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One would hope that such an observation was obvious, but take any given daily reading of a newspaper that covers national politics and economic matters and you’d be led to believe that the U.S. is a homogeneous, cozy easily coordinated place that should and can be like other countries to which it is regularly compared.

The largest European country, Germany, has a little more than a quarter of the US population (about 80 million to our 317 million). And Germany is far smaller geographically than the US, and certainly far more homogeneous. What about other places the US is often (negatively) compared to? Canada with its 35 million people is smaller than California with its nearly 40 million. Sweden with its 9.6 million is the same size as New York City and about the size of Georgia, Michigan or North Carolina. Or take Denmark, and Finland, and Norway – almost everyone’s favorite “European model” countries – each with populations in the low to mid  5 millions – about the same size as Wisconsin, Minnesota or Colorado.

If folks want to compare health care systems or educational systems or inequality or any other thing as such with other countries, they are certainly welcome to do so. But I gain nothing from this. Try putting the US in the comparison with all of Europe and then let’s have a discussion of how “fragmented and frayed the national political system is” here in the United States. Let’s compare the US to Europe and describe how fragmented and frayed the medical system is. And let’s talk about the stagnating jobs picture. Or the development of comprehensive environmental policy, or educational performance. There is no need to describe the zillion ways that the nation of the US is different than the “states” of Finland, Sweden and so on.

Finally, if you want to discuss how much regulation we have, the tax burden we have, and so on, wouldn’t it make sense to ADD up all of the local, city, state and federal regulations and taxes and then compare these to what we see over in Europe? This is presumably not a herculean task, the data is out there, but rarely have I confronted much in the news and popular press that even suggests this sort of a thing as a caveat.

This entire post is actually a waste of time, as I don’t really think we ought to care much how “we” stack up against other political entities. Furthermore, I take this fascination with comparing the US to other political entities somewhat hysterically given how absolutely opposed we seem to be to doing the Madisonian thing here – remember that fancy idea of a whole bunch of little state-level experiments and that federalism thing? Are the ObamaCare planners learning from Oregon and Maine and Massachusetts? Are we making it possible for the 50 US states to implement their own educational, health, retirement, disability, etc. policies? After all, we probably could learn more from ourselves than others. If we are so hesitant to learn from ourselves, and to experiment within our smaller and more homogeneous jurisdictions, then why the fascination with very different, tiny, European places?

2 Responses to “The U.S. is Not France. Or Norway. Or Switzerland. Or Even Germany.”

  1. Harry says:

    I just spent two weeks on a ship where the sole source of news was, unless you did WIFI on shore, was CNN International and a digest of the New York Times with the full Krugman column.

    This experience has helped me understand better how other people think.

    And now I believe that extending unemployment benefits will jump-start the US economy, as it has fueled the economies of Germany and France. See, the unemployed have this money and they spend it, and then that money increases velocity and multiplies like rabbits and BOOM! We are modern Germans with Porsches and strudel with the schnitzel and white asparagus.

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