of power in Europe. Europeans qua Europeans are great. Just like China; despise the government, embrace the people. (Especially the hotties.)

P.J. O'Rourke uses that

P.J. O'Rourke uses that Friedman quote in Eat The Rich, but I don't remember if he gives a source.

Brian, In answer to your


In answer to your original post...

If you want to compare the impact of US policies with the impact of corresponding but different policies elsewhere, then the unit of comparison must be the policy-making entity. For most areas of policy, such an entity is an individual European country, not the EU, despite recent attempts at legislative convergence (such as the European social chapter), none of which have had sufficient time to overcome the effects of the historically distinct policies of sovereign nations.

For example, France's labor laws are historically utterly different from those of Britain, which are utterly different again from those of any Scandanavian country...

Convergence is beginning in some areas (but not the critical ones such as tax policy). But it remains hard for me to see (as a European) how a meaningful comparison of policy can be made between US and Europe if you are looking at the present results of already implemented policy.

Of course, comparisons can be made in non-political areas between the EU and the US. Demographic comparisons are meaningful, and discussions of future effects of these demographics can be made, for example.

If however you wanted to compare policies that affected the demographics themselves, these would tend to vary across the European countries...

Further thought! I am a Brit

Further thought!

I am a Brit who is resident in the U.S.... so you can see how I've made my comparison. And of course, being British, I have the right to work in any European country - but I love here. (Too many reasons to enumerate) And being here has been something I have had to fight hard for.

So I'd like to state my position as an America-phile!


Maybe this will interest

Maybe this will interest you, from a Swedish think tank.

EU vs USA:

Which country you compare is

Which country you compare is decided by what point do you want to prove.

So the way to play the game

So the way to play the game would be like this:
Person A gets to pick the european country,
but person B gets to pick which US state to compare to.