EU-US convergence ?

by John Quiggin on August 21, 2010

The NYT ran yet another round in the long-running EU vs US series a week or so ago. Although it’s not covered explicitly in the NYT, there is actually some news to report here, in addition to rehearsal of the same old themes.

For quite some time, the US and the leading EU countries have been fairly comparable in terms of output per hour worked. The US has had higher output per person for two reasons: a relatively high employment/population ratio and very high average hours worked per person. The first of these is important because it raises the possibility that EU countries performing well on productivity measures are benefiting from the “Thatcher effect” . If low-skilled workers are excluded from employment, for example by restrictive macro policy, as in Thatcher’s case, or by labor market sclerosis, as claimed by critics of European institutions, then productivity measures are artificially boosted.

This issue is now moot. As a result of the crisis, the US employment/population ratio has dropped sharply, to the point where the US is now little different from the EU. The difference in GDP per person between the US and leading European countries is driven primarily by differences in average hours worked by employed people.

To get the data on this, I’ve had to combine Eurostat and OECD info (always a little problematic, but neither had all the info I wanted).

From Eurostat, the E/P ratio (total employment/pop 15-64) for the euro area was 58.5 in 1997 and rose to 64.8 by 2009 (France 64.2 , Germany 70.0). Over the same period, the US ratio has fallen from 73.5 to 67.6, with the bulk of the decline in the last couple of years. The remaining difference is entirely due to the higher US employment-population ratio for women – the ratios for men are virtually identical.

Turning to the OECD for information on productivity and GDP per capita, these tables shows that relative to the euro area as a whole, the US still has a substantial lead in productivity (about 15 per cent). But for the leading European economies, like France, Germany and the Netherlands, the productivity gap is below 10 per cent, which is well within the margin of error associated with PPP conversions[1]. Particularly for the latter two, the big difference is in annual average hours worked (1681 for the US, 1390 for Germany, 1378 for the Netherlands). The difference in average hours almost entirely explains the gap in GDP per person between Germany and the US, and more than explains the gap for the Netherlands.

As is well known, Europeans tend to offset their lower hours of paid work by doing more household labor. Taking this into account properly would diminish the gap in both directions – relative to the US, European hours of work would rise, and so would output per person.

I was hoping for a good exposition of this from Peter Baldwin whose book The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe are Alike has a promising title (I haven’t read it yet). Unfortunately, he only gets half of the story, saying

Americans work 23 percent more than Germans in the marketplace. However, once we factor in household labor, the drudgery that allows us to function in the world, the difference in total work drops to 12 percent. And interestingly, the figures for time actually spent at leisure are almost precisely the same for the two nations.

That Americans work 12 percent more than Germans seems to be the hard kernel that emerges from the statistics. Considering that for that 12 percent investment the American G.N.P. per capita is 32 percent higher than the German, this seems a defensible trade-off. Perhaps Americans have collectively decided to work somewhat harder to be substantially better off.

The problem here is that Baldwin has missed the point that household labor is productive.

Coming to my own take on all this, it seems that the European and US systems yield roughly equal productivity, and roughly equal labor market performance (as measured by E/P ratios). Higher European taxes mean more and better public services (at the cost of reduced private consumption) and they are also (along with social preferences) reflected in lower hours of work and more household labor. I know which looks more appealing to me, but there’s no obvious way of saying which is best.

Rather more clear-cut is the price paid by the US in terms of greater inequality. Compared to the European case, and to the US in the past, the top percentiles of US households collect a much larger share of total income, and there doesn’t seem to be any net economic payoff for this.

fn1. (Very wonkish note) Although PPP numbers are often treated as if they are are raw facts, they are index numbers which are fundamentally imprecise (even if the underlying data is perfectly accurate, which it isn’t). From work I did with Steve Dowrick in the 1990s, I estimate the difference between upper and lower bounds at around 10 per cent. It’s likely that any bias in PPP numbers favors the US. That’s because they are a generalized kind of Laspeyres index, and (as I understand it) the base data is derived largely from Europe.

{ 301 comments }

1

someguy 08.21.10 at 3:38 am

Confimation bias. That was good.

2

Myles SG 08.21.10 at 3:57 am

The problem here is that Baldwin has missed the point that household labor is productive.

Wonkish question #1: How productive, roughly, is household labor in general in the EU? I ask because household labor in the EU is potentially less automated than in the US, as far as I am aware of (there are contrary cases, but I mean the general level).

Wonkish question #2: Your estimation that EU/US output is roughly equivalent; is that estimation based on the premise of household labor being equivalently productive as commercial, or another premise?

Wonkish question #3: Anecdotally, my impression is that the higher rate of renting rather than homeownership in some parts of the EU and the smaller space of dwellings would suggest less household labor and more commercialized production (renters work less on their homes than dweller-owners, with the maintenance work being done by the landlord or landlord’s contractors); the higher rater of ownership in the US of such items as lawn tractors, industrial-sized home vacuum systems, large-scale DIY home renovation work et cetera would also suggest more household labor.

I have tried to find some indication in your post; but perhaps due to my own lack of technical chops I have been able to locate the answer(s). I know that question 3 contradicts questions 2 and 1; no need to lambast me on that point.

3

Myles SG 08.21.10 at 3:59 am

Actually, strike Wonkish question #3. It is neither wonkish or really useful.

4

john c. halasz 08.21.10 at 4:14 am

Where did you get your data for the U.S. E/P ratio? This is the graph I’m used to:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_pMscxxELHEg/SkzHV6nOv9I/AAAAAAAAFuk/MqcsiWBbceA/s1600-h/EmployPopJune2009.jpg

5

John Quiggin 08.21.10 at 4:28 am

@jch The US typically uses population aged 15+ as the denominator, not 15-64 as in Eurostat. That gives you a lower number, but the trend is the same.

6

Jacques Distler 08.21.10 at 7:08 am

US workers may spend dramatically less time on housework than their German counterparts. But the housework still needs to get done somehow! They must either

a) invest more in technology (a dishwasher means less time spent hand-washing dishes)
b) hire a maid

The wages of the latter are, presumably, lower (otherwise, it would not have made financial sense to hire her). So, hiring her (and thereby allowing her employer to spend an extra hour at the office, instead of scrubbing the bathroom back home) is a net boost to GDP per capita.

Moreover, either mechanism is a clear boost to productivity/worker, regardless of whether economists have properly accounted for household labour in computing GDP per capita.

7

hix 08.21.10 at 7:32 am

Oh Germany, nation without dishwashers and other automated household work. No, not really. Dishwashers or whatever other household machine are terrible places to look for the higher household workload in Europe :-).

Since so much US gdp is spent on the criminial system, military and healthcare with measurable worse outcomes, it looks like western Europe is better off at the moment.

8

lemuel pitkin 08.21.10 at 7:49 am

John, I’d genuinely like to get a clearer sense of how you see the relative performance of the US and European models in the crisis.

The European model is clearly superior in terms of maintaining the standard of living of the bulk of the population. Unfortunately, in the world we live in,t aht doesn’t necessarily go far in sustaining it.

In terms of aggregate output, I would have said the US model — or at least its international component — has an advantage, since it’s free of the neo-gold standard deflationary pressures the peripheral (i.e. non-German) countries of Europe.

Do you disagree? Do you think the US will have a harder time, under the current institutional setup, of returning to something like full employment?

Again, not a rhetorical question.

9

Myles SG 08.21.10 at 8:05 am

Oh crap. Just realized that if household labour is less productive per time, then ceteris paribus, marketplace labour is more productive per time holding total productivity constant.

So my Q #1 & #2 are invalid.

10

Tim Worstall 08.21.10 at 8:18 am

In terms of market labour and household labour. Yes, of course, more market labour means a higher GDP (because that’s what we’re measuring in GDP) and yes, we need to adjust both European hours of work for the greater household labour and also consumption (or production) upwards for the output of that household production.

“I know which looks more appealing to me, but there’s no obvious way of saying which is best.”

Well, we can have a stab at it actually. The Stiglitz/Sen thing they did for Sarkozy looks at this very thing. They suggest that this household production, given how difficult it is to value the production, should be valued at the value of the labour that goes into it. And that valuation should be at the “general undifferentiated labour rate”.

However, the average labour rate in the market economy is higher than this general undifferentiated rate. The reason being that in the market we can have the division of labour and its specialisation, in a way which we can’t (or at least not as fine grained) within a one or two adult household. Market labour is therefore more productive (one child carer can care for four kids, a mother doing it at home only for her own. A cook in a restaurant can take 2 hours to prepare food for 15 people, not just three and so on…..entirely made up numbers just to put forward the point) than household.

If we assume that the basic human motivations are greed and sloth, the desire to get the most for the least amount of work possible (extreme assumptions if we try to apply it to every corner of life but reasonable working ones for at least part of it) then we’re better off, we get more for less labour, with market work rather than household.

None of this addresses preferences: it might well be that some/many/all people prefer to clean their own house, raise their own children 24/7, cook their own food.

But in terms of purely goods and services more market labour and less household labour should be making people richer.

11

Jacob T. Levy 08.21.10 at 1:23 pm

The US has higher average fertility than the named European countries as well as (I suspect without looking it up) larger average home sizes. Assuming that child-rearing is included in “household labor,” I’m a little baffled. Is the higher European household labor all about home-cooked meals?

12

ogmb 08.21.10 at 3:20 pm

I take it “household labor” in Europe includes this.

13

bianca steele 08.21.10 at 3:54 pm

I am skeptical about the hours worked numbers. I don’t know how they take salaried workers into account. I would guess they are based on “hours billed,” but I have known more than one person who takes either “professionalism” or “stockholder interests” to require underbilling overtime (which is one thing when you make $100/hr and sometimes stop counting at 65, and another thing when you make around $40 and regularly work 20 hrs/wk unpaid).

I don’t want to be a skeptic about this stuff, but it’s a little too much like scrapple when I look too closely, and I’m not in a position to seek out the raw data (due to lack of both time and access).

14

Brett Bellmore 08.21.10 at 4:17 pm

“I’m a little baffled. Is the higher European household labor all about home-cooked meals?”

Maybe it’s all about cleaning the house once a week, instead of once a day?

15

bianca steele 08.21.10 at 4:21 pm

There are also frozen vegetables, breakfast cereal, canned soup, store bought cookies and bread, stir fry and pasta, quick oil change outlets (and low maintenance Japanese cars), paid handymen, and clothes that don’t need to be ironed–things I am perfectly happy with but some people might find unacceptable.

16

Zamfir 08.21.10 at 5:15 pm

And cleaners and gardeners and child care and other outsourcing of housework.

17

geo 08.21.10 at 5:31 pm

hix @7: Since so much US gdp is spent on the criminial system, military and healthcare with measurable worse outcomes, it looks like western Europe is better off at the moment

John, isn’t this a crucial point? If productivity is essentially GDP per capita (or employed capita), and so very much of American GDP (I’d add in advertising, marketing, lobbying, and corporate public relations, all of which I suspect, without any data, bulk larger in the US than in more civilized countries) makes so very little contribution to anyone’s welfare, shouldn’t there at least be an ever-present asterisk in discussions of “productivity”?

18

Davis X. Machina 08.21.10 at 6:12 pm

….the top percentiles of US households collect a much larger share of total income, and there doesn’t seem to be any net economic payoff for this.

Net economic payoff to you, perhaps….

What’s the point in building the world’s grandest tree house if you can’t pull up the ladder?

19

libertarian 08.21.10 at 6:18 pm

The problem here is that Baldwin has missed the point that household labor is productive.

How so? You need as much labor as necessary to maintain a house. If Europeans do more (which, having lived in both Europe and the US, I seriously doubt, but whatever), they are just being inefficient. Putting it crudely, better to spend those extra hours at work to get more stuff.

Unless what are more properly considered leisure activities are being counted as household labor – e.g gardening.

20

ejh 08.21.10 at 9:45 pm

Unless what are more properly considered leisure activities are being counted as household labor – e.g gardening.

What a fantastically crass and stupid opinion.

21

Cranky Observer 08.21.10 at 10:18 pm

> I am skeptical about the hours worked numbers. I don’t know how they take salaried
> workers into account. I would guess they are based on “hours billed,” but I have known
> more than one person who takes either “professionalism” or “stockholder interests” to
> require underbilling overtime (which is one thing when you make $100/hr and
> sometimes stop counting at 65, and another thing when you make around $40 and
> regularly work 20 hrs/wk unpaid).

Back in the heady dotcom days when I was working for an international company the work habits of the professionals seemed pretty typical: the Americans worked 70 hours week, the Brits 50 hours/week, and the Germans 37.500 hours week – yet all three groups had roughly equal output. A result that was in line with more formal surveys which have held pretty steady since 1990 (adding in the Japanese at 90 hours/week). “More hours in the office” does not equal more actual work done; often quite the opposite.

Cranky

22

Myles SG 08.22.10 at 12:01 am

Although, about trade-offs, has anyone tried to be in Paris in August? And tried to get anything done?

Or tried to purchase anything in any place in Germany on Sundays?

One of the nice things about the U.S. system is that anytime that my whim pleases, I can amble into a Walgreens or CVS and get most whatever I want. More importantly, at perfect-competition prices. Try getting three large bags of chips and two 12-packs of soda and several pints of Ben & Jerry’s at 11 p.m. at the gas station, and you’ll find yourself soaked. Of course, such places exist elsewhere as well, but the scale and degree are different.

23

engels 08.22.10 at 1:28 am

Nice for you, Myles, maybe not so nice for the people who work in those places and who have to give up their one day with their family just so you don’t have to go 12 hours without a fresh bottle of Pepsi.

24

bjk 08.22.10 at 2:09 am

If I fix my own car, the tax is 0%. If I take it into the shop, the tax is probably 20% of the transaction, altogether. So if Eurodweebs work the same hours all-in, household and market combined, but the household is taxed at 0%, does that equalize the tax rates?

25

matthias 08.22.10 at 2:43 am

I’d love to see an analysis of guard labor incorporated into this.

26

tom bach 08.22.10 at 3:33 am

Myles,
I’ve lived in Germany and rarely needed to buy anything on Sunday because I, like 90% of all Germans, bought everything I would need on Saturday. If I did need anything on Sunday, I, like 100% of the Germans who needed something on Sundays, went to the train station and bought whatever I needed. Damnedest those Germans and the exclusion they carved out for train stations. It’s almost like they thought of your objection and neutralized by allow, whaddaya call it, an exemption. The main station in Leipzig had full scale grocery open 7 days a week which was priced about the same as regular places. Honest. Halle a/d Salle had a kind of ripoff place, the 1mark beers were 1,5 or so, but with great marinated pork steaks, these were to be honest the one thing I would wait to buy on Sunday even though I could get them any day of the week, and in Berlin, why you could even buy shoes.

What was your point again?

27

hix 08.22.10 at 3:48 am

A place to look for more household work in the christian conservative regions is childcare. Not just the younger ones, also the older ones since school only does the basics. Americans could use lots of their labour thats unproductive at the moment to do something usefull. In that sense gdp is acurate, just doesnt measure standard of lifing.

28

mcd 08.22.10 at 4:06 am

Is the idea here that European decreased private consumption necessitates increased household labor? Can increased social services ever reduce the need for increased household labor?

29

Martin Bento 08.22.10 at 4:14 am

So how is commuting time categorized? Work? Leisure? Housework (defined broadly as work done outside the market for logistical support of one’s lifestyle, which I think is the relevant definition. Washing the dishes, fixing the furnace, fixing the car, getting the kids to school, necessary shopping – seems to me these all belong in the same category)? For many Americans, this is over 2 hours per workday, so it is not a trivial matter. I think it should be counted as “work”, as it is entailed by market employment. If so, I suspect American productivity numbers plummet. Of course, on transit, this can be genuinely productive time, but only to a slight extent for drivers (possibly listening to relevant audiobooks or something).

30

John Quiggin 08.22.10 at 6:13 am

@Martin

I’ve had several goes at commuting/shopping time, for example, here

http://crookedtimber.org/2004/02/04/driving-hard/

A commenter raises the point noted in the OP here, that total hours worked (market + non-market) are fairly similar across countries.

31

ejh 08.22.10 at 7:59 am

Although, about trade-offs, has anyone tried to be in Paris in August? And tried to get anything done?

Or tried to purchase anything in any place in Germany on Sundays?

No, I live in Spain and have the same problem. Currently I cannot get my car (purchased six weeks ago) or my TV (installed two months ago) fixed because everybody is on holiday, and it’s maddening. And there is very little than can be bought on Sundays, though as is pointed out above, I know that in advance and can cater for it.

But that’s the way they choose to live round here, that’s the way it’s developed. Not everything revolves around being able to buy what you want when you want it. Spanish life in particular revolves around having the same routine each week, being able to go and see your grandmother in el pueblofor dinner every Sunday. Why should it not? Why must everybody else change the lifestyle they’ve had from long before the word “lifestyle” was current, at the behest of people whose priority is shopping? Isn’t that something peculiarly arrogant about consumer culture, that we start expecting that everything be done for us and that everybody else change for us?

What I do wish is that things here worked properly for a decent period of time after you buy them, or were fixed properly when they don’t. That’s the maddening thing, not Mercadona being closed on Sunday. But this, I suspect, is a function of being Spain rather than Germany.

32

Matthew 08.22.10 at 8:46 am

There’s a perfectly good reason why market work might not be a productive as household, and that is transport costs.

It’s also a bit weird that many of these surveys include ‘looking after your own children’ as a chore (and eating).

33

conall 08.22.10 at 10:17 am

This household labor (sic) is the crux. As OMGB points out, growing food on allotments is work? leisure? physically tough but mentally rewarding, health giving. And what of cooking? US housewife heats frozen ready meal, her french counterpart spends 3 hours preparing the same?!

Excellent book on this topic, old but highly relevant. Burns, Scott (1975) The household economy: its shape, origins and future (originally published as : Home inc.: the hidden wealth and power of the American household) Boston, Beacon Press.

Upshot: we’d all be better off doing it for ourselves at home, but the long-hours jobs culture (much worse in the US) prevents us from making ‘decent parcels of our lives’ (a quote, but I forget from where)

34

Matt McIrvin 08.22.10 at 1:11 pm

What’s the gender breakdown of this household labor? Are we talking about stuff both men and women do around the house instead of putting in more hours at the office, or is this comparison really just fretting about the menace of working mothers?

(This is also something that nags at me about the whole Michael Pollan foodie business. I know he specifically blames feminism for making us eat wrong.)

35

ogmb 08.22.10 at 1:21 pm

US housewife heats frozen ready meal, her french counterpart spends 3 hours preparing the same?!

Economically speaking, if you as a household face a make-vs-buy decision and decide to “make”, your effort would count as “household labor”. Making your own dinner as opposed to eating out would be household labor. Spending 3 minutes vs. 3 hours on preparing your own food only differs in productivity (and presumably, quality). Putting your children in daycare might be the most common “buy” decision. Building your own house is not quite as common but matters because of the sums involved.

36

PaulB 08.22.10 at 1:57 pm

I speculate that on average Europeans spend much more time than Americans preparing meals. And they do it because they have a different relationship to the food they eat. I think the Europeans have made the right choice.

37

Alex 08.22.10 at 2:45 pm

Does worrying, strategising, and negotiating about health insurance count as “household labour”?

38

bianca steele 08.22.10 at 3:32 pm

Does time spent driving to the supermarket, or to half a dozen separate stores, count as time spent on household work? What about time spent ordering groceries online, or filling out an order for the milkman? Does time spent shopping for bathroom tiles and supervising building contractors count? Watching the kids’ (organized) soccer game?

Similarly, does time spent keeping up with the field, or doing research to keep up with competitors in your firm and others, or to pretend you know something about your boss’s pet interests, count as “work”?

39

alex 08.22.10 at 3:39 pm

Taking the historical angle, Jan de Vries has a very interesting book about how the proto-industrial households of early-modern Europe took economic decisions [in his interpretation] to prioritise market labour over household labour – men, women and children all working at spinning/weaving/etc, abandoning self-sufficiency, buying cheaper clothes from more specialised markets, even buying food ready-cooked. This enabled a huge leap in productivity, but also produced a backlash in the early-mid C19 which previous historians have identified as the working-class pursuit of bourgeois ‘respectability’ – wives stopping work in order to devote resources to keeping a cleaner home and raising healthier children. So all these arguments about what’s ‘best’ economically and socially/culturally are not new, and have been run through at least once before on a very large scale in space and time.

Summary of his earlier work, and its critics, here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrious_Revolution

The developed book-length version:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=CMhg4FcRU_oC

40

geo 08.22.10 at 4:18 pm

Paul B @36: I think the Europeans have made the right choice

What? You’d prefer gracious and civilized dining at home to being able to walk into a tacky convenience store at 11pm and buy “three large bags of chips and two 12-packs of soda and several pints of Ben & Jerry’s” at perfect-competition prices? You don’t deserve freedom!

41

Substance McGravitas 08.22.10 at 4:25 pm

I wonder if the “right choice” the Europeans have made includes some sort of expected split of cooking duties between the sexes.

42

willymack 08.22.10 at 4:33 pm

It’s time to ditch capitalism.
For good.
Anyone who can’t see the potential for harm in allowing capitalism to become the cannibalistic monster it now is must have just arrived from another solar system.

43

Cindy 08.22.10 at 5:21 pm

Substance McGravitas @ 41

I used to work fulltime and cook dinner everynight. (Now I am a stay-at-home-woman-fo-leisure!) My husband took care of other chores while I cook, and if the menu was macaroni-ham-cheese or steak, that would be his job because he did that much better than I could. I think if we would only look at what each individual is good at and like to do, we would have less talk about HOW to split duties between sexes … whether we are European or not (I am one).

44

Myles SG 08.22.10 at 5:22 pm

What? You’d prefer gracious and civilized dining at home to being able to walk into a tacky convenience store at 11pm and buy “three large bags of chips and two 12-packs of soda and several pints of Ben & Jerry’s” at perfect-competition prices?

I’m sorry? Have you been to Walgreens? Exactly what part of it strikes as tacky rather than just working-class New England? As for CVS, the CVS in Amherst MA for example is the only reasonably stocked general store, convenience or otherwise, close to Amherst College. There are a lot of descriptors for Amherst College students’ shopping habits, but I daresay “tacky” isn’t one of them.

I am somewhat amused when people who clearly are unfamiliar with the U.S. Northeast spout this sort of nonsense. You do realize that I used the technical term “perfect competition” with some degree of awareness of its irony, right? Because there’s actually no local competition but the Quaker method of single fair price still prevails?

45

bianca steele 08.22.10 at 5:46 pm

Myles, if you lived in my town, you might be able to satisfy your munchies at 11 PM, but you’d better not put it off an hour, or you’ll have to drive three miles out of your way. And Walgreens’ linoleum is generally less shiny than CVS’s.

46

bianca steele 08.22.10 at 6:08 pm

Re alex @ 39: If there is a discourse about what we now consider “best,” it hasn’t trickled down to where I am yet. My suspicion is that what we see are panics about some single issue, with no pushback to ensure the issue-lobbyists don’t suck up all the oxygen[1]: for example, that young men today (probably African American) don’t care enough about getting jobs, so we see a push for the idea that “a man has a good job so he can support his family.”

[1] I mean that if we talked about structural causes for unemployment, it would take away from the opportunity to educate men who don’t understand that “a man has a good job.” Ditto for taking about the need to help women remain employed, or the need for men to take an interest in community issues.

47

libertarian 08.22.10 at 6:27 pm

Having lived in many western countries including the US, the US wins hands-down. You simply have way more choices and a higher material standard of living here, because the emphasis is much more on expression of the individual than the collective. If you like the choices made for you by the collective, in, say, France, then you’ll prefer it there. But I do think it is telling that very few Americans migrate permanently abroad compared to the number migrating permanently to the US.

48

Lemuel Pitkin 08.22.10 at 7:23 pm

Are we sure that the US and Europe are appropriate units for comparison?

Europe includes a current-account surplus core and a current-account deficit periphery, qith quite divergent employment experiences. The US-Asia trade system includes a current-account deficit core and a current-account deficit periphery, again with divergent employment experiences. Comparing the whole system on the one hand, to only the deficit half, on the other, is potentially misleading if we think that trade flows or “global imbalances” is part of the story of rising unemployment.

In other words, doesn’t the fact that the American model has sparked rapid industrialization in East Asia, while the European core has not — in recent decades — produced anything similar in its periphery, have to count as a point in favor of the US?

49

geo 08.22.10 at 7:26 pm

Myles: My dictionary’s definition of “tacky: is: “1. Marked by neglect or disrepair; run-down; shabby. 2. Lacking style or good taste; dowdy.” Of course not all Walgreens or CVSs are tacky in the first sense. But in my experience, they do all lack style or good taste; no doubt, in large part, because they’re required to look as much as possible like all other Walgreens and CVSs, a requirement that practically precludes style or good taste. Because, as a champion of individuality like yourself doubtless understands, one essential note of style or good taste is individuality.

50

zamfir 08.22.10 at 7:32 pm

Lemuel, East Asia ships to Europe too. I don’t think it makes much sense to see it as the periphery of the US. Mexico perhaps.

51

zamfir 08.22.10 at 7:34 pm

Geo, clearly the essential note of style is going to Amherst.

52

John Quiggin 08.22.10 at 7:36 pm

@Libertarian. Given your doctorates in various fields including statistics, I’m sure you can give us some stats on the massive net flow of migrants from (say) France to the US.
Also, I’m sure that you’re aware that US income inequality means that the subjective experience of people in the top quintile of the income distribution is not a reliable guide to relative living standards for the population as a whole.

53

John Quiggin 08.22.10 at 7:41 pm

@LP “The European core has not sparked anything similar in its periphery”.

On East Asia, I agree with Zamfir

I think the relevant comparison over a span of (say) thirty years is between (a) the impact of the US (+Canada, I guess) on Mexico and the rest of the Americas on the one hand, and (b) the original EU 6 (+UK, I guess) on the rest of Europe. I’d say that’s pretty clear-cut in favor of the EU.

54

John Protevi 08.22.10 at 7:50 pm

Having lived in many western countries including the US, the US wins hands-down. You simply have way more choices and a higher material standard of living here, because the emphasis is much more on expression of the individual than the collective. If you like the choices made for you by the collective, in, say, France, then you’ll prefer it there. But I do think it is telling that very few Americans migrate permanently abroad compared to the number migrating permanently to the US.

John Quiggin asks for statistical backing of your claim in the last sentence. I’d like to ask about the ethical appeal in your first sentence. You implicitly claim your judgment is trustworthy because of your experience. Tell us a little more about that experience. You mention France in particular. How long did you live in France? What did you do there? Did you learn the language? How many friends did you make? Did they invite you to their homes so you might share meals, for instance? I ask this because the thread has discussed differences in cuisine. So in your opinion, does French cooking as done in French homes (rather than restaurants) reflect a collectivist or individualist outlook?

55

engels 08.22.10 at 8:03 pm

Did you get your PhD in Statistics while you living in France? Or was that the PhD in Climate Science?

56

Lemuel Pitkin 08.22.10 at 8:05 pm

I think the relevant comparison over a span of (say) thirty years is between (a) the impact of the US (+Canada, I guess) on Mexico and the rest of the Americas on the one hand, and (b) the original EU 6 (+UK, I guess) on the rest of Europe. I’d say that’s pretty clear-cut in favor of the EU.

Over 50 or 60 years, no question, absolutely. But has there really been that much intra-European convergence since 1980?

On the Asia question, it seems you are right: Asian NICs (under various definitions) export approximately as much to the EU as to the United States. My priors were otherwise. Well, that’s a big reasons to participate in these conversations, to learn stuff. So thanks.

57

Detlef 08.22.10 at 8:34 pm

http://psdblog.worldbank.org/psdblog/2010/01/gdp-inequality.html

A World Bank blog did a post on that topic in January 2010:

Decomposing the per-capita GDP according to income shares offers useful insights, providing a more mitigate picture of general trends noticed among high-income countries and developing economies.

A valuable endeavor is to isolate the top income share of 1%.

The US has the largest gap between its top earners and everyone else. The Netherlands actually surpasses the US for GDP per-capita of the bottom 99%, and the difference between Germany and the US narrows considerably.

Breaking down per capita GDP into income shares allows us to investigate growth and income distribution on the basis of values that provide a more accurate picture when dealing with standards-of-living comparisons (and are reflective of inequalities).

Assuming the study – on which the blog post is based – is true then the “bottom 99%” Americans work a lot more hours than many Europeans while not not having that much more in GDP per capita.

And a question.
How comparable are GDP and inflation numbers between countries?
Does the EU for example use the same “definitions” of GDP and (core) inflation as the USA? And the same method to calculate them? With a liberal use of hedonics, substitution, geometric weighting, imputations?
I´m not sure about Eurostat but I seem to remember that the German Bundesbank didn´t use hedonics or substitutions? Not sure about geometric weighting and imputations though. And if there is a difference in calculating those numbers how are they adjusted for real comparisons?

58

ejh 08.22.10 at 8:34 pm

You simply have way more choices

Really?

and a higher material standard of living here

Really?

59

Shelley 08.23.10 at 12:43 am

Hard to get up much enthusiasm for productivity in th U.S. when the employees never get to share in the profits. All the jobs lost now will not return; corporations and even school districts will just work the existing employees harder, for less monetary reward.

60

libertarian 08.23.10 at 1:34 am

@Libertarian. Given your doctorates in various fields including statistics, I’m sure you can give us some stats on the massive net flow of migrants from (say) France to the US.

I am sure you’re going to tell us quiggin: exactly what percentage of the French population emigrate annually to the US versus the opposite?

Also, I’m sure that you’re aware that US income inequality means that the subjective experience of people in the top quintile of the income distribution is not a reliable guide to relative living standards for the population as a whole.

Indeed. The miserable outlook for the bottom US quintile would explain why all those Mexicans just keep on driving to the promised land of Canada once they cross that southern US border.

The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.

61

libertarian 08.23.10 at 1:52 am

So in your opinion, does French cooking as done in French homes (rather than restaurants) reflect a collectivist or individualist outlook?

The French are free to choose how they cook in their homes. They are not coerced, so I would put that on the individualist side of the ledger. But I wouldn’t count all that time spent cooking as “productive work”. It is a leisure choice. Just like the time I spend of an evening grilling on the deck and drinking beer is a leisure choice.

As for unpalatable aspects of the French collective: you are not free to hire someone “at will”, or on a wage commensurate with their skills if they are worth less than the high minimum wage, thus condemning entire sections of the workforce (Paris muslim youth anyone?) to a lifetime of unemployment.

62

Substance McGravitas 08.23.10 at 1:58 am

I’d heard that muslims were worth less than regular people and I guess now I know.

63

libertarian 08.23.10 at 2:07 am

“they” attaches to “skills”. Make sense now “Substance”?

64

Substance McGravitas 08.23.10 at 2:14 am

“they” attaches to “skills”. Make sense now “Substance”?

The same amount. I have my joke name and you have yours.

65

libertarian 08.23.10 at 2:26 am

ejh@56: Yes, really. You should try it sometime. Very refreshing.

66

yeliabmit 08.23.10 at 2:31 am

“…The miserable outlook for the bottom US quintile would explain why all those Mexicans just keep on driving to the promised land of Canada once they cross that southern US border.”

I’m a Canadian immigration lawyer, and I can confirm that in fact that’s what they are doing, whenever they can. Last year the government reintroduced an entry visa requirement for Mexicans, which they had removed for many years previously, because the refugee system was being “overwhelmed” by Mexican claimants. Even with the visa requirement, Mexicans are still often choosing to drive all the way to Canada.

67

steve 08.23.10 at 2:47 am

John-Did not read all comments. Did you correct for hedonic pricing? Yves Smith has covered this.

Steve

68

libertarian 08.23.10 at 3:04 am

18,000 annual U.S. emigration in the 1990s. You probably can’t get 2001-2010 because the 2010 census has only just been completed (the US does not track its citizens when they leave, so calculating emigration rates is not straightforward).

Even lower than I imagined. By contrast, 327,000 Britons left the U.K in 2000. Nearly 100 times the rate of departure (per head) from the US (I don’t have numbers for France yet). Now, some of this is not directly comparable, eg people can move from the UK to another EU country relatively easily. But with the large cultural barriers, it is still a much bigger shift than a US citizen moving from one US state to another.

Whichever way you look at it, Americans — incomprehensibly to liberals — vote with their feet.

69

libertarian 08.23.10 at 3:12 am

Even with the visa requirement, Mexicans are still often choosing to drive all the way to Canada.

Wiki claims 35,000 to 120,000 illegal immigrants in Canada. Even if they are all Mexican, “often” is a little exaggeration There are about 7,000,000 illegal Mexican immigrants in the US.

70

CharlesWT 08.23.10 at 3:36 am

[…]
The Federal Register, the government publication that records such decisions, shows that 502 expatriates gave up their U.S. citizenship or permanent residency status in the last quarter of 2009. That is a tiny portion of the 5.2 million Americans estimated by the State Department to be living abroad.

Still, 502 was the largest quarterly figure in years, more than twice the total for all of 2008, and it looms larger, given how agonizing the decision can be. There were 235 renunciations in 2008 and 743 last year. Waiting periods to meet with consular officers to formalize renunciations have grown.
[…]More American Expatriates Give Up Citizenship

71

John Protevi 08.23.10 at 3:54 am

Libertarian @60: only answered one of my questions @53, the least informative one really for us to judge your trustworthiness as an interlocutor. You answered in a way that anyone could have answered who had never set foot in France. Yet in @46 you claim to have lived in many western countries. Can you tell us which ones? Can you also tell us how long you lived in them? Can you tell us which languages you learned?

72

zamfir 08.23.10 at 5:55 am

Comparing US incomes with selected European countries can be somewhat misleading, imo. It is probably true that that the median Doutchman is richer than the median American, even with less work. But you could also pick a similarly sized particularly rich part of the US, and the outcome is presumably different. This is ok if you were comparing the Netherlands with the US on purpose, because you think they are more natural candidates for comparison than “europe”. But there is a risk of cherry picking.

At Detlef: I am in no way an expert, so don’t take this as dogma: I have heard that especially short-term statistics on growth and inflation can be misleading. All countries correct their figures a few times after they were first published, and those adjust are.in some countries often upwards and in other more often downwards. So they clearly differ in the way they make the first estimates. But I couldn’t tell you which countries do what.

73

John Quiggin 08.23.10 at 6:21 am

Dr L has shown that Americans are much less mobile, internationally, than Brits, and I’m sure the same is true for other Europeans. But
(1) If this went the other way, I’m sure it would be touted as showing how the US system creates people who aren’t afraid to take risks etc. Certainly, only Dr L could conclude that large flows between, say, Britain and France proves that both Britain and France are unattractive places to live.
(2) As far as the original point is concerned, it’s going exactly the wrong way. Given that lots more (less) people leave Britain (hte US) for all destinations, we would expect more (less) to end up in the US, regardless of relative attractiveness. The question is whether the US is a particularly attractive destination for emigrants from developed countries, and my impression is that it isn’t. Brits, for example, have historically been more likely to come to Australia, and I think this is still true.

74

Myles SG 08.23.10 at 7:40 am

Wiki claims 35,000 to 120,000 illegal immigrants in Canada. Even if they are all Mexican, “often” is a little exaggeration There are about 7,000,000 illegal Mexican immigrants in the US.

Perhaps the dear immigration lawyer should elucidate on how many of the 35,000 – 120,000 are from Mexico? My anecdotal experience in all major Canadian cities has been that they tend to be mostly Asian, with a good number of people from francophone Africa and the like in Quebec.

75

Chris Bertram 08.23.10 at 8:05 am

“Libertarian” writes

_By contrast, 327,000 Britons left the U.K in 2000._

I’d be very interested in knowing the basis of that statistic. “This BBC article”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3982217.stm from 2004 which claims

_More British people emigrated in 2003 than at any other time since the 1979s, according to official figures._

has a net outflow of 85,000 British citizens.

76

Chris Bertram 08.23.10 at 8:06 am

(And, of course, many of those would be elderly people going to live in Spain and the south of France, just as many Americans from northern states retire to Florida.)

77

Metatone 08.23.10 at 9:03 am

@lemuel pitkin

It’s easy to underestimate how much convergence there has been in the EU since 1980, Spain in particular has made huge strides (and they only joined in 1986.). Greece doesn’t look so good (they joined in 1981), but given the starting point in 1980 – comparison would be small dictatorship ridden Latin American country of your choice, I think it’s pretty much a wash.

Further, on fine-grained EU/US comparisons – we shouldn’t ignore that various US state governments are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Similar things are happening on the periphery of Europe, but it’s more obvious there because it’s a collection of countries, not a single one. (Admittedly also less of a problem in the US – California, Colorado, Michigan, etc. will all be bailed out with far less fuss than an upcoming bailout of say, Belgium.)

Finally, we should always expect US productivity to be a bit higher (for the next 20 years or so at least) because it is a large single country. The EU is a “single market” but one that is still divided by very strong, recent, language and cultural divisions between “states.” WalMart (for example) doesn’t expect supply chain efficiency across the EU to be directly comparable to that across the US because the economies of scale just are not as large in the EU, at this time.

78

ajay 08.23.10 at 9:19 am

I’d be very interested in knowing the basis of that statistic

Unsurprisingly, the 327,000 figure
a) refers not to people leaving but to people entering the UK;
b) refers to 1997, not 2000; and
c) comes from the News of the World.
http://www.newsoftheworld.co.uk/news/article9094.ece

I don’t think it’s even theoretically possible for someone to be wronger than that.

UK immigration/emigration figures have to be treated with caution recently, because of the immense Wave of Plumbers which landed (correctly) in Thanet after Poland’s accession to the EU, and swept across the country from right to left with Fire and Sword*, before reversing course and sweeping back to Poland again once the recession kicked in.

*or possibly Wrench and Plunger.

79

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.23.10 at 9:32 am

One Europe vs US difference that I noticed is that you often see small businesses in Europe (shops, restaurants) closing for a month or so – proprietors taking time off, vacation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this sort of thing in the US; I get the impression that they would sooner kill themselves than close the shop. Not sure if this is purely cultural, or there is some ‘freakonomics’ explanation.

80

hix 08.23.10 at 10:13 am

http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/tgm/mapToolClosed.do?tab=map&init=1&plugin=1&language=en&pcode=tsieb010&toolbox=types#

Gdp (ppp) percentage of Eu average:
Greece 95
France 107
Italy 102
Portugal 78
Spain 104
Greece does great, Spain does even better. Theres one unfortunate reason for that, they receive far more subsidies than many other much poorer EU nations. Part of the high gdp is fake built on debt, both in Spain and Greece, but so what. -5-10% makes them still quite wealthy.

81

Matt 08.23.10 at 10:54 am

In relation to Canada, it’s been a while since I looked at statistics, but for a long time one of the largest groups illegally in Canada was Americans. Americans can (usually) enter Canada w/o trouble, but need the same sort of permits to remain, work, etc. as anyone else does. But, a fairly large number go there legally and over-stay and work. A fair number of Canadians have done the same thing in the opposite direction at different points (I doubt it’s common right now) but given the differences in population size, the flow has long been more significant going north.

82

Uncle Kvetch 08.23.10 at 10:57 am

Paris muslim youth anyone?

Well, you may not have ever set foot in France, but you’ve clearly read the Economist at least once, so I guess the rest of us should just shut up and defer to your expertise.

83

Walt 08.23.10 at 10:58 am

Are you trying to challenge Worstall, ajay?

84

novakant 08.23.10 at 11:12 am

From the Worldbank document quoted above:

If per-capita GDP is used as a measure of comparison, much of Western Europe matches up to America’s poorest states. France is slightly poorer than Arkansas; Spain and Italy barely edge out West Virginia and Mississippi, the poorest states in the Union. Washington, DC has a staggering per-capita GDP of $148,046, double that of Europe’s richest nation per-capita, Luxembourg.

Can we now lay this fun with statistics nonsense to rest please?

85

Zamfir 08.23.10 at 11:21 am

Washington is a fun example of how careful you have to be with statistics. Its GDP includes lots of people who work there but do not live there, and those people are not included in the per-capita divider. The same effect, but somewhat weaker, makes Luxembourg the “richest” country in the EU.

86

sg 08.23.10 at 11:27 am

this aptly named “Nugget” from the Office of National Statistics says that emigration was 430,000 in 2008, largely composed of non-British nationals returning to their home countries. It seems to suggest that 175000 British people left in 2008, but 85,000 came back, giving a net outward migration of 90000 British. That’s 90,000 smart poms moving to Australia, I’ve no doubt.

So, Dr. Libertarian proves that a PhD in statistics and climate science doesn’t necessarily provide good google-fu, but he/she/it is wrong about the actual numbers.

Also, Dr. L, is it perhaps remotely slightly faintly possible that those Mexicans don’t drive to Canada because the US is in the way? Perhaps a better test would be if the two countries shared a border with Mexico?

87

ajay 08.23.10 at 12:00 pm

81: wait, “Libertarian” is Worstall? That’s a surprise. Worstall’s generally Wrong but Wreasonable. Libertarian is more Wrong and Wrepulsive.

88

Walt 08.23.10 at 12:17 pm

No, I’m saying that by claiming that libertarian couldn’t be more wrong, you’re going to inspire Worstall to top it by being more wrong. He has a certain well-won reputation for wrongness around these parts.

89

ogmb 08.23.10 at 12:26 pm

Whichever way you look at it, Americans—incomprehensibly to liberals—vote with their feet.

… or rather, asses.

90

libertarian 08.23.10 at 12:30 pm

I don’t think it’s even theoretically possible for someone to be wronger than that.

Not only theoretically possible ajay, but you’re the proof:

Annual migration statistics
(UK office for national statistics). Click on the pdf report. The numbers you want are on page 32.

91

Chris Bertram 08.23.10 at 12:47 pm

Indulge us please libertarian, your claim was

_By contrast, 327,000 Britons left the U.K in 2000._

You now say “The numbers you want are on page 32.”

I’m looking at p. 32 now. It appears not to contain either the number 327,000 or, indeed, statistics for the year 2000.

92

ajay 08.23.10 at 1:01 pm

I admit that I was wrong. Clearly, it is theoretically possible to be wronger than saying that a figure from the News of the World for immigrants in one year is a good source for the number of emigrants in another year. You can link to an entirely reliable source which a) contains data for the wrong year that b) doesn’t back up what you say or even c) provide the figures you say it provides and d) say that it does.

93

John Protevi 08.23.10 at 1:07 pm

Libertarian, you’ll note that, unlike some of the other commenters, I am not asking you about statistics at all. I’m simply asking you about your claim in 46, your first appearance on this thread. There you said by way of preamble: Having lived in many western countries including the US, the US wins hands-down. You simply have way more choices and a higher material standard of living here, because the emphasis is much more on expression of the individual than the collective. But you haven’t told us which countries you lived in, for how long, with what kind of job, meeting which kind of people, and learning which languages. Can you see how these would be relevant to our judging your basic trustiworthiness as an interlocutor? It’s the very first thing you said when joining the discussion. All the stats related claims come afterward, but they’re prefaced with your claim as to personal, not just stastical, knowledge of “many western countries.”

94

John Protevi 08.23.10 at 1:10 pm

Oops, my mistake. 46 is your second comment. You made one at 19 as well. Indeed, this is central to my point.

95

Gareth Rees 08.23.10 at 1:12 pm

Libertarian means page 30, of course (the 32nd page of the PDF), which gives the figure of 321,000 for the number of long-term international emigrants in 2000. This seems close enough to be the source of the 327,000 figure (since these kinds of estimates are revised when better source data becomes available). However, it doesn’t support Libertarian’s original claim, which was that “327,000 Britons left the U.K.” (my emphasis). The figure is for all emigrants, both British and non-British.

96

sg 08.23.10 at 1:20 pm

in that document, 156000 Britons left the UK in 2008 – as I said previously, 85000 returned. The top country of destination for Britons was Australia (56000). The USA was number 3 in 2007 – 19000 Britons went there. It didn’t register in the top 5 in 2008.

The main message from all of that is that Britons are much more mobile than Americans – there’s another page where they talk about the average length of time away being 4 years. Yes, Libertarian, the Brits who didn’t go to Australia actually went back to the UK. Hard though that is for you to comprehend.

Incidentally, which other Western countries did you live in?

97

ajay 08.23.10 at 1:38 pm

The main message from all of that is that Britons are much more mobile than Americans

This is what you’d expect to see even if Britain were exactly the same in every respect – standard of living, income, employment, law etc – as the US, and Britons were exactly as willing to move elsewhere to work as Americans – simply because the US is bigger. If an American finds a job at random somewhere in the English-speaking world, there’s a high probability that that job will be in America, because America’s a very large English-speaking country. Britain’s much smaller.

98

dr2chase 08.23.10 at 3:42 pm

Regarding commute time and productivity — the method of commuting also matters.

Consider driving versus rail for long trips — books on tape is as good as it gets in car, on a train, you can actually pay attention to a book, or work on a laptop, and in either case also listen to music.

For shorter trips, there’s walking and biking. It’s pretty clear that we underconsune exercise here in the US, so the first few hours spent usefully commuting by foot or bike each week, is not wasted time. It’s a big deal — driving your car to work (on average) results in a 39% higher mortality rate. (Time spent exercising is paid back, in expected longevity terms, at least one-for-one — the advantage of biking to work, is that after you get your exercise, you arrive at work instantly.)

However, biking to work is clearly “bad for the GDP”, or at least some parts of it. 2500 miles/year (50 miles/week, not that much) is a good fraction of yearly auto mileage, at a fraction of the cost. Increased exercise means no need to go to the gym, increased exercise means reduced need for chronic-condition meds. And interestingly, the Netherlands has a relatively high bicycle commuting ride share (they are mentioned a couple of times above, see comment #56 for example).

Also add to the mix — 1/3 of us in the US live as densely as the Dutch do, and 2/3 do not. It was my understanding that federal tax transfers from the dense (urban and near-urban) 1/3 subsidize non-dense 2/3. This seems like another likely factor in any inter-country comparisons of productivity.

99

libertarian 08.23.10 at 3:45 pm

John Petrovi @91: Countries I have lived in for at least 6 months: Australia, UK, U.S and France.

100

Chris Bertram 08.23.10 at 3:48 pm

Induction suggests that Dr L’s estimate of the number of countries he’s lived in and the time he lived in them will be off by at least 50%!

101

yeliabmit 08.23.10 at 3:50 pm

To follow on from Matt’s observation about US citizens without status in Canada — there are such people, but in my experience they’re usually people who have entered Canada as visitors and are instead working; so they lack the proper status, as opposed to having sneaked over the border in the cover of darkness or whatever. Americans don’t generally have problems entering Canada as visitors unless they have a criminal record or a serious illness, and once they’re here, they’re here until someone catches them. This is much the same for citizens of most developed Western countries. The people who enter without any status at all are generally from countries where there is an official barrier to entry, put in place to ensure that economic refugees are kept tightly controlled.

102

libertarian 08.23.10 at 3:50 pm

However, it doesn’t support Libertarian’s original claim, which was that “327,000 Britons left the U.K.” (my emphasis). The figure is for all emigrants, both British and non-British.

My claim was that Americans vote with their feet (to stay put). As I originally pointed out, the UK figure is not appropriate for a direct apples-to-apples comparison with the 18,000 census figure for U.S emigrants. However, it is nearly 2 orders of magnitude higher than the U.S figure (as an emigration rate per head of population), so even if you can find a reason to reduce it by an order of magnitude (which I doubt – you maybe have 2X or 3X), Americans still appear far happier with their supposedly miserable lot.

103

libertarian 08.23.10 at 3:57 pm

I’m looking at p. 32 now. It appears not to contain either the number 327,000 or, indeed, statistics for the year 2000.

Page 30 which is page 32 of the pdf. The figure is 321,000, not 327,00. My mistake. I read it very quickly, remembered the 427,000 number for 2008, went to find US stats for 2008, could only find stats for 2000, so wrote from memory what I recalled was the figure for 2000 but obviously conflated the last digit of the 2008 and 2000 numbers. Regardless, it is immaterial to the point.

104

geo 08.23.10 at 3:58 pm

Dr. L: nearly 2 orders of magnitude higher than the U.S figure

Wikipedia: “If two numbers differ by one order of magnitude, one is about ten times larger than the other. If they differ by two orders of magnitude, they differ by a factor of about 100″

Did you mean “100 times higher”?

105

Lemuel Pitkin 08.23.10 at 4:03 pm

Interesting report. It also notes that fewer than half of emigrants from the UK were born in the UK, and gives the top 5 destinations for people emigrating. In 2008 these were:

1. Australia
2. Poland
3. Germany
4. Spain
5. France

But no doubt the social significance of these migrations vanishes in mid-flight.

More seriously, there’s no question that if the US liberalized its immigration laws, we would see a greater outflow of emigrants. Since economic migrants could, as in Europe, return to their home countries in bad times, rather than, as in the US, feel compelled to remain here to avoid the risks of attempting to reenter later. See here. (From Cato, as it happens).

106

Substance McGravitas 08.23.10 at 4:06 pm

107

Matt 08.23.10 at 4:12 pm

More seriously, there’s no question that if the US liberalized its immigration laws, we would see a greater outflow of emigrants.

In fact, even now a fairly large percentage of people who immigrate to the US eventually leave- around 20%, I believe, though I’d have to dig up the stats. That’s _only_ counting people who have immigrant visas- greencards- and not people such as those on student visas, temporary work visas, inter-company transfers, etc. The numbers for those groups are much higher. Similarly, until the changes in ’96, the large majority of undocumented immigrants from Mexico returned to Mexico w/in two years of entering the US, though the percentage has gotten much smaller as it’s become more expensive and more dangerous to enter the US. Finally, at the peek of immigration to the US from Europe, in the late 19th and early 20th century, around a third or more of the immigrants returned to their native countries.

108

libertarian 08.23.10 at 4:15 pm

Certainly, only Dr L could conclude that large flows between, say, Britain and France proves that both Britain and France are unattractive places to live.

And only quiggin could deliberately ignore the caveat in my original comment: “Now, some of this is not directly comparable, eg people can move from the UK to another EU country relatively easily.”

But I can’t see how 18,000 U.S departures per year is anything but a vote of confidence by its citizens. However, let me help you out here: just play a variant of the usual “liberal-with-superiority-complex” card and claim this only proves ignorance is bliss.

The question is whether the US is a particularly attractive destination for emigrants from developed countries, and my impression is that it isn’t. Brits, for example, have historically been more likely to come to Australia, and I think this is still true.

I bet you are right (for Brits at least), but primarily because it is both administratively and culturally considerably easier for Brits to emigrate to Australia than to the U.S. After all, they do have the same head of state. And you shouldn’t discount the Kylie Minogue factor either.

109

Lemuel Pitkin 08.23.10 at 4:16 pm

It’s easy to underestimate how much convergence there has been in the EU since 1980, Spain in particular has made huge strides (and they only joined in 1986.). Greece doesn’t look so good (they joined in 1981), but given the starting point in 1980 – comparison would be small dictatorship ridden Latin American country of your choice, I think it’s pretty much a wash.

Right. In my mind I was comparing the postwar Italian miracle with the more recent accession states. But obviously you have Spain and Portugal in between, and their experience has been more like Italy’s.

Further, on fine-grained EU/US comparisons – we shouldn’t ignore that various US state governments are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Similar things are happening on the periphery of Europe, but it’s more obvious there because it’s a collection of countries, not a single one. (Admittedly also less of a problem in the US – California, Colorado, Michigan, etc. will all be bailed out with far less fuss than an upcoming bailout of say, Belgium.)

Here we get into some trickier issues. If you are comparing the US to Europe as a whole, you find that the US has a more equal, not less equal, distribution of income, and a much more redistributive public sector. (Jamie Galbraith has written a bit about this IIRC.) But when the subject of income distribution and related public policies comes up in discussions like these, the comparison is almost always between the US and particular European countries, where the US tends to look worse.

Don’t get me wrong — I think the European model is vastly superior to the American in creating a good life for human beings. But we need to be cautious in assuming that, under capitalism, that translates into a superior economic performance. And one aspect of that caution is being careful to be consistent in our units of comparison.

110

libertarian 08.23.10 at 4:21 pm

geo @102: Yes. (321,000 / 59,000,000) / (18,000 / 285,000,000) = 86. Nearly two orders of magnitude.

111

Lemuel Pitkin 08.23.10 at 4:34 pm

libertarian:

You are aware, right?, that the 321,000 includes all emigrants from the UK, regardless of natality or citizenship, while the 18,000 figure for the US includes native-born citizens only.

112

bianca steele 08.23.10 at 4:37 pm

Lemuel,
Since there is no chance of changing all the things about the US that make it different from Europe, isn’t this just bloviating about Eurotopia? There are lots of problems that don’t even get addressed–some of them involving differences from Europe, though maybe not the obvious ones–like the dysfunctional way government functions are divided among municipal, county, and state administrations in many states (and in some cases NGOs with a hostile attitude toward all three of those). Or is all this only about the fact that Bill Clinton “ended welfare as we kn[e]w it”?

113

Lemuel Pitkin 08.23.10 at 4:42 pm

On the subject of migration, my brother likes to observe that under various treaties, a much smaller fraction of the flow of the Colorado reaches Mexico than did in the mid-19th century. This has made small-scale agriculture less viable in much of northern Mexico. Meanwhile the impounded water is used here mainly for agriculture, with the bulk of the farmworkers originating in northern Mexico. So the same people are using the same water to grow the same tomatoes, but thanks to US army, north of the border instead of south of it.

You could call this a sign of the success of American values, for sure; but they’re not the values libertarian has in mind.

114

John Protevi 08.23.10 at 4:42 pm

Libertarian, thanks for your reply. I’m glad to see you have lived in France. Leaving aside your degree of insertion in French society (number of friends, type of interaction, level of language skill), let’s just say that if we restrict ourselves to the area of food, coffee, and wine, are you really saying that in the US we have “way more choices and a higher material standard of living” than in France?

115

Lemuel Pitkin 08.23.10 at 4:45 pm

is all this only about the fact that Bill Clinton “ended welfare as we kn[e]w it”?

Huh?

I have to say, Bianca, I’ve been reading your comments for a long time here and I’m consistently completely baffled by them. They look like English, but whatever the content is, I’m not getting it.

116

Salient 08.23.10 at 4:53 pm

Voting with feet requires [a] owning a pair of really high-quality shoes, [b] a body that hasn’t given out, and [c] having somewhere to go.

When someone doesn’t vote with their feet, it means either [a] they’re happy where they are or [b] they’re not capable of walking marathon distances or [c] their shoes are embedded in concrete.

Or perhaps [d] there seems to be nothing but vicious knee-deep mud for miles and what’s beyond the property boundary is not well-known and conceivably even more hostile, so, attempting to evade suffering by fleeing seems like a bad idea according to a very sensible high-risk-uncertain-reward principle.

117

libertarian 08.23.10 at 4:55 pm

if we restrict ourselves to the area of food, coffee, and wine, are you really saying that in the US we have “way more choices and a higher material standard of living” than in France?

Well, yes, I am saying that. But I agree with a narrower version of your question: if we restrict ourselves to the area of French food, French coffee, and French wine then yes, the French have us beat hands-down. And they have us beat for cafe culture too: hard to compare sipping a latte on the Left Bank with free wifi in Starbucks. Even if it is a sh*tty latte, hey, you’re sipping it on the Left Bank!

But of course that is true of pretty much any country: “If we restrict comparison to what country X does best, then X dominates Y for all countries Y not equal to X”.

118

zamfir 08.23.10 at 5:02 pm

Libertarian, are you claiming only 18000 Americans leave their country yearly? the Netherlands alone record around.3000 immigrants born in the US each year, pretty much the same as the number of dutch-born emigrants to the US. The big problem with these numbers is that the number of return migrants in both directions.is nearly.equal, because the flow is mostly expats. So net migration numbers are completely different from gross migration numbers.

119

libertarian 08.23.10 at 5:07 pm

@109 Yes, I am aware. But you’ve got nearly two orders of magnitude to overcome. Ain’t gonna happen. Americans are unusually content to stay put. But I know the obvious explanation — they like their freedom — is painfully dissonant (in the cognitive sense) to the liberal mind, so let me help you out again: in addition to ignorance being bliss, Americans are also simply too fat to move.

120

ajay 08.23.10 at 5:09 pm

Lib, sg’s already pointed out what was wrong with your statistics. I’d only add that comparing gross departures of all nationalities with net departures of citizens only isn’t really very meaningful. Add that to your already-existing caveat that it’s a lot easier for a Brit to work abroad (in the EU) than it is for an American, and your statement really doesn’t seem to prove much at all.
Small wonder, then, you’d rather argue about coffee.

Also note that a high immigration rate doesn’t prove much about the attractiveness of a country – witness the UAE in first place for net migration at the top of the table cited in 104. All it proves is that it’s easy for people to get into your country from even more wretched countries.

121

libertarian 08.23.10 at 5:10 pm

zamfir – the methodology is described at the original link. They estimated 18,000 US citizens migrated abroad permanently per year in the 1990s.

122

bianca steele 08.23.10 at 5:21 pm

Lemuel,
I couldn’t say what your problem is. Maybe you could explain what you mean by “the European model” and in what way it is different from, and superior to, the American one. Do you really only mean things like (a) better support for the poor and the unemployed, (b) support for unions comparable to, say, Germany, (c) more and better enforced regulations? (As opposed to class structure, the position of the universities, churches, and other institutions, land ownership, culture, etc.?)

123

More Dogs, Less Crime 08.23.10 at 5:23 pm

Quiggin, are you the one with an E.U vs U.S bet with Bryan Caplan?

I’d expect that Mexican immigrants would tend to stay in the southwest, even within the U.S. Similarly, immigrants from before congregated in New York. Those facts are the result of geography and don’t tell us much about between-state differences.

124

John Protevi 08.23.10 at 5:28 pm

if we restrict ourselves to the area of French food, French coffee, and French wine then yes, the French have us beat hands-down.

No, I am not saying that at all. I’d say the variety of choices available in central Paris is equal to that in a comparable slice of New York, as would be the variety of choices in smaller cities in France comparable to smaller cities in the USA. Did you miss all the couscous joints, the West African places, the South American places, the Italian, and Chinese places (and all the subsets therein), the tapas places, the Irish pubs, the Tex-Mex (and real Mexican) places? Just on the rue de la Fontaine au roi (a decent enough but not nearly chic little street in the 11th, one I happen to know something about), you’ll find Moroccan, Senegalese [okay, that’s defunct, but it was there for a number of years], Cuban, and Eastern European places, not to mention the Vietnamese, Cambodian, Italian, and Chinese places all within a few blocks. To be concrete about it, where do you live in the States, and where did you live in France? That would give us a better shot at checking your claim. If you live in a big city in the States and lived in a small town in France, that might account for it, but that would be apples and oranges, no?

125

Chris Bertram 08.23.10 at 5:35 pm

So, just to recap. Dr L wrote:

_327,000 *Britons* left the U.K in 2000._

This turned out not to be true, since the slightly lower figure of 321, 000 was all departures. When called on his BS, Dr L wrote:

_@109 Yes, I am aware_

Do you mean that you were aware when you wrote the original sentence? In which case you were dishonest from the off? Or do you mean that you became aware in the light of people pointing it out to you? In which case, an admission that you were badly wrong might be in order rather than a blowhard insistence that you are right anyway.

126

Chris Bertram 08.23.10 at 5:39 pm

By the way, the insistence that only 18,000 Americans per annum leave to live elsewhere sits rather ill with the numbers of them who are actually living in those other countries. How did they get there?

http://aaro.org/

127

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.23.10 at 5:42 pm

….the obvious explanation—they like their freedom…

Better trolls, please.

128

libertarian 08.23.10 at 5:58 pm

Or do you mean that you became aware in the light of people pointing it out to you? In which case, an admission that you were badly wrong might be in order rather than a blowhard insistence that you are right anyway.

I was vaguely aware at the time but my point was the gap is nearly two orders of magnitude, and I conceded at the time that there are many factors that would narrow that gap, but not enough to override the general conclusion that Americans are unusual in the extent to which they don’t emigrate.

Address the substantive point Bertram, else it is just you who appears to be the blowhard.

129

libertarian 08.23.10 at 6:03 pm

No, I am not saying that at all. I’d say the variety of choices available in central Paris is equal to that in a comparable slice of New York, as would be the variety of choices in smaller cities in France comparable to smaller cities in the USA.

I don’t disagree. I thought you were claiming the available food choices in France are significantly superior to those in comparable cities in the US. If the food choices are on a par, yet I have many more and cheaper choices in other areas in the US (eg housing, cars, consumer goods), then doesn’t that make my point?

130

Uncle Kvetch 08.23.10 at 6:15 pm

And they have us beat for cafe culture too: hard to compare sipping a latte on the Left Bank with free wifi in Starbucks. Even if it is a sh*tty latte, hey, you’re sipping it on the Left Bank!

Or, you could go to any one of several Starbucks in Paris and be spared the horror of shitty French coffee.

Better trolls, please.

Hell no. This guy rocks.

131

libertarian 08.23.10 at 6:17 pm

BTW, John Petrovi, when it comes to smaller cities and food choices, I don’t think France beats the US, but I could be wrong (I haven’t been in France for 8 years). Eg, I live in small-town USA, yet my local world market carries my favorite South Australian beer (Coopers Sparkling – not Fosters before you ask), and I pay 30% less for it than I do in South Australia. I can buy all my favorite (non-big-chain) South Australian wines there, again, all at a cheaper price than in South Australia.

132

John Protevi 08.23.10 at 6:22 pm

I thought you were claiming the available food choices in France are significantly superior to those in comparable cities in the US. If the food choices are on a par, yet I have many more and cheaper choices in other areas in the US (eg housing, cars, consumer goods), then doesn’t that make my point?

No, *you* were claiming that in the US we had “way more choices and a higher material standard of living.” I tested that claim w/r/t to food, and you concede it’s not the case. Now with regard to the other things you mention, we again have to consider income level and geographical area. Are you saying a comparable slice of New York provides “more and cheaper choices” than a comparable slice of Paris w/r/t “housing, cars, consumer goods”? Have you priced an apartment in Manhattan lately? Considering cheap and varied consumer goods, have you been to the BHV? Let’s leave cars out of this Paris / NYC thing, since having a car in either city is quite possibly irrational. As for smaller cities in the US, the *need* for a car due to poor quality of public transport (which in my town, Baton Rouge, is closely tied to racial residential patterns) might help drive some economic stats, but I can’t see how anyone would argue my purchase of a car in Baton Rouge denotes “choice,” let alone helps quality of life.

133

John Protevi 08.23.10 at 6:41 pm

Three last points. 1. Who is this “John Petrovi” you keep talking to? 2. The last part of my above comment gets us back to “coercion,” “constrained choices,” etc, as we talked about at some length in the other threads. 3. About wine, even if ex hypothesi I say we’re only talking about French wine availability in small town France, we’d have to talk about the internal variety of French wines, compared to the variety you find in your world market. There’s only so many ways to make wine, and a healthy majority of them have representatives in France, no? Of course there’s the terroir vs brand name issue, as the nice little film Mondo Vino explores. In any case, I’d be happy if you’d admit it’s all a bit more complicated than the US having “way more choices,” isn’t it?

134

libertarian 08.23.10 at 6:42 pm

I tested that claim w/r/t to food, and you concede it’s not the case.

Outside of large, international cities, I don’t concede that – see 129.

Have you priced an apartment in Manhattan lately?

Again, international cities do not make good points of comparison. Central London is horrendously expensive. As is central Paris, central Sydney, etc. That’s because a lot of rich people from all over the world want to live there. It doesn’t tell you much about the country as-a-whole.

I paid a relative pittance for a house in a nice development that is so large it wouldn’t even be approved in the UK, France or Australia, unless I was a multi-millionaire and could afford 20 acres hidden out-of-sight of the collectivist elites. I pay less for my car than I would in Australia (about 30% less on the purchase price and far less on payments – 0% financing over 72 months). I pay less for all my electronic consumer goods than I have seen anywhere else with the possible exception of Hong Kong. I pay less for food and groceries than France, UK, or Britain. The local wal-mart carries far more general grocery items in-stock and at cheaper prices than the corresponding store in Australia (Big W). Clothes are cheaper and much higher quality. Gas is far cheaper. Energy is far cheaper (about 5c/KWhr vs 20c/KWhr). It just goes on-and-on. There really is very little comparison.

Public transport is bad, I agree. Although only outside the larger cities. That said, my county provides a minimal bus service for people who really can’t get around, and that is out to rural areas. But the roads are amazing. Where I live, they plan for growth like nowhere else I have seen: dual carriageways and 2 lanes each way into all large new developments. It is much cheaper to own a car in my state than in the UK or Australia – initial outlay is low, taxes are low, gas is cheap and maintenance is very efficient and cheap – either at wal-mart or jiffy lube.

135

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.23.10 at 6:49 pm

A typical French supermarket provides 2 orders of magnitude more choices than any American supermarket, except Whole Foods. With Whole Foods it’s only 1 order of magnitude.

136

Alex 08.23.10 at 6:53 pm

Cars are expensive in Australia because it’s a tiny market a jillion miles from anywhere that also expects (and to some extent requires) extensive local specialisation in its cars. GM sells much the same saloon across the world, but only in Australia is it called a Holden, manufactured in Fisherman’s Bend, and delivered with a choice of a 3.8 litre V6 or 5 litre V8. Ford doesn’t sell, let alone manufacture, sports pickups anywhere else in the world. This is a silly argument.

I would very much like to see some evidence that there is less “choice” of car in western Europe. Within two streets of my front door in London, N19, I’m aware of a Chevy Suburban (God knows why), an Aston Martin, and a Citroen DS estate. Obviously this implies the presence of three eccentric petrolheads in a fairly restricted territory. But there you go.

You haven’t even asserted more “choice” – just cheaper land. BTW, do you actually believe Australians chafe under land hunger? I have actually been to Australia, and stern planning restrictions and urban density were not in fact characteristic of my impressions.

137

libertarian 08.23.10 at 6:56 pm

1. Who is this “John Petrovi” you keep talking to?

An anagrammatically incorrect filtering of your name through my dyslexic brain.

In any case, I’d be happy if you’d admit it’s all a bit more complicated than the US having “way more choices,” isn’t it?

I’ll admit it is more complicated than that, but only really in the sense I referred to above when I said any given country can be made to dominate all others if you compare only on their strong points. In my experience the US is exceptional amongst developed nations for the freedom of choice it offers. And it is exceptional amongst places I have lived for being far more democratically responsive to its citizenry, tolerant of newcomers and outsiders, and as a place that offers opportunity at all levels of the economic ladder.

138

libertarian 08.23.10 at 7:03 pm

I have actually been to Australia, and stern planning restrictions and urban density were not in fact characteristic of my impressions.

Google “Urban Growth Boundary Adelaide”. It’s horrible. Almost no road infrastructure improvements in 50 years. If you are a professional couple who’ve put off procreation until it is almost too late you can afford a 50, 60 or 70 year-old house similar to the one your working-class parents owned when they were nearly half your age. But at least you’ll be close enough to the city amenities. Otherwise, the government central-planners force you into far-flung suburbs with no amenities at all, or into a shoebox apartment.

139

hix 08.23.10 at 7:05 pm

Im fine with the German supermarkets, one order of magnitude less choice, 20% lower prices. The cars on the other hand, that kind of sucks, great choice, bad prices )-:. As if anyones lifing standard would influenced by the number of upper class wannabe poser products. Would be a feature if Europe would lack those. To bad thats not the case.

140

Lemuel Pitkin 08.23.10 at 7:06 pm

tolerant of newcomers and outsiders

You should develop this point, and drop the rest. Here you are on solid ground.

141

MPAVictoria 08.23.10 at 7:12 pm

135:
What about Canada? We actually have a much higher rate of social mobility than does the United States. We also have pretty much the same automobile, food and electronics selection as the United States. Plus better, and cheaper, education and health care, a lower crime rate, lower infant mortality and we even have more sex on average. Plus land is usually even more abundant and even less expensive.

142

Matt 08.23.10 at 7:16 pm

we even have more sex on average. Plus land is usually even more abundant and even less expensive.

But if you take Moose and frozen tundra out of that equation, Canada does less well, you’ll have to admit. (Kidding! Kidding! Except the “plentiful land” bit- land is plentiful in Russia, too, but there’s a reason almost no one lives in most of it in both places.)

143

Tom T. 08.23.10 at 7:22 pm

Brits, for example, have historically been more likely to come to Australia, and I think this is still true.

It’s because you both drive on the left.

144

MPAVictoria 08.23.10 at 7:24 pm

140:
“But if you take Moose and frozen tundra out of that equation, Canada does less well, you’ll have to admit”

Zing!

Actually you would be surprised at how much available good land there is in Canada. People tend to exaggerate the “snowy tundra” thing. I live comfortably in Northern Alberta for 24 years.

145

Substance McGravitas 08.23.10 at 7:31 pm

Brits, for example, have historically been more likely to come to Australia

Australians, last I knew, were awfully generous in allowing workers from Commonwealth countries to work for short periods of time, six months or a year.

146

John Quiggin 08.23.10 at 8:01 pm

Libertarian @138 re Adelaide

Now I get it. You’re “dogz” among zillions of other aliases! If so, you’ve really gone downhill since your days as a serial troll at my blog. Maybe you should migrate back to Oz.

147

Chris Bertram 08.23.10 at 8:01 pm

Here in the south west of England, we have a much greater choice of cider, draught bitter pork pies and medieval buildings than you can get in any major city in the United States. More seriously, though, we in Yoorp have a far wider selection of unpasteurised cheeses that merkins get because of the insane overregulation you get in the US (and Australia for that matter). Yoorp – cheese libertarian paradise.

148

chris 08.23.10 at 8:11 pm

Again, international cities do not make good points of comparison.

I’m not sure what makes some cities “international” and others not (clearly not location on a national border, if Manhattan qualifies), but since cities pretty much by definition are places where lots of people live, it seems rather odd to rule them out of the comparison as an aberration.

You clearly enjoy living in a sprawling suburb where you are no doubt several miles from the nearest 7-11, but aren’t you aware that this is hardly a universal impulse? In fact, its existence in its present US form is highly dependent on government policy and subsidies (including, inter alia, that cheap gas you’re such a big fan of, as well as large-lot zoning and copious parking requirements that force businesses away from each other and from housing until nobody wants to walk from one to the other).

Comparing different countries on the basis of the ability to live the Veblen Acres lifestyle where you never see your “neighbors” except through a car window is nearly as dishonest as comparing them on the basis of access to specifically French cuisine, IMO. People in other countries don’t do that because they mostly don’t want to do that, not because of some kind of “collectivist elite” (isn’t that an oxymoron anyway?).

149

someguy 08.23.10 at 8:13 pm

Detlef,

I don’t think that post was correct.

This is my general understanding->

http://crookedtimber.org/2005/06/03/its-the-median-stupid/

I have never been but France seems like a wonderfully productive country and a great place to live. In the US we work more and make more.

Both Europe and the US relatively speaking to time and place do a wonderful job providing for the vast bulk of their citizens. The US could probably do a better job for the bottom 10%.

150

libertarian 08.23.10 at 8:17 pm

Bertram @147: see my comment @ 117:

If we restrict comparison to that which country X does best, then X dominates Y for all countries Y not equal to X

I would add British pubs to your list. Yet still they leave in droves (by comparison to the US). Whereas for all their Europhilia, U.S liberals stay put.

@146: not me.

151

Matt 08.23.10 at 8:20 pm

I’ll agree with Chris on the pork (or meat, more generally) pie bit. I was sorely disappointed recently by a trip out to what promised to be an “authentic” British pub w/ real pub fare, only to find it was much less good than several more or less randomly chosen pubs on a recent trip to England. As for the cheese, a lot of the regulation is state-level, and so varies from state to state. You can get a wide selection of unpastueurised cheeses in Philadelphia, for example, while you can get a lot less in many other states. (Most European countries might still be better, but the regulation, like much regulation in this US, varies a lot from state to state, making generalizations hard.)

152

libertarian 08.23.10 at 8:35 pm

chris @148:

I’m not sure what makes some cities “international”

A good working definition I use is cities where a lot of rich people from all over the world have houses.

In fact, its existence in its present US form is highly dependent on government policy and subsidies (including, inter alia, that cheap gas you’re such a big fan of, as well as large-lot zoning and copious parking requirements that force businesses away from each other and from housing until nobody wants to walk from one to the other).

The government doesn’t subsidize gas here. They just don’t tax it out the wazoo like they do in Europe and to a lesser extent Australia.

As for being dependent on “government policy” – that’s where my point about democratic responsiveness to the citizenry comes from. Government policy reflects the wishes of the population, at least in part because those policies are made at a very local government level, and there are strong legal protections for private property (and hence private development of property in response to private demand) which means the local governments are less prone to capture by special interest groups which stifle or restrict growth to reflect their own narrow preferences. (none of this applies to California which is an honorary Eurostate).

Comparing different countries on the basis of the ability to live the Veblen Acres lifestyle where you never see your “neighbors” except through a car window.

On the contrary, one thing that is particularly striking about at least the neighborhoods I have lived in in the US is how friendly and cohesive they are. We all have 0.5 – 2 acre lots yet there’s a neighborhood email list and regular neighborhood activities. I know the names of probably 50 other couples in the neighborhood. Many people take evening walks and we all chat to each other when we see one another. At least in my part of the US they don’t do fences the way Australians do (people only put up fences if they have a dog or a pool). All the kids run freely through everyone’s backyards.

153

geo 08.23.10 at 8:59 pm

Isn’t libertarian’s entire argument that Americans are more satisfied because they emigrate less undermined by ajay @97? Given the size of the US, wouldn’t the appropriate comparison be between US citizens’ emigration outside the US and EU citizens’ emigration outside the EU? Isn’t migration within the US is equivalent to migration within the EU?

154

roac 08.23.10 at 9:16 pm

Yes indeedy!

Government policy reflects the wishes of the population, at least in part because those policies are made at a very local government level

Indeed it does. From your description of the neighborhood where you live, I infer that its population is made up of people with who can afford half-acre lots, who have established a government policy (zoning) which reflects your wish not to have anybody who cn’t afford such a lot live anywhere near you.

and there are strong legal protections for private property (and hence private development of property in response to private demand)

Except of course that (as I infer) no property owner has a right to, e.g., build multi-family housing in your neighborhood, because of government coercion.

which means the local governments are less prone to capture by special interest groups which stifle or restrict growth to reflect their own narrow preferences.

So when local zoning laws permit only large-lot single-family housing in a community, thereby preventing the population growth that would result from smaller single-family lots and multifamily housing, that is somehow not “restricting growth”? And the upper-income homeowners who impose such a restriction are not a “special interest group”?

155

tom bach 08.23.10 at 9:37 pm

I’ve lived in different parts of Germany for about 2 yrs and London for about 2 yrs. London is, well, London.

In Germany, including Berlin, I paid less for rent, food, drink, entertainment, and transport than in Upstate New York and, except for vegetables, there was greater choice for nearly all consumer needs, and it was considerably easier to navigate with bike and public transport. In every city in which I lived in Germany at least one of groceries had an in-house bakery that freshly baked dozens of different kinds of breads. In one of the smaller towns there was a daily open air market which was realky phenomenal. Compared to Kansas City, MO Germany was cheaper, easier to navigate by bike and public transport, had more consumer choice, and was considerable cleaner.

I didn’t live in a small town in France, but I stayed in one for month and in addition to three, what Americans would call, artisanal butcher shops with several kinds of house made sausage various dry aged beefs, chickens, and other fowl, there were 4 or five bakeries and a Champion, which was comparable to Whole foods and way cheaper. The prices were lower than Upstate New York, and Kansas City. Plus, in France I could walk in to the wine shop with a five litre plastic deally and they filled it up with this super terrific local wine for like 1,90 Euros per litre. To say nothing of the butter and cheese. Although it is true there were no big box stores, but there was an open air market that sold bundles of artichokes, fresh oysters, farm raised fowl, and — go figure — paella.

I’ve never found any of the food, beer, wine, shoes or cigarettes I bought in any of those place in America for anything like what I paid for them there is was always higher.

156

libertarian 08.23.10 at 9:48 pm

I infer that its population is made up of people with who can afford half-acre lots

Yes indeed roac. Including (in no particular order): a teacher; a retired couple, he a former marine and she a former homemaker; a policeman and his policewoman wife; a pilot and his stay-at-home-wife; a small businessman; another (even smaller) businessman; an insurance broker, a refinery worker, etc. Some of them are even (god forbid)……. african american. Finished houses in this development have sold from $310,000 to $780,000. With interest rates at 5% for 30 year fixed mortgages, you do not need to be high income to afford the lower end of this neighborhood. How so cheap for such large lots? LACK OF ARBITRARY RESTRICTIONS ON PRIVATE DEVELOPMENT. Let the free market do its work and even teachers and refinery workers are better off. No government intervention required. Horrifying isn’t it?

Except of course that (as I infer) no property owner has a right to, e.g., build multi-family housing in your neighborhood, because of government coercion.

You infer wrong. The next phase of development is indeed multi-family housing. Currently delayed due to this *ahem* slight housing crunch we’re in right now. And do you know what? They’ll be sharing our neighborhood pool. OMG, we’ll all be swimming in the same water as the great unwashed from the apartments down the road. I don’t know how I will cope. I’ve been in therapy for months in preparation.

157

bianca steele 08.23.10 at 10:25 pm

highly dependent on government policy

I have to ask, with l., which policies? It’s true in a tautological sense, we’re all dependent on government and government policy, and that is an important truth we should acknowledge, especially if we’d like things to be different than they are. But that doesn’t mean that the things people like are dependent on policies put in place to give them what they like. A lot of what you see around where I live (300 year old towns become suburbs or exurbs) is a result, rather, of lack of government control–people subdivided their property or not, as they liked, in little bits over the centuries, and still continuing today–there’s currently no reasonable chance it could be reallotted rationally because it’s all in separate, private hands, which means the coordination necessary to do anything much more than mandating house and lot sizes isn’t feasible. (And some of it is really a mess, but it’s hard to imagine anyone having the money to buy enough lots to fix it, except someone who would make it much worse.)

158

Lemuel Pitkin 08.23.10 at 11:02 pm

159

sg 08.24.10 at 12:06 am

Even if it is a sh*tty latte, hey, you’re sipping it on the Left Bank!

When I went to Paris on holiday I went to a very fine restaurant recommended to me by a British friend, the entire experience of which was perfect except it was full of whining Americans who were saying exactly the sort of shit libertarian said there. Here’s my favourite:

Whiny USAn number 1: “The French just don’t understand dessert.”

Whiny USAn number 2: “That’s right! You know, sometimes, for dessert, they eat fruit.”

160

sg 08.24.10 at 12:08 am

libertard (may I anagrammaticize your name too?), can we apply your logic to Burma?

e.g. Myanmar must be the best place on earth – Myanmarese are voting with their feet, there were only 3 emigrants last year.

Myanmar must be orders of magnitude better than the USA.

161

sg 08.24.10 at 12:09 am

oh and that bit of rhetorical flourish about “collectivist elites” was a trolling gem. Oxymoron much?

Fresh frozen!!!
Virtually spotless!!!
Collectivist elites!!!

162

tt 08.24.10 at 12:17 am

Came here via Yglesias whose conclusion I second. PPP figures are used extensively and yet, when some years ago I tried to get a better understanding of how they were constructed, I did not find any detailed explanation. It would be great if you could tell us more at some point. When I looked for some literature, I remember that your name popped up several times!

As to EU vs. US, one thing is convergence. But one has also to ask where does the growth come from. E.g., who is contributing more to technological innovation, EU or US? I would be tempted to bet hands down on US (pc, Google etc.) but I have to say I haven’t looked at any serious study of this. To put it another way, how much would have EU grown in the last, say, 30 years (you can make it 60) without the technological spillover from US and/or the demand for goods arising from a growing market such as US? Of course, spillovers go in both directions (german engineers in munich, students from the Grand Ecole who get their phd in US). And so do demand factors. But I would bet that in the net US has been more important than EU in the last 60 years (which is different from claiming that US has a higher standard of living than EU). However this is just speculation on my part.

163

piglet 08.24.10 at 12:51 am

“Considering that for that 12 percent investment the American G.N.P. per capita is 32 percent higher than the German, this seems a defensible trade-off. Perhaps Americans have collectively decided to work somewhat harder to be substantially better off. “

Except that they aren’t. By no reasonable measure are average Americans better off than average Germans, Dutch, or Danes.

164

Chris 08.24.10 at 12:57 am

Let the free market do its work and even teachers and refinery workers are better off. No government intervention required. Horrifying isn’t it?

Let the free market do its work and most teachers would be unemployed. The few parents that could afford non-government-subsidized education wouldn’t provide jobs for 1/3 of them.

TBH, the first thing I thought when I heard that parade of occupations (about half of them government workers, and probably none below the median income) living in a neighborhood like that was “GI Bill” — which, as you probably know, was a government program. But maybe they’re younger than that.

I wonder if that refinery worker is in a union?

P.S. Where the small businessmen and the insurance broker would be without government support for corporations and enforcement of contracts, to take just two examples, is left as an exercise for the reader. But I’m sure government had nothing to do with their accomplishments — just ask them!

165

sg 08.24.10 at 1:13 am

libertarian, did you say you live in a small country town? Because those prices don’t seem particularly different to house-and-land packages in any reasonable Australian small country town. They’re more than in a Japanese country town, and I wouldn’t know about Europe…

166

piglet 08.24.10 at 1:24 am

“Except that they aren’t. By no reasonable measure are average Americans better off than average Germans, Dutch, or Danes.”

Let me briefly expand on that. Just one example. I live in a city of 75,000, not a rich enclave but a fairly well-off city by American standards, until recently economically growing and expanding although hard hit by the recession like most fast growing communities. Temperature has been and still is in the 90s. There is not a single public swimming pool currently serving the city, not even as much as a play fountain. The only pool has closed a week ago, it is open 10 weeks a year with very restricted opening times.

One cannot even imagine a Central European city of comparable size that is not served by an affordable public pool during a hot summer (of course normally there will be amenities year round). Just not imaginable. Defenders of American superiority will be quick to point out that Americans have more private swimming pools per capita than Europeans. Probably true but doesn’t change the fact that the majority certainly do not have private swimming pools (unless you count 4 foot inflatable basins) and even those who do mostly have small pools without amenities that are not much fun really and in fact are rarely used and many pool owners realize how inefficient and expensive to maintain their pools really are and wish they could get rid of it. Anyway so if you measure well-being by the range of choices that an average person has, rather than by the amount of money a minority is able to spend on wasteful status symbols, with respect to access to swimming pool fun, Europe wins hands-down.

As a comparison, this is what medium-sized German or Swiss cities offer their population at very reasonable rates.

http://www.bodensee-therme-konstanz.de/
http://www.thermentrio.de/
http://www.meersburg-therme.de/
http://www.kurhessen-therme.de/bildergalerie.html
http://www.therme-erding.de/
http://franken-therme.net/
http://www.therme-vals.ch/
http://www.badi-info.ch/alpentherme.html

These are some of my favorites (the Swiss ones are a bit more pricey) but almost every city has something comparable to offer. Amenities like this are definitely associated with upper class in the US, and in the part of the country where I am are simply not available.

167

piglet 08.24.10 at 1:25 am

“Except that they aren’t. By no reasonable measure are average Americans better off than average Germans, Dutch, or Danes.”

Let me briefly expand on that. Just one example. I live in a city of 75,000, not a rich enclave but a fairly well-off city by American standards, until recently economically growing and expanding although hard hit by the recession like most fast growing communities. Temperature has been and still is in the 90s. There is not a single public swimming pool currently serving the city, not even as much as a play fountain. The only pool has closed a week ago, it is open 10 weeks a year with very restricted opening times.

One cannot even imagine a Central European city of comparable size that is not served by an affordable public pool during a hot summer (of course normally there will be amenities year round). Just not imaginable. Defenders of American superiority will be quick to point out that Americans have more private swimming pools per capita than Europeans. Probably true but doesn’t change the fact that the majority certainly do not have private swimming pools (unless you count 4 foot inflatable basins) and even those who do mostly have small pools without amenities that are not much fun really and in fact are rarely used and many pool owners realize how inefficient and expensive to maintain their pools really are and wish they could get rid of it. Anyway so if you measure well-being by the range of choices that an average person has, rather than by the amount of money a minority is able to spend on wasteful status symbols, with respect to access to swimming pool fun, Europe wins hands-down.

[Leaving out a few web links to speed up publication]

168

sg 08.24.10 at 1:32 am

out of interest piglet does the same thing apply to libraries?

169

PaulB 08.24.10 at 7:15 am

libertarian (134): “I pay less for food and groceries than France, UK, or Britain. The local wal-mart carries far more general grocery items in-stock and at cheaper prices than the corresponding store in Australia (Big W)”

Try buying the ingredients for a cheese and tomato sandwich almost anywhere in the USA. You’ll find that the bread is horribly sweet, the cheese tastes of nothing much, nnd the tomato has been bred for size not flavour. In Europe, you may be able to get only the local styles of bread and cheese, but they will almost certainly be worth eating. And the tomatoes will taste of tomato.

170

Myles SG 08.24.10 at 7:37 am

(none of this applies to California which is an honorary Eurostate).

This is laughable.

171

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.24.10 at 9:21 am

700 Million Worldwide Desire to Migrate Permanently

Nearly one-quarter (24%) of these respondents, which translates to more than 165 million adults worldwide, name the United States as their desired future residence. …

Roughly 210 million adults around the world would like to move to a country in the European Union…

172

libertarian 08.24.10 at 11:22 am

Try buying the ingredients for a cheese and tomato sandwich almost anywhere in the USA.

Yes, a pet-peeve of mine PaulB. I hate that all the supermarket bread has sugar. But is has gotten a lot better in recent years – most supermarkets around here now have their own bakeries that produce pretty decent bread, and a gourmet cheese section (including wal-mart). Try Costco for tomatoes.

173

novakant 08.24.10 at 11:24 am

The local wal-mart carries far more general grocery items in-stock and at cheaper prices than the corresponding store in Australia (Big W)”

If the US middle class is so rich, why are they shopping at Wal-Mart?

174

libertarian 08.24.10 at 11:29 am

Let the free market do its work and most teachers would be unemployed. The few parents that could afford non-government-subsidized education wouldn’t provide jobs for 1/3 of them.

Ah yes, because it is a central tenet of every libertarian and conservative to abolish public subsidies for eduction. [/sarc]

In fact, quite the opposite. Most on my side of the political spectrum advocate vouchers and a competitive market for education, something fought tooth-and-nail by liberals and education unions who’d prefer to maintain mediocrity in education for all.

175

Zamfir 08.24.10 at 11:39 am

Walart’s the PPP part. Dollar to Euro, Europeans are well of compared to the US, but PPP calculations suggest that dollars are worth more in the US. The main explanation I hear is that big chains like Walmart can achieve much better economies of scale in the US than can be had in Europe, so stuff is cheaper.

176

libertarian 08.24.10 at 11:50 am

If the US middle class is so rich, why are they shopping at Wal-Mart?

Wal-Mart, both of itself and for what it represents, is why the US middle class is so rich.

177

Earnest O'Nest 08.24.10 at 12:37 pm

The news in the EU is that the US middle class is a threatened species – but we’re all communists here and we are willing to put public money to accept them back in our fold (as well as spend the limited amount of discretionary spend on tourist trips to the Wild West which will – once again – thrive as in the good old days).

178

Norwegain Guy 08.24.10 at 12:52 pm

Some comments:

1) I’m a little bit surprised if Europeans do more housework than Americans. After all, isn’t Europe full of godless feminists, while the USA prefers, to exaggerate, Children, Church and Kitchen? There’s at least far fewer conservative Christians talking about “family values” in Europe. I have gotten the impression that affordable child care like kindergartens are less available in the USA than in Norway at least. Judging from American popular culture it is also more common that elderly parents live with and are taken care of by their children, so perhaps care for the elderly, both in their homes and at nursery homes, are more often done as housework and not as social services in the USA?

2)Some have argued out that comparing the USA to individual (“cherry-picked”) European countries is pointless, and that you should only compare USA and EU. That is ridiculous. USA is one single country, while Europe consists of almost fifty independent countries, of which nearly half are not even members of the European Union. In fact comparing the USA and Europe doesn’t really make sense. It would perhaps make more sense to compare America and Europe, keeping in mind that America is two continents, not a country. So at least throw in Canada, Mexico and the rest of North America with the USA, and perhaps South America as well. I doubt that for instance Iceland has more in common with Moldova or Albania than the USA has with Paraguay, and certainly not with Mexico.

3)Once upon a time there was a lot of immigration from many European countries to America, including Norway, the last major wave being ending with the Great Depression around 1930. But even after the Second World War there were quite a lot of emigration at least from the less industrialized regions of the country, but even this tail end of the emigration from ended almost five decades ago. But, given that people usually migrate from poorer to richer countries, and that immigration laws in the USA were actually liberalized in the sixties, I find it likely that people stopped emigrating at about the time that the Norwegian living standard had caught up to the American. The end of mass immigration from Europe to America (or the other way) should indicate that the economic differences are relatively insignificant.

4)Has not median real wages been stagnant in the USA for about the last decade or so, or perhaps even longer? I don’t have the impression that this is the case in most European countries. This should mean that common people are worse of in the USA, although the capitalists might be better off. But the upper (middle) class is probably better off even in many third world countries with large inequalities, since goods and especially services are dirt cheap. It’s a class issue.

179

novakant 08.24.10 at 1:12 pm

Wal-Mart, both of itself and for what it represents, is why the US middle class is so rich.

So you have a single company determining your choice of goods and to make ends meet the middle class has to buy from that one company which can only achieve these low price levels if everybody buys the same things in large quantities and China keeps supplying it with incredibly cheap tat. And you call that “choice” and its customers “rich”.

It’s not as if we don’t have LIDL or Aldi et al over here, but rich people seldom shop there (unless they need something very basic in large quantities). Instead they go to Waitrose or their local baker, butcher or wine merchant and pay the premium for choice and quality without blinking. But keep deluding yourself.

180

roac 08.24.10 at 1:21 pm

Libertarian @ 156: That’s all very nice and touching. But please answer the question: Are you for zoning, or against it? If you are for it, how do you justify your position given that zoning is inherently an “arbitrary restriction on private development”?

181

sg 08.24.10 at 1:33 pm

Much as I don’t want to credit libertarian et al in this argument, I’ve got to say I find it hard to believe that the UK has more choice than the US, at any scale. The UK is an absolute shitstain for interesting shopping unless you’re filthy rich. Everyone else has to shop at the same 4 chain stores (H&M, Zara, Topshop, FCUK). Two of my middle class female colleagues wore the same necklace to work once, because they both had to resort to getting all their accessories at Accessorize.

The same goes for choices of pubs. In a lot of country towns you get a nice selection, with real British food (which contrary to its international reputation is really good), but in general (in the cities especially) you get Waterstones, Waterstones and Waterstones. Supermarkets are Tesco or Tesco Express, or that godawful cheap one with the home brand ales that taste like, well, like homebrand ale. If you’re wealthy you have an additional choice of… Waitrose. Or Waitrose. And in most suburbs you don’t get anything resembling a “local wineseller” where you can pay a premium to get a good choice. You get a corner shop selling a wide range of over-priced crap.

I was flabbergasted by the lack of shopping choice in the UK compared to Japan. I think actually in terms of diversity of stores you’re better off in Sydney or Melbourne than London, though perhaps at the rich end everything is different. And I imagine that London has much less diversity than any mid-size US city. It certainly doesn’t compare to anywhere I’ve been in Europe.

182

engels 08.24.10 at 1:53 pm

‘The same goes for choices of pubs … in general (and in the cities especially) you get Waterstones, Waterstones and Waterstones…’

If I was trying to buy a pint in bookshop I probably wouldn’t be impressed with the choice of beer either.

183

sg 08.24.10 at 2:00 pm

well engels, I never understood the objections myself…

I think you know the chain I mean though.

184

novakant 08.24.10 at 2:06 pm

And I imagine that London has much less diversity than any mid-size US city.

What, like Omaha or Kansas City (those two I know)? You gotta be kidding – you can get anything in London and not necessarily for a high price, if you know where to look. And while your average UK city center is incredibly generic indeed, you will find farmer’s markets, boutiques and small shops galore in prosperous areas, catering to the middle class and upwards.

Anyway, libertarian’s argument was that people are “rich” because they can buy cheap stuff from Wal-Mart – or H&M, Next and Zara for that matter. Fashion is actually a good example: if you were “rich” you wouldn’t shop there, would you?

185

sg 08.24.10 at 2:13 pm

indeed Novakant, you wouldn’t. And certainly people in the UK with money only shop there through lack of choice. I don’t know anything about US cities (hence “imagine”) but comparing London to other cities I’ve not found it particularly diverse outside of shops for the filthy rich (which tend to be a long way from where I lived, in any case!) Certainly, for example, shopping for men’s clothes in, say, Fukuoka (Japan) is a vastly superior experience to shopping in London, with much greater diversity and much better quality clothes for the same price. In fact, dwelling on that… the fact that muji and uniqlo, the Japanese versions of Wal-mart, are considered stylish in the UK says a lot about the quality of what you buy there – and the huge increase in price compared to Japan is also quite illuminating.

Of course Japan is hardly a libertarian paradise, so my opinion of London hardly helps in a defense of individualism vs. the “collective elites” (ha).

186

ajay 08.24.10 at 2:16 pm

The UK is an absolute shitstain for interesting shopping unless you’re filthy rich. Everyone else has to shop at the same 4 chain stores (H&M, Zara, Topshop, FCUK)

…or Uniqlo, Marks & Spencer (you forgot Marks & Spencer! Suppliers of reliable underpants to the entire British population for fifty years!), Austin Reed, TM Lewin, Muji, John Lewis, Gap, any number of second hand shops (the legendary King’s Road Shelter shop has all sorts of barely worn designer stuff discarded by the Chelsea classes), odd little clothes shops in Camden and west London and Clapham…

And it’s just complete nonsense to suggest that most British cities have nothing but Wetherspoons pubs. There are only 731 Wetherspoons pubs in the country. There are about 7000 pubs in London alone. You say you actually lived in London and you think there’s nothing there but Wetherspoons? How is that even possible? For any Wetherspoons pub in London, there is a decent, non-Wetherspoons pub within three hundred yards. Probably there are ten or twelve.

187

libertarian 08.24.10 at 2:24 pm

Are you for zoning, or against it? If you are for it, how do you justify your position given that zoning is inherently an “arbitrary restriction on private development”?

I am for choice. I hear some places in Texas have no zoning. Some counties in my state probably have no zoning. If I felt strongly enough about it I could move there. My county zones, but fairly loosely: residential, industrial, retail. They’re responsive to the county citizenry in that regard. The rules are clear, not arbitrary. On occasion the county does make arbitrary decisions but they usually get sued over it and lose. And they certainly don’t zone “rich residential” vs “poor residential” as you seem to believe. That is left up to the developers. There some super-swanky neighborhoods, middle-of-the-road neighborhoods, mixed neighborhoods, lower-end neighborhoods. You know, supply meet demand. I chose a big house in a mixed neighborhood over a smaller house in a swanky neighborhood, because that suits my requirements and taste.

188

sg 08.24.10 at 2:36 pm

have you ever worn Muji clothes, ajay? they fall apart very fast. Uniqlo is okay, but massively overpriced (to the point of being an insult, when you compare to their Japanese prices). I actually tried shopping in Austin Reed, TM Lewin and another business clothing shop in London, and I couldn’t get white shirts with French cuffs.

That’s right, in three different chain stores in London I couldn’t get a white shirt with French cuffs, let alone a slim fit white shirt. The price you have to pay in London to buy a nicely-fitting white shirt is exorbitant. So yeah, Austin Reed is good provided that you’re fat and you like checks. As for Camden – those “odd little clothes shops” are fine provided you are a woman, or like t-shirts with stupid slogans. They don’t constitute choice. Most market stalls in London are, incidentally, the same in every market. Even the markets are chains! Though that market near the Barbican YMCA does some nice food.

And yeah, there are non-wetherspoons pubs, though there are other non-wetherspoons chains, and some of them are good. But I really don’t think you can make much headway claiming that Britain (or even London) has a wide range of choices compared to other cities, especially for food and men’s clothes.

189

ajay 08.24.10 at 2:37 pm

187: you know, of course, that many of these European socialist hellholes that you decry don’t have zoning laws. This means that we suffer the blight of having shops, bars and restaurants within walking distance of our houses. But we suffer it gladly because of FREEDOM.

190

Norwegian Guy 08.24.10 at 2:38 pm

1) I’m a little bit surprised if Europeans do more housework than Americans. After all, isn’t Europe full of godless feminists, while the USA prefers, to exaggerate, Children, Church and Kitchen? There’s at least far fewer conservative Christians talking about “family values” in Europe. I have gotten the impression that affordable child care like kindergartens are less available in the USA than in Norway at least. Judging from American popular culture it is also more common that elderly parents live with and are taken care of by their children, so perhaps care for the elderly, both in their homes and at nursery homes, are more often done as housework and not as social services in the USA?

2) Some have argued out that comparing the USA to individual (“cherry-picked”) European countries is pointless, and that you should only compare USA and EU. That is ridiculous. USA is one single country, while Europe consists of almost fifty independent countries, of which nearly half are not even members of the European Union. In fact comparing the USA and Europe doesn’t really make sense. It would perhaps make more sense to compare America and Europe, keeping in mind that America is two continents, not a country. So at least throw in Canada, Mexico and the rest of North America with the USA, and perhaps South America as well. I doubt that for instance Iceland has more in common with Moldova or Albania than the USA has with Paraguay, and certainly not with Mexico.

3) Once upon a time there was a lot of immigration from many European countries to America, including Norway, the last major wave being ending with the Great Depression around 1930. But even after the Second World War there were quite a lot of emigration at least from the less industrialized regions of the country, but even this tail end of the emigration from ended almost five decades ago. But, given that people usually migrate from poorer to richer countries, and that immigration laws in the USA were actually liberalized in the sixties, I find it likely that people stopped emigrating at about the time that the Norwegian living standard had caught up to the American. The end of mass immigration from Europe to America (or the other way) should indicate that the economic differences are relatively insignificant.

4) Has not median real wages been stagnant in the USA for about the last decade or so, or perhaps even longer? I don’t have the impression that this is the case in most European countries. This should mean that common people are worse of in the USA, although the capitalists might be better off. But the upper (middle) class is probably better off even in many third world countries with large inequalities, since goods and especially services are dirt cheap. It’s a class issue.

191

ogmb 08.24.10 at 2:40 pm

“Wal-Mart, both of itself and for what it represents, is why the US middle class is so rich.” — libertarian

So awesome. Can I use this as my sig?

192

ajay 08.24.10 at 2:41 pm

sg, you were unable to find a white shirt in TM Lewin and you were unable to find a decent pub in central London. Forgive me for suspecting that, were you in Saudi Arabia, you would be unable to find sand.

193

ajay 08.24.10 at 2:50 pm

Has not median real wages been stagnant in the USA for about the last decade or so, or perhaps even longer?

Weekly full-time median real wage has fallen slightly for men and risen for women. Since 1979, it’s gone up 4.6% for the whole population. (The economy has grown in real terms 120% in the same period.)

The real median hourly wage has gone up 7.8% overall in the same period – again, it fell in real terms for men and rose for women.

http://www.epi.org/resources/datazone_dznational/
http://www.bea.gov/national/index.htm#gdp

194

novakant 08.24.10 at 3:07 pm

http://www.timeout.com/london/

Hope that helps :)

195

roac 08.24.10 at 3:09 pm

libertarian @187: OK. I have no choice but to accept your statement that your county’s zoning simply sets aside some areas for residential use, without imposing any minimum lot sizes, house footprints. or setback requirements.

In return, you will just have to accept my assertion that this is highly atypical. Most suburban jurisdictions have such restrictions, and their net purpose and effect, very often, is to force developers to building at a lower density than the market would support. Which seems like the definition of an “arbitrary government restriction” to me.

196

Zamfir 08.24.10 at 3:27 pm

http://www.tmlewin.co.uk/product.aspx/MenFormalShirts/MenShirtsWhite!19931

A white, slim fit, french collar shirt from TM Lewin, for 34 quid. They have the same model in a different white too. In general, their shirts tend to have over-the-top coloured stripes, not a style I like either, but the basics are at least available.

197

belle le triste 08.24.10 at 3:36 pm

london is a city i love love love and generally i find sg’s denigration of it spiteful and misleading, but here i have some sympathy with him: certainly taken as a whole it exhibits far more variety than many US cities, but it is very vast and very expensive to move round — expensive to live in, also — so that the variety is by no means accessible from some parts of it, esp. to those without means

the general priceyness is of course a product of lack of timely and imaginative intervention, in respect of housing and transport policies, both of which drive costs up stupidly unjustly for the poor, and also for those shop and stall owners who don’t decde to decamp, adding in the end to the pointlessly unnecessary burdens of the semi-well-off

if there’s a lack of choice in menswear, it’s surely partly driven by the average uk male’s absolute uselessness when it comes to clothing himself — he doesn’t know what he wants and doesn’t demand it…

o/t: re london transport policies — does anyone else think the boris-bikes look sinister? i can’t help worrying that at the appointed hour, the evil barclayborg that designed and supplied them will flick a switch, and all the riders will be carried, against their will, to some awful unspecified destination, and enslaved or devoured… other than that, they’re neat

198

libertarian 08.24.10 at 3:55 pm

roac @195: The county may well have such restrictions. They certainly have environmental restrictions (eg, I am not permitted to cut down any trees on my lot whose trunk diameter is greater than 5 inches – but neither can my neighbors and we all knew that when purchasing, which for most people was one of the reasons for purchasing here).

But there is no way the county is forcing developers to build housing at lower density than the market requires. In fact, before it would grant approval, the county required the developer to commit to building a minimum percentage of “affordable” housing: multi-family at $200,000 or less and single-family at $250,000 or less (those numbers are from memory). They also required land to be set aside for future construction of a school, greenspaces, construction of community amenities (eg the pool and clubhouse), etc etc.

199

piglet 08.24.10 at 3:59 pm

sg: “out of interest piglet does the same thing apply to libraries?”

We are lucky to have a couple of rich people in the region. They have donated money for a beautiful public library as well as a performing arts center and a few other nice perks. All these institutions are of course named after the main donor. Truth be told, the main donors donated only a fraction of the actual cost and the citizens put up a lot of tax money to support them but nevertheless without big donors we probably would have a lot less cultural infrastructure. Depending on your outlook, you may cite this as a success story of American philanthropism. I prefer the other system where every city has a library, fully funded by the public and simply called public library, regardless of whether there happens to be rich people looking for a way to eternzalize their name.

200

Myles SG 08.24.10 at 4:03 pm

I actually tried shopping in Austin Reed, TM Lewin and another business clothing shop in London, and I couldn’t get white shirts with French cuffs.

Custom order from Hong Kong tailors? British tailoring left quite a mark. About $60 per shirt. A bit more expensive if you order from the best Hong Kong tailor, WW Chan.

201

piglet 08.24.10 at 4:08 pm

“But there is no way the county is forcing developers to build housing at lower density than the market requires.”

libertarian you are such a joker. What you call “the market” is distorted by mortgage subsidies, highway subsidies, zoning restrictions, and a host of other direct and indirect subsidies, environmental and social externalities, and politically designed transfers of resources from cities to suburbs. Postwar suburbanization has been the biggest experiment in social engineering in American history. How could libertarians not have noticed?

202

geo 08.24.10 at 4:11 pm

libertarian @198: This is not a rhetorical question. Would you explain (again, if you already have) why the fact that “the county required” anything doesn’t automatically call forth a full-throated protest from you? When is it legitimate for a government body to restrict any nonviolent capitalist transaction between consenting adults?

203

ajay 08.24.10 at 4:18 pm

202: I promise that I am trying to represent Lib’s position accurately when I say that, apparently, his answer is “you don’t like it? you’re free to move”. See 187. This allows not only local zoning laws but even, say, local apartheid laws to be entirely consonant with his libertarian principles. You don’t like it? Move.

204

piglet 08.24.10 at 4:22 pm

PaulB 169:

Try buying the ingredients for a cheese and tomato sandwich almost anywhere in the USA. You’ll find that the bread is horribly sweet, the cheese tastes of nothing much, and the tomato has been bred for size not flavour.

Sweetened bread is my favorite example of capitalism destroying consumer choice. I’m glad even libertarian agrees on that one. I have done the experiment and can positively confirm that in the bread section of the typical US grocery store, there may be hundreds of different brands of what they call bread but not a single one of them that doesn’t contain sugar (in some form). Yes nowadays there may be one or two brands of unsweetened bread but they are in the organic or specialty section and more expensive. Similarly, every single one out of hundreds of brands of cereal contains added sugar. Not to mention pickled cucumbers and almost every other food product in the store where sugar usually has no business being an ingredient, everything contains sugar (for the pickles, the trick is to chose a kosher brand).

Don’t anybody try telling me that this has anything to do with consumer choice. That’s ridiculous. The smallest European bakery offers more product variety, more choice in terms of color, taste, and ingredients (and yes some of them sweetened, some not), than the bakery section of a Wal-Mart super-center. I dare anybody dispute that fact.

205

ajay 08.24.10 at 4:33 pm

204: Sweetened bread? Really? Ugh. Noticeably sweet?

206

piglet 08.24.10 at 4:43 pm

Wal-Mart, both of itself and for what it represents, is why the US middle class is so rich.

This is one of the most interesting statements so far. Surprising, again, from a libertarian since market dominance by a single company is expected to reduce consumer choice if the most basic economic theory is to be believed. I would point out that Germany’s Aldi is actually cheaper (because of better efficiency) than Wal-Mart. I would also point out that the range of retail choices available in Germany is far greater. You have Aldi and a number of other discount chains, but you also have small independent bakeries and butcheries, more upscale supermarkets, more different store sizes, and ultimately more competition. Of course concentration has happened in the German market too and small operations have gone out of business.

Why has concentration been so much more intense and competition so much more restricted in the US? Whether you like Wal-Mart or not, clearly this is an outcome that free marketeers shouldn’t be comfortable with. After all, competition is supposedly the life blood of capitalism. I would venture that deurbanization has played a major role. You need urban density to support a variety of retail outlets. Wal-Mart has built its base in the countryside and suburbs where low density and car dependency have favored the big box model and allowed Wal-Mart to exploit efficiencies of scale and capture market share, to a point where nobody can compete any more.

207

Philip 08.24.10 at 4:57 pm

Sg’s exaggerating but has a bit of a point. Most British high streets have the same chain stores and there aren’t many alternatives. There’s been a rise in Wetherspoon type pubs, mainly due to local planners wanting to develop the ‘night-time economy’ and rising tax on alcohol. So now most pubs are either wetherspoons type ones, established local ones where the landlord has probably paid the mortgage off, or gastro-pubs aimed at the middle class. I have no idea where he’s coming from about the food though.

208

libertarian 08.24.10 at 4:58 pm

The smallest European bakery offers more product variety, more choice in terms of color, taste, and ingredients (and yes some of them sweetened, some not), than the bakery section of a Wal-Mart super-center. I dare anybody dispute that fact.

I dispute it. It was probably true up until a few years ago, but most walmarts now have large and varied bakery sections with plenty of unsweetened bread (and other things).

I have a theory about what happened here. Originally, walmart made the low-end grocery-chain business very difficult for anyone without the purchasing power and distribution scale of walmart (ie, pretty much anyone other than walmart). At around the same time the US started getting more “yuppified” with middle and upper-middle educated consumers looking for more European-style fare, and with the money to pay for it. So there arose a variety of “upmarket” grocery chains (on the east-coast you have Wegmans, Martins, Harris-Teeters) that stock the basic groceries but make their money off more gourmet food: good wine, cheese, baked goods (in-house) and freshly prepared processed food. Some other lower-end grocery chains also re-invented themselves as more upmarket destinations.

Walmart has tried to make inroads into that market as well, but I think it is more difficult since they are seen as the cheapest option, not the most sophisticated option. I tend to shop at walmart for all the “basics”, and the more upmarket grocery stores for the rest.

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piglet 08.24.10 at 5:21 pm

“It was probably true up until a few years ago, but most walmarts now have large and varied bakery sections with plenty of unsweetened bread (and other things).”

I have never seen that. You must be very lucky or your definition of variety is somewhat restricted. Can Wal-Mart match this:
http://www.hofpfisterei.de/hpf_sortiment_natursauerteigbrote.php

Also, what is the price differential? I regularly pay $5+ for 1.5 pounds of decent bread.

210

chris 08.24.10 at 5:25 pm

I have done the experiment and can positively confirm that in the bread section of the typical US grocery store, there may be hundreds of different brands of what they call bread but not a single one of them that doesn’t contain sugar (in some form). . . .

Don’t anybody try telling me that this has anything to do with consumer choice. That’s ridiculous.

I think it has to do with market research: the bread companies baked some sweetened and some unsweetened bread, tested them on consumers, and more people bought the sweetened bread, so that’s mostly what they sell.

Simply because *your* choices are a minority taste doesn’t mean the product lineup doesn’t reflect the tastes of the majority of consumers.

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chris 08.24.10 at 5:26 pm

Hmm, something happened to my formatting: the first and second paragraphs above should both be italicized as quotes.

212

libertarian 08.24.10 at 5:26 pm

No walmart doesn’t match that. There’s almost no demand. But I seriously doubt you are linking to “the smallest European Bakery”.

I pay $1.50 for a 1 pound French loaf at walmart.

213

Norwegian Guy 08.24.10 at 5:56 pm

I would guess that one of the reasons that many goods and services are cheaper in the USA (thought I doubt they are as cheap as in Eastern Europe) is that the workers that are selling them are paid less. So the American service proletariat are paid significantly less, because of weaker trade unions, more downward pressure on wages from immigration etc. On the other hand in countries with less inequality and without a large underclass you have to pay service workers more, which causes shops, restaurants, bars, taxis etc. to be more expansive. And the upper middle class have to pay more to hire maids, gardeners etc.

214

roac 08.24.10 at 5:58 pm

Following up my 196, here is a concrete example of zoning in action, from a recent court decision: A developer owned land in Yuma, Arizona. Under the zoning ordinance, it couldn’t build on a lot smaller than 8000 square feet.

“In 2008, the Hall Companies determined that development of the subject property with R-1-8 zoning was not feasible because there was no demand for large lot expensive homes in Yuma due to existing inventory and the housing market decline. Consequently, the Hall Companies designed a housing project with moderately priced homes on 6,000-square-foot lots for low-to-moderate-income families, and submitted an application to the City of Yuma to rezone the subject property . . . to R-1-6 (minimum 6,000-square-foot lots).”

“[T]he Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing on the Hall Companies’ rezoning application. Several homeowners from the [neighboring subdivision] objected to the rezoning, claiming that “when purchasing a home . . . they expected to be surrounded for two-square miles by large lot expensive homes.” The homeowners further claimed that the Hall Companies “catered” to low-to-moderate income families and that people living in “the Hall neighborhoods” have large households, own numerous vehicles which they park in streets and yards, have no pride of ownership and do not maintain their residences, allow unattended juveniles to roam the streets, and use their single-family homes for multi-family dwellings.”

The planning commission voted to approve the rezoning, but the city council reversed their decision.

(Sorry, I can’t figure out how the blockquote tag works.)

215

piglet 08.24.10 at 6:09 pm

“No walmart doesn’t match that. There’s almost no demand. But I seriously doubt you are linking to “the smallest European Bakery”.”

Indeed, the “smallest European bakery” doesn’t have an online ordering service. But many smaller bakeries will still beat Wal-Mart.

chris 210: “Simply because your choices are a minority taste doesn’t mean the product lineup doesn’t reflect the tastes of the majority of consumers.”

“Consumer Choice” and “variety” are not the same as “reflecting the tastes of the majority of consumers.” Indeed, the latter is the outcome you’d expect from a socialist command economy whereas a functioning, competitive market should create the former. Which was precisely my point. There’s also the question whether it is really plausible that a majority of US consumers prefers sweetened bread. There’s a thing called corn subsidies that some observers have blamed for that so-called preference. Again, it israther ironic to see libertarians defend this particular status quo.

216

bianca steele 08.24.10 at 6:13 pm

It does seem rather implausible that there is a strong consumer demand for “whole wheat bread” that is actually white bread with added molasses and food coloring.

217

piglet 08.24.10 at 6:23 pm

If capitalism gives you white bread with added molasses and food coloring labeled as “whole wheat bread” then that is exactly what consumers want. Otherwise libertarian’s head would explode and we can’t let this happen can we.

218

libertarian 08.24.10 at 6:38 pm

But many smaller bakeries will still beat Wal-Mart.

No doubt piglet, but your claim was considerably stronger than that:

The smallest European bakery offers more product variety, more choice in terms of color, taste, and ingredients (and yes some of them sweetened, some not), than the bakery section of a Wal-Mart super-center. I dare anybody dispute that fact.

219

roac 08.24.10 at 6:44 pm

It does seem rather implausible that there is a strong consumer demand for “whole wheat bread” that is actually white bread with added molasses and food coloring.

Pretty sure I know who buys that kind of bread: People who have been told that they should give their families whole-wheat bread, have tried giving their families actual whole-wheat bread, and have had their families refuse to eat it.

(Personally I also refuse to eat bread with twigs and gravel in it, not being a medieval peasant without other options. I eat crusty white French bread pretty much exclusively. The Bread Line in DC, a block from my office, makes the best I have had (I’ve never been to France) but I can find an acceptable version in the local chains, if I look around. I am very far from convinced that white bread will kill you, but even if it turns out to be true there are lots of worse ways to go.)

220

libertarian 08.24.10 at 6:50 pm

Norwegian Guy @213: that’s part of the answer, but the other part is the US is also a more competitive and less regulated market.

Also, with high minimum wages you have a much larger pool of permanently unemployable and unemployed. One thing that struck me on first arrival to the US was how so many more categories of people are employed here compared to, eg Australia (but also the UK). You get intellectually and physically disabled people serving you. Much older retirees. You’ll see armies of these people doing menial jobs in theme parks, or at grocery stores, etc. The classic example is “wal-mart greeter”. Where else do you see that job? Someone who’s only task is to say hello as you enter and leave the store and possibly help you get a shopping cart.

None of these people are employable in Australia because they would not be productive enough for their high minimum wage. So they are forced onto unemployment benefits which pays less and is far less dignified.

221

libertarian 08.24.10 at 6:58 pm

roac@214: That’s happening all over the US at present because of the large number of partially completed projects due to the housing bust. The original homeowners have a legitimate beef: they bought under one set of rules and the developer sought to change those rules.

A similar thing happened in my development, only the original rules were flexible enough to allow the developer to downsize homes without requiring a rule change. Some people in the neighborhood got pissed about it and even started a petition but it didn’t get a whole lot of traction. Most people felt (as did I) that it was better to see the neighborhood completed with smaller homes than to have it half-empty.

222

piglet 08.24.10 at 7:13 pm

218: Gosh libertarian caught me. Truth be told I do not really know what “The smallest European bakery” offers so I will refrain from making that specific claim.

libertarian, haven’t you made somewhat stronger statements yourself earlier in the thread?

“Having lived in many western countries including the US, the US wins hands-down. You simply have way more choices and a higher material standard of living here, because the emphasis is much more on expression of the individual than the collective.”

Where are your examples of the “way more choices” Americans enjoy? Food? Housing? Transportation? Education? Nope. All these choices are way more restricted where I live now than in most European places that I know of.

223

Chris Bertram 08.24.10 at 7:16 pm

I can report that where I live in Bristol, there are several decent pubs within easy walking distance and one truly excellent one. At one end of my street (150 yards) there a high-end wine-merchants, a bakery, a tailor, a cafe specializing in tea, a barbers, and an all hours local shop, a good Indian restaurant and a Chinese take-away and various other places; at the other end (50 yards) there is a branch of Waitrose (high end supermarket), a cinema (!), a bookshop (!), two more restaurants, a butchers and a fishmonger. I can also walk to a club where the cream of Americana artists perform regularly. When I last visited Los Angeles, a great city in its way, the nearest shop within walking distance (about 25 minutes) was a 7-11 nestled next to a nail bar at a strip mall.

224

geo 08.24.10 at 7:16 pm

Would someone who has the technical chops (plus a grain of moral imagination) please address libertarian’s confident pronouncements in 220 and elsewhere about the evils of the minimum wage? Some CT readers may be bored to hear the refutation all over again, so if you’d prefer to link …

225

Uncle Kvetch 08.24.10 at 7:47 pm

libertedious: Also, with high minimum wages you have a much larger pool of permanently unemployable and unemployed. One thing that struck me on first arrival to the US was how so many more categories of people are employed here compared to, eg Australia (but also the UK).

geo: Would someone who has the technical chops (plus a grain of moral imagination) please address libertarian’s confident pronouncements in 220 and elsewhere about the evils of the minimum wage?

I can’t offer technical chops — will an ability to use the Google suffice?

Unemployment right now stands at 9.5% in the US.

In the UK, it’s at 7.8%.

In Australia, it’s at 5.1%.

226

chris 08.24.10 at 7:57 pm

There’s also the question whether it is really plausible that a majority of US consumers prefers sweetened bread.

Because it’s implausible that a majority of US consumers could have tastes different from yours? Have you conducted a taste test or are you just projecting your own personal tastes onto 300 million people (including millions of children)?

I am neither a libertarian nor defending the status quo, but the idea that it’s some cabal of sugar companies (and what, diabetes treatment companies? The sugar companies alone couldn’t possibly give away the sweeteners cheap enough to make 100% of the bread manufacturers include them *and* collect enough to profit from it) conspiring to force sweetened bread on consumers who secretly share your preference for unsweetened (but buy the sweet stuff by the millions of loaves anyway) is ridiculous, which is why I’m ridiculing it.

Most companies that remain in business for substantial periods of time sell what their customers want to buy. They go to great lengths to find out what their customers want to buy so that they can sell it to them. There’s a whole industry devoted to that. Any bread-company manager with more brains than a loaf of their own bread is going to commission some market research and shape their product line based on the results, and the fact that so many product lines include sweetening is considerable evidence that that’s what their market research led them to. The fact that unsweetened bread isn’t even available at Wal-Mart as a niche market product (if true; I haven’t confirmed it myself) implies that there aren’t enough Wal-Mart shoppers who prefer it to even sustain a niche producer or a specialty product apart from Big Bread’s regular production lines.

But if you want to conduct your own taste tests and post the results here, feel free.

227

libertarian 08.24.10 at 8:10 pm

@225:

1) Since the formal definition of unemployment behind your figures excludes those not looking for work, how does that prove anything about the kind of structurally unemployed/unemployable people I was talking about?

2) The US unemployment rate is currently nearly double its average for the past 20 years, with the most anti-business/anti-employment administration for the past 20 years. Comparing based on outliers is not convincing.

228

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.24.10 at 8:13 pm

Most companies that remain in business for substantial periods of time sell what their customers want to buy. They go to great lengths to find out what their customers want to buy so that they can sell it to them.

There is no need to go to great lengths. The customers want to buy beluga caviar, for a dime a pound.

229

Uncle Kvetch 08.24.10 at 8:47 pm

1) Since the formal definition of unemployment behind your figures excludes those not looking for work, how does that prove anything about the kind of structurally unemployed/unemployable people I was talking about?

Then you’re welcome to provide statistics that prove your point. Or you can just keep going on (and on and on and on) with anecdotes and impressions.

230

roac 08.24.10 at 8:51 pm

Everyone please note that libertarian, @ 221, has acknowledged that it is appropriate for governments to enact Intrusive Regulations to protect middle-class homeowners from having to live anywhere near people who have less money (and browner skin, and a propensity to eat food with lots of chile in it, which of course is what the Yuma case was about).

Libertarian inconsistency demonstrated. Mission accomplished. Now comes Miller Time.

231

Uncle Kvetch 08.24.10 at 8:55 pm

2) The US unemployment rate is currently nearly double its average for the past 20 years, with the most anti-business/anti-employment administration for the past 20 years. Comparing based on outliers is not convincing.

BTW, this was another little nugget of brilliance. So every sweeping generalization you’ve made about what the US “is” and “is not” in this thread was supposed to be taken with an implicit disclaimer: “Offer only valid when there’s a Republican in the White House.”

This is No True Scotsman on peyote. Good shit, man.

232

libertarian 08.24.10 at 9:27 pm

roac@230: Seriously? I guess that’s your lame face-saving attempt after all your implicit liberal prejudices were debunked @156. Whatever.

233

libertarian 08.24.10 at 9:33 pm

Then you’re welcome to provide statistics that prove your point. Or you can just keep going on (and on and on and on) with anecdotes and impressions.

I believe it was you who was trying to disprove the point with statistics Kvetch. And you’re welcome to stop reading at any time.

234

John Protevi 08.24.10 at 9:37 pm

I would like it if libertarian would address piglet’s point in 201. He’s been answering a lot of things as they come up, but 201 seems to me to be more important than the question of sweetened bread.

235

Uncle Kvetch 08.24.10 at 9:41 pm

I believe it was you who was trying to disprove the point with statistics Kvetch.

My mistake, then — I thought you might have something to back up those very confident assertions. Oh well.

236

John Protevi 08.24.10 at 9:44 pm

Libertarian, sorry to refer to you in the 3rd person in 234. Reformulating: I’d like it if you would respond to piglet at 201. I realize you’ve been taking on all comers here and that’s a lot of work as the discussion advances. But I think he has a good and important point in 201 and I’d like your take on it.

237

piglet 08.24.10 at 10:01 pm

I’m sorry chris 226 but you are getting into a rant mode. Your suggestion that the dearth of actual product choice at Wal-Mart and similar stores is a response to consumers not wanting choice is just ridiculous. It is simply not the case that consumers got to make the choice between the sweetened and unsweetened variety and the unsweetened was discontinued due to overwhelming consumer preference. What happens is that big producers adapt their production processes to make a loaf of bread as cheaply as possible while still approaching the texture and taste that consumers expect. Offering variety and catering to different tastes is not efficient from the point of view of the mass producer. They probably use the same base mix for all their products and add different colorings and flavors to fake diversity.

Years ago there was an article about how a British bread manufacturer revolutionized the production process (in Britain and those countries with similar food cultures) by figuring out how to embody a maximum amount of water in the finished product, the water being the cheapest ingredient. That is not a function of consumers preferring a high water content. If I find the link I will be happy to post it. You chris need to acknowledge that economic processes are complex and dialectical. Consumer behavior is always limited by what the market has to offer and contrary to your magical thinking, the market doesn’t automatically provide what consumers want.

238

John Quiggin 08.24.10 at 10:32 pm

@220 (and requests for a response) on the supposed success of the US labor market in employing a larger proportion of the population. Try the OP, which (as with reality in general), Dr L has managed to ignore.

239

Sebastian 08.24.10 at 11:22 pm

“When I last visited Los Angeles, a great city in its way, the nearest shop within walking distance (about 25 minutes) was a 7-11 nestled next to a nail bar at a strip mall.”

Los Angeles is a big place, it kind of depends on where you live. I’m perfectly willing to believe that much of Europe is denser than the US, but this kind of thing doesn’t help. I live in a non-downtown area of San Diego with a world class cheese shop, world class chocolate shop, many fine Asian restaurants, many fine South American restaurants, 3 grocery stores, and numerous bars of various types all within 20 minutes walking distance. For whatever that is worth.

But wait, horrible weather. Definitely don’t move! ;)

240

sg 08.24.10 at 11:44 pm

re: libertarian and minimum wages. In Japan every department store has a “greeter,” but they are a 社員, a company member, with overtime rates, social insurance, and all the perks of company membership that Japanese life provides. They are paid above the minimum wage, get an annual bonus (in good times) and have something resembling a job for life. They also have career prospects.

The decision to offer these low-paid jobs at casual wages doesn’t represent an effect of the minimum wage; it represents social and cultural choices.

241

sg 08.25.10 at 12:05 am

re: shirts, food and life in London and Bristol, I’m glad someone up thread was able to find a white shirt at TM Lewin because I spent a day shopping in London looking for decent work clothes, and a sizable portion of that was in clothing stores like TM Lewin, none of whom could supply me anything decent. One store told me that they had rejigged their shirt range to “city boys” which was why all the slim-fit shirts had horrible patterns (a tale I don’t believe – I just think that in 2008/09 the fashions were awful). This is not the same as not finding sand in Saudi Arabia- it’s a simple function of poor shopping choices.

Chris, you know as well as I do that your area in Bristol is representative only of life for a very select elite in a select number of towns. It’s not reflective of life in the vast majority of Britain. This is the point I was making above, that for the large majority of British the shopping choice is restricted to a few chain clothing stores, a few chain cafes, and a few chain supermarkets.

In Devon, for example, the quality pubs I have been taken to by my Father have always been out of the urban centres, in the homes of the rural elite. If we need to go to Paignton, Newton Abbot or similar for a meal, we fast find ourselves facing a choice of chains. There’s a great pub in a little village in the middle of Dartmoor, but it’s not exactly aimed at the urban working poor.

I’m willing to bet that the British curmudgeons on this site are all signed-up members of the campaign to save British pubs (especially Novakant!) which is hardly supportive of claims that there are very few chain pubs in Britain.

If anything I suspect this is at least partly a function of weak government regulation allowing the chains to take over just as Wal-Mart has done in America, combined with high inequality and class barriers (of course) meaning that no-one notices until it’s too late, because their little elite suburb isn’t affected.

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libertarian 08.25.10 at 12:44 am

The decision to offer these low-paid jobs at casual wages doesn’t represent an effect of the minimum wage; it represents social and cultural choices.

Walmart greeters are not “casual” sg. They’re walmart employees, with all the associated benefits, career path, etc that you speak of. The US doesn’t tend to do the big causal/permanent distinction that you see in eg Australia, because it doesn’t have the same stupid laws restricting hiring and firing decisions.

@220 (and requests for a response) on the supposed success of the US labor market in employing a larger proportion of the population. Try the OP, which (as with reality in general), Dr L has managed to ignore.

I didn’t ignore it, but the refutation seemed too trivial to bother with: that the US in its darkest hour since the Great Depression has been brought as low as Europe is not exactly a ringing endorsement of EU labor market policies.

243

piglet 08.25.10 at 12:48 am

novakant 84:

“France is slightly poorer than Arkansas; Spain and Italy barely edge out West Virginia and Mississippi, the poorest states in the Union.”

Excellent joke, thanks for that.

To wrap up today’s thread (time to leave), libertarian hasn’t demonstrated a single example of Americans “hands down” having “more choices” than Europeans. Can we regard that claim as settled?

244

sg 08.25.10 at 1:03 am

if so libertarian, what relationship does their existence have to the minimum wage?

I think piglet’s right. Your PhD in tourism hasn’t served you well here.

245

libertarian 08.25.10 at 1:13 am

John Protevi @236: ok. piglet gave three concrete “subsidies” that he thinks distort the market towards lower density housing:

1) mortgage subsidies

They apply to everyone so at worst they distort the balance between renters and owners, not between people who prefer high density over low density, unless there is some endogenous reason for renters to prefer high density.

2) highway subsidies

At least in my state, people consistently vote to have tax dollars spent on highway infrastructure (usually through bond measures on the county or state ballots). In the one dens(ish) city in my state, they also vote to spend money on the metro system. I don’t see a big distortion that is not also reflected at the ballot box.

Where there may be a distortion is the monumental investment in the interstate system. But A) that’s a long-sunk cost so doesn’t represent ongoing distortion, and B) the motivation was historically military, not primarily to promote low-density housing (Eisenhower saw how the Germans in WWII were able to efficiently move military equipment along the autobahns and wanted something similar for the US).

3) zoning restrictions

I can only speak for my own county but here the pressure from the county is more towards high- rather than low-density housing because it is cheaper to provide services. But the market pressure for lower density housing is simply a lot stronger. That said, there has been one large, medium-density, modern “township” type development, but not altogether successful. Difficult to distinguish the cause (many commercial and residential vacancies which may just be a product of the current economy, or may reflect market disinterest).

246

Philip 08.25.10 at 8:59 am

Sg you’re losing me now. I live in the North East (one of the poorer regions of England) and don’t recognise the limits on choice that you are describing. In the cities nearest to me Durham, Sunderland and Newcastle there are a range of pubs including Wetherspoons, traditional pubs, modern bars, and clubs. Okay lots of pubs in surrounding areas have closed in the last couple of years because they can’t compete on price and there’s a recession. The city centre ones still remaining can compete more on price because they have higher turnover and probably have no mortgage to pay.

I have a farm shop nearby where the meat is a bit more expensive than supermarkets but much better quality. In the cities there are Grocers and butchers which can compete with supermarkets on price and beat them for choice and quality, though bakers do tend to be chains or expensive. The main reason I use supermarkets is that they are open when I finish work but I try to do my shopping in town on a weekend.

There are plenty of independent cafes and restraunts, in fact chain restraunts tend to be more expensive and aimed at people visiting so that they know what quality they will get.

247

Chris Bertram 08.25.10 at 9:14 am

sg. This is tedious, you are obviously incompetent at finding good pubs or shops. Liverpool, a much poorer city than Bristol, has a great selection of pubs, for example. I’ve never been to Paignton or Newton Abbot, but http://www.beerintheevening.com/ suggests that there are quite a number of pubs in each, that they don’t all belong to chains and that some of them get high ratings. And you couldn’t find a white shirt with double cuffs in London? You tried Thomas Pink I presume? Or even John Lewis, for that matter.

248

hix 08.25.10 at 11:47 am

How many people below the top 10% in income does even care about those things discussed here beyond some nostalgic”oh the good old times 40 years ago without chains and small stores everywhere” talk of some above 60 ? I certainly dont miss expensive food or cloth stores and dont get the impression anyone else does. Zara and H&M are fine with me, KIK is aswell . And those who are not rarely really care about the quality of the cloth. The biggest eating out constraint isnt the aviability of ethnical restaurants either , its the price. Lets talk about healthcare, housing quality or travel instead?

249

novakant 08.25.10 at 12:18 pm

How many people below the top 10% in income does even care about those things discussed

A lot of people – there is a big, diverse middle range and we were talking about that.

250

sg 08.25.10 at 12:52 pm

Chris and Phillip, you do realise don’t you that the UK is famous around the world for how shit its food is? You’re trying to tell an Australian (or, well, anyone else really) that you have a wide range of good and cheap food choices?

Please.

Chris, I judge pubs not just on whether or not they stock a reasonably priced beer that won’t make me sick, but also on my risk of being assaulted, the stench of the toilets pervading the drinking area, and whether they serve food at all.

I was once in a bar in Covent Garden with 2 Japanese friends when some chap tried to pick a fight with the Japanese girl … a tourist. Please spare me from claims that there is a wide variety of cheap and nice “pubs and bars” in the UK. There is a wide variety of places where you risk being assaulted, and/or harrassed by the black man selling perfume in the toilet. There is a small number of actually nice venues.

251

chris 08.25.10 at 1:25 pm

Your suggestion that the dearth of actual product choice at Wal-Mart and similar stores is a response to consumers not wanting choice is just ridiculous.

Dearth of product choice? Don’t make me go to Wal-Mart and take digital photos of the shelves. (Going to Kroger wouldn’t be that hard, but Wal-Mart is way out in sprawl hell.) I promise you there will be dozens of products to choose from, unless they happen to be sold out of most of them and waiting for a bread delivery truck.

You’re just ranting because the product *you in particular* want (sugar-free bread) isn’t among them. So what? Wal-Mart exists to serve the market, not you. If you think there are lots of people with your preferences, why isn’t someone trying to make a profit serving them? Even if the bread would be slightly more expensive as you claim below, that wouldn’t be that much of an obstacle — someone with your preferences would surely be willing to pay an extra 10c a loaf or perhaps even more.

It is simply not the case that consumers got to make the choice between the sweetened and unsweetened variety and the unsweetened was discontinued due to overwhelming consumer preference.

Really? I look forward to your fact-based history of the US bread industry and the reasoning underlying shifts in its product lines. Or even an interview with a bread company executive. Because otherwise we could speculate at each other all day without resolving anything.

Americans’ collective eating habits and the waistline that goes with them are (in)famous worldwide, so it seemed to me like a handy explanation for a peculiarity of the American bread industry (assuming that it is one, I haven’t actually examined the product lines here and abroad in enough detail to even confirm that there is a difference).

What happens is that big producers adapt their production processes to make a loaf of bread as cheaply as possible while still approaching the texture and taste that consumers expect.

So if other consumers had the same disdain for sweetened bread that you do, manufacturers wouldn’t have been able to sell it. If “big producers” were as oblivious to consumer preferences as you seem to think, New Coke would still be around.

It’s not clear to me how sweetened bread can be cheaper to make than unsweetened bread when it has all the same ingredients plus the sweetener, but I’m not an expert on industrial baking.

252

roac 08.25.10 at 1:37 pm

libertarian @ 252: You “debunked” my claim that libertarians are hypocritical about zoning how. By saying that it doesn’t bother you that some black people can afford $375,000 houses in your neighborhood? Please.

My point is presumably clear to a reasonably intelligent twelve-year-old, if such were reading this blog. But let me recapitulate it in very simple terms:

Libertarians believe, or claim to, that all economic activity should be governed by market forces, without artificial constraints imposed by the state.

As applied to land development, the libertarian view should thus be: If you own a piece of land, you can build whatever you want on it. Period.

In fact, almost everywhere in the US. the state imposes zoning restrictions which severely limit what can be built where. You would think libertarians would be an a constant state of arousal about this limitation on Freedom.. Yet you rarely or never hear a peep form them on the subject. Why?

It seems to me that you tipped off the explanation way back at your 152, where you contrasted governmental restrictions imposed “at the local level in accordance with the wishes of the population” with governmental restrictions imposed by the wishes of “special interests.” In other words, you are quite happy to have the state impose severe restrictions on economic activity, as long as you are confident that the machinery of the state is safely in the hands of people whose economic interests are aligned with yours. In other words, money trumps principle (as it so often does, and not only among libertarians).

253

roac 08.25.10 at 1:39 pm

Reference in opening of foregoing should have been to 232, not 252. Obviously. Sorry.

254

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.25.10 at 1:47 pm

Wal-Mart doesn’t exists to “serve the market”, it exists to make profit.

255

libertarian 08.25.10 at 1:56 pm

In other words, you are quite happy to have the state impose severe restrictions on economic activity, as long as you are confident that the machinery of the state is safely in the hands of people whose economic interests are aligned with yours.

No, that’s not what I said at all roac. I am happy for the state to impose some restrictions on economic activity provided the people who are affected by those restrictions have a say in them at the ballot box. That is one of the reasons I like the US better than, say Australia: decision-making is more devolved here. Counties have control over land-use, schools, law-enforcement, water use etc etc. It may be somewhat less efficient to have so much duplication, but it makes for a much more representative democracy that is less prone to capture by narrow special interests. It also gives you a lot more choice: don’t like the way your county operates? Agitate for change or vote with your feet and move. This is also why I am very much against expansion of federal power.

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libertarian 08.25.10 at 1:57 pm

@254: yes, but it is very difficult to make a profit without serving the market.

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MPAVictoria 08.25.10 at 2:00 pm

sg:
I never had any problems finding good food or good shopping during my time in England. Heck even the Channel Islands like Guernsey have great food and a decent selection of shops. That said we all like different things. Maybe your tastes are just different than other peoples?

258

ajay 08.25.10 at 2:13 pm

There is a wide variety of places where you risk being assaulted, and/or harrassed by the black man selling perfume in the toilet.

OK, I am officially baffled here. sg somehow managed to spend a day looking for a white shirt in central London without success, but he can’t go into a pub without being pestered by mysterious Chanel-peddling Nubians every time he goes for a pee. The guy’s clearly inhabiting some weird Mieville-ish parallel city.

Chris and Phillip, you do realise don’t you that the UK is famous around the world for how shit its food is? You’re trying to tell an Australian (or, well, anyone else really) that you have a wide range of good and cheap food choices?

In other words, “don’t you try to tell me you know what your country is like just because you live there. People in other countries know far better than you.”

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belle le triste 08.25.10 at 2:28 pm

UK pubs are famous around the world for the risk being assaulted and/or harrassed by the black man selling perfume in the toilet. It was in King Ralph and everything.

260

sg 08.25.10 at 2:49 pm

are you guys seriously trying to tell me you’ve never experienced the toilet-based perfume seller? You go in, there’s a chap standing by the sink who has lined up his perfumes along the sink and hands you a towel as you leave, it’s a pound a shot for whatever fragrance you think will help you pull, and various other grooming devices too. In my experience the chap in question is always a black African, and usually it’s in a night club or in a bar after a certain time (about 10pm).

You guys don’t get out much do you?

And ajay, I lived in the UK as a child and an adult, my parents are British. I know exactly how shit British food is and what the rest of the world say about their visits – “the food was shit.” Trying to claim you have a wide range of cheap, good food choices is really beggaring belief – though I have noticed that British residents often have a skewed concept of “cheap” and “good.” Do you think the Tube is clean, too?

261

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.25.10 at 2:54 pm

It’s much easier to make profit without serving the market; market competition makes it very difficult. And the Wal-Mart phenomenon is a good illustration of that.

262

piglet 08.25.10 at 3:02 pm

libertarian 245:

1) mortgage subsidies : They apply to everyone so at worst they distort the balance between renters and owners, not between people who prefer high density over low density, unless there is some endogenous reason for renters to prefer high density.

Distorting the balance between owners and renters is significant since there are more renters in densely populated areas. But there is more to it. The mortgage subsidy is open-ended. The bigger your mortgage and the higher your taxable income, the higher the subsidy. It is well known that rich borrowers can make tens of thousands of dollars off that, way more than any welfare recipient in this country has ever received. Among the many consequences of that massive distortion: areas with a higher share of rich people get an extra boost from the federal treasury, and many home buyers have an incentive to chose a bigger, more expensive home. There is way more mortgage subsidy going into suburbs than into cities, but even within the suburbs there is also subsidy going into McMansions than into townhouses.

I think I have proven my point and will leave it at that. It is surprising to hear a self-described libertarian pretend that heavy-handed government subsidies don’t matter but hey, not all subsidies are created equal I guess.

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Chris Bertram 08.25.10 at 3:06 pm

Yes, I have experienced that, precisely once, in 1996, in a sports bar in central London.

Is the food in the UK shit?

Well it is certainly true that the UK has that reputation, one most recently recycled in some jokes Chirac made to Putin. But ethnic stereotypes can be tricky – if we could rely on them then an Australian’s judgment about other cultures would be _ipso facto_ worthless.

There is shit food and there is not shit food. I’d say that the UK has experienced something of a gastronomic revolution since the 1970s and that the gastropubs mentioned earlier in the thread are one (by no means unambiguous) symptom of that. I’ve also eaten crap food in France.

But is it any surprise that a man who can’t find a decent shirt also struggles to find a decent meal? My advice – get a copy of Hardens or the Good Food Guide next time you’re in the UK

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engels 08.25.10 at 3:13 pm

I’d say that the UK has experienced something of a gastronomic revolution since the 1970s

A nice Paul Krugman article about this:

http://web.mit.edu/krugman/www/mushy.html

265

piglet 08.25.10 at 3:14 pm

“Dearth of product choice? Don’t make me go to Wal-Mart and take digital photos of the shelves.”

Sigh. I pointed out that there are hundreds of different brands of bread and cereal. But tell me how they differ. My claim was that the Wal-Mart bakery section has less product variety than a typical and much smaller European bakery. Maybe we disagree on how to define variety – the same product packaged differently under different brand names doesn’t constitute variety to me – but let’s be clear on what we disagree.

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engels 08.25.10 at 3:33 pm

a much more representative democracy that is less prone to capture by narrow special interests

You are talking about the US?

267

libertarian 08.25.10 at 4:29 pm

The mortgage subsidy is open-ended. The bigger your mortgage and the higher your taxable income, the higher the subsidy.

Not true. The mortgage interest deduction only applies up to a home value of $1,000,000. And the AMT will likely catch you way before then.

It is well known that rich borrowers can make tens of thousands of dollars off that, way more than any welfare recipient in this country has ever received.

I always love this logic: a rich person paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax and supporting scores of welfare recipients who pay no tax whatsoever is actually ripping those welfare recipients off because he can claim a tiny portion of that tax back from mortgage interest deduction.

Among the many consequences of that massive distortion: areas with a higher share of rich people get an extra boost from the federal treasury

As above: areas with a higher share of rich people pay almost all the tax in this country. You do know that the top 1% by income pay more than 40% of all federal income tax? And the bottom 50% pay no federal income tax at all? It is indeed a distortion, but not the one you’re looking for.

many home buyers have an incentive to chose a bigger, more expensive home.

It allows everyone to afford a more expensive home. Where supply is restricted (eg Manhattan), it simply forces the prices up for everyone. Where supply is essentially unrestricted, eg the suburbs, it allows you to build a bigger home, or a more upgraded home, or to add a swimming pool that you might not have been otherwise able to afford. But it is not a direct subsidy for bigger homes per se.

There is way more mortgage subsidy going into suburbs than into cities, but even within the suburbs there is also subsidy going into McMansions than into townhouses.

Since the subsidy is blind to the kind of home you buy, the biggest subsidies go to the areas with the most expensive homes, which is probably Manhattan – not known for its McMansions. It is true that the areas with more expensive homes claim a greater mortgage interest deduction, but, as above, they also pay way more tax overall.

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piglet 08.25.10 at 4:48 pm

That the poor pay less taxes than the rich is a “distortion”, and $50,000 in federal subsidy is a “tiny” amount. Welcome to libertarian fantasy world.

269

MPAVictoria 08.25.10 at 4:59 pm

libertarian:
The reason that the rich pay more in taxes is because they have all the money.

270

Philip 08.25.10 at 5:05 pm

Sg I have never been harassed or assaulted by the people selling aftershave in pubs, I’ve never been assaulted in a pub for that matter. I wouldn’t judge a pub on whether it does food as that that is no their main purpose, I would judge it on the quality of any food it does provide.

You seem to be judging the quality of food that most British people eat on what’s provided in chains. I agree that they serve overpriced mediocre/crap food but there are better alternatives. I have lived and worked in Italy and Poland. In Italy the quality was better, you have to gout of your way to find bad food, in Poland it was no worse, but in the UK there was more choice.

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Uncle Kvetch 08.25.10 at 6:00 pm

a much more representative democracy that is less prone to capture by narrow special interests

You are talking about the US?

Of course he is. From a libertarian perspective, government by the principle of “One dollar, one vote” — as recently enshrined by the highest court in our land — is the very opposite of capture by special interests. Because after all, no one dollar is more “special” than the other. Every dollar is equal, whether it’s the product of good, honest, glibertarian suburbanites or decadent, collectivist urban elites, whether it went to a community college or Harvard.

What could be more representative than that?

272

libertarian 08.25.10 at 6:08 pm

piglet 1:

it is an unlimited subsidy.

Wrong.

piglet 2:

oh, ok, it is a $50,000 subsidy

Wrong again. Assuming 5% on a $1,000,000 mortgage with no AMT issues (we may be talking about an empty set of taxpayers here, but just for the sake of argument), you get a deduction of $50,000.

Now, I know Obama and the Democrats are keen to push marginal rates to 100% for anyone earning more than the federally-mandated maximum income of $250,000 (public servants, presidents, congressman and anyone else who works inside the beltway exempted of course), but right now the top federal marginal rate is still 35%, which means the most you can reduce your tax burden by is 35% of $50,000 or $17,500.

The minimum income you have to earn to get that deduction is $423,650 (top marginal threshold of $373,650 + $50,000). Federal tax paid on $423,650 is $118,586, assuming no other deductions. So someone receiving the maximum possible mortgage interest deduction gets to reduce their federal tax bill by a whopping 14% (=$17,500 / $118,586), and still pays more than $100,000 in federal income tax. What a crime against humanity.

273

libertarian 08.25.10 at 6:26 pm

Kvetch @271: My point is devolution of power to the state and county level is what makes the US more democratic. Your’s is just an argument for constraining the feds back within their original, constitutionally mandated boundaries. It is much harder to corrupt the political process with money if you have to do it county-by-county.

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MPAVictoria 08.25.10 at 7:23 pm

libertarian:
I love it! Most libertarians argue that the fact that the US is a “republic and not a democracy” makes it “the freest country in the world”. You are arguing the exact opposite. I would also question you statement that the US has a less corrupt political culture than other developed countries.

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piglet 08.25.10 at 7:48 pm

“What a crime against humanity.”

The mortgage subsidy, which can be considerably higher than your calculation depending on the interest rate, is an instance of massive government meddling in the market place and as such a “crime” against libertarian principles. It is mystifying but instructive to observe a hard-nosed libertarian defend that kind of meddling, presumably because it happens to align with his own interests. One would assume that libertarian principles would revolt against the idea of the government favoring a certain kind of living arrangements over another – but one would be wrong.

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libertarian 08.25.10 at 7:53 pm

I would also question you statement that the US has a less corrupt political culture than other developed countries.

MPAV, the further from the people you get the more corrupt it gets. So the feds are by-and-large the most corrupt (and corruptable) of all, and just as corrupt (if not more so) than their counterparts in other developed countries. They just have less power because states and counties do more of the heavy lifting. Eg, an Australia – US comparison:

Healthcare: US: private. Australia: federal.
Law enforcement: US: county. Australia: state
Elementary/Secondary education: US: county. Australia: state
Water: US: county. Australia state.
Tertiary education: US: private/state. Australia: federal.
Zoning: US: county. Australia: state.
Garbage Collection: US: HOA. Australia: county.

(I love that last one – almost the only thing councils (Australian equivalent of counties) do in Australia is collect garbage).

These are not watertight categorizations – there’s leakage between the levels. But by-and-large things are handled one level closer to the people in the US. Obama and the Democrats are doing what they can to change that (dumb, bigoted bitter-clingers cannot be trusted to make their own decisions), but they’re meeting a lot of resistance.

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MPAVictoria 08.25.10 at 8:00 pm

Libertarian:
As someone who has been involved in local politics I can tell you that it is just as corrupt as any other levels of government. The difference is municipal politics receives much less attention from the public and the media.

278

libertarian 08.25.10 at 8:02 pm

piglet 1:

it [the mortgage deduction] is a crime against poor people because it is an unlimited subsidy to the rich.

Wrong.

piglet 2:

oh, ok. How about: it is a crime against poor people because it is a $50,000 subsidy to the rich?

Wrong again.

piglet 3:

oh, ok. Will you accept it as a crime against libertarian principles because it is a potential a $17,500 distortion of the housing market?

Alright, if you insist. The feds should abolish the mortgage interest tax deduction and give everyone a flat $17,500 deduction instead.

279

piglet 08.25.10 at 8:12 pm

libertarian, please stop making up quotes. That is fraud, you know. I don’t like to repeat myself but anyone can look up 201 and 262.

280

Steve LaBonne 08.25.10 at 8:17 pm

…Healthcare: US: private…
…one level closer to the people…

Yeah, those raving populists at Aetna and UnitedHealth. Just in it to serve the people.

281

libertarian 08.25.10 at 8:28 pm

I believe I faithfully represented your sentiment piglet.

282

libertarian 08.25.10 at 8:29 pm

RE 280: you can’t get much closer to the people than a private purchase decision.

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Steve LaBonne 08.25.10 at 8:33 pm

RE 280: you can’t get much closer to the people than a private purchase decision.

You mean, you can’t get much closer to the people than a 30 year old corporate munchkin telling a doctor how to do her job. A position that is schmibertarianism in a nutshell.

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libertarian 08.25.10 at 8:40 pm

You mean, you can’t get much closer to the people than a 30 year old corporate munchkin telling a doctor how to do her job. A position that is schmibertarianism in a nutshell.

Do you actually consume healthcare services? It is true that the US healthcare system is a lot more expensive than it should be, but I have never had a problem with an insurance employee telling my family’s doctors what to do. That’s yet another lame liberal shibboleth used to try and justify government takeover of healthcare.

Believe me, if you don’t like the idea of a 30yo corporate munchkin making decisions for you, you’d really hate having a 30yo government bureaucrat ruling out vast swathes of treatments because they cost more than your life is worth.

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geo 08.25.10 at 8:45 pm

libertarian: Federal tax paid on $423,650 is $118,586, assuming no other deductions

Not a very plausible assumption. The ability (and inclination) to buy fancy tax dodges rises in direct proportion to income. The slope of the effective tax rate is very much flatter than the slope of the nominal tax rate.

That’s why Shakespeare said: “First thing we’ll do, let’s kill all the tax lawyers.”

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libertarian 08.25.10 at 8:49 pm

@285: You’ve obviously never had to calculate your AMT.

287

Uncle Kvetch 08.25.10 at 8:59 pm

My point is devolution of power to the state and county level is what makes the US more democratic.

And once again, your saying it doesn’t make it so.

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the government of my beloved home state, New York, knows that the claim that state government is automatically more “democratic” is sheer nonsense. Albany makes DC look like a model of probity and transparency.

As for counties, Nassau County on Long Island was a cozy, Republican-dominated gumball-machine of patronage and goodies so profoundly undemocratic that in 1994 a Federal judge (yeah, yeah…unelected! unaccountable! EVIL!) had to step in and force them to create an actual legislature based on one-person, one-vote.

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libertarian 08.25.10 at 9:07 pm

the claim that state government is automatically more “democratic” is sheer nonsense

Well, good thing I never made that claim Kvetch. Is there some kind of liberal retard school where they teach you how to create a strawman out of every argument? Obviously, local government is not “automatically” more democratic. But by-and-large, the more local, the more democratic.

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chris 08.25.10 at 9:29 pm

The feds should abolish the mortgage interest tax deduction and give everyone a flat $17,500 deduction instead.

A point of actual agreement between a liberal (me) and a libertarian (not much of a stretch to assume about you based on your handle)! Someone call Will Wilkinson!

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engels 08.25.10 at 9:38 pm

‘give everyone [sic] a flat $17 500 deduction instead’

Or better yet give _everyone_ the cash equivalent.

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Uncle Kvetch 08.25.10 at 9:42 pm

But by-and-large, the more local, the more democratic.

Well, that makes all the difference in the world. Thanks for spelling it out so even a retard like me can understand it.

In the context of state or county vs. federal governance in the US, it’s still utter nonsense.

292

piglet 08.25.10 at 10:35 pm

“I believe I faithfully represented your sentiment piglet.”

There is no need for you to “represent” my sentiment. 201 and 262 were explicitly about how market distortions have shaped suburbia. I don’t even want to discuss justice issues with you because I know that is pointless but at least I wanted you “libertarian” to concede these distortions, which you finally, halfheartedly did in 278. You can try all you want to have the last word, and you’ll probably succeed with that, but the record is clear that I was right all the time and you were playing games instead of just conceding the facts (and upholding libertarian principle).

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sg 08.25.10 at 11:55 pm

Libertarian, you said:

I have never had a problem with an insurance employee telling my family’s doctors what to do.

I know it’s hard for you to understand, but the healthcare debate isn’t just about your personal experience.

Also, allow me to fix this for you:

Believe me, if you don’t like the idea of a 30yo corporate munchkin making decisions for you, you’d really hate having a 30yo government bureaucrat ruling out vast swathes of treatments because they cost more than your life is worth.

should be

Believe me, if you don’t like the idea of a 30yo corporate munchkin making decisions for you, you’d probably prefer having an extremely experienced doctor supported by some very skilled statisticians and health services experts refusing to subsidize some treatments because they are not cost effective relative to an acceptable standard treatment.

If you don’t understand NICE, it’s probably better to just shut up.

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sg 08.26.10 at 12:16 am

chris B, you can rest assured I have no difficulty finding decent-priced well-fitting shirts in Germany, Japan and Australia. Also, as an Australian I think I understand the basic definition of good food, and I can assure you that British food is poor quality and overpriced, and it meets the stereotype of British food still. I note as well that choice of food depends a lot on how much money you’ve got and this is a major concern for people interested in inequality in health- who present some fairly objective support for my claim that food choice is very limited amongst the poor in the UK.

It’s certainly true that a revolution in food has occurred, but all it has done is brought the UK closer to the standards taken for granted in Australia and Japan.

For example, when I’m in Tokyo or Osaka it’s a trivial task for me to get a 3 course lunch, with coffee, for between 7 and 10 pounds. This lunch will come with perfect service, and it’ll be in a restaurant with nice decor. I have a choice of literally thousands of restaurants where I can do this. If I go into the Parco in Ikebukuro – just one department store – there are 3 floors of such choices. Where is the London version of Parco? There are several of these places in central Fukuoka, a city of a million people. The chikagai in Fukuoka contains more stores than the central section of London’s Oxford Street (though I’ll grant you it doesn’t have a muji or a Uniqlo), and none of them are major chain stores; it links to 3 other shopping centres, all more than 5 floors high, and they in turn link to other department stores and shopping centres. Tokyo department stores have separate buildings devoted to men’s clothing.

Which is why I say, London may offer a nice range of choice to the wealthy, but I don’t think that the UK stacks up against international definitions of “choice” and “reasonable price.”

Chris B, you also haven’t experienced the toilet-based perfume seller since 1996. Should I assume, then that you haven’t been to a night club since 1996? Because they’re quite ubiquitous in London clubs. Which, of course, are all you can go to after midnight because in the UK, “choice” means all the pubs close at midnight and you’re chucked out onto the streets with a bunch of drunk strangers to go find a nightclub. There is no town of more than 100,000 people in Japan where you would ever face such a “choice,” and it’s another example of the huge gulf in experience between happy academics in their elite enclaves and the rest of the country, when it comes to choice.

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libertarian 08.26.10 at 1:17 am

but the record is clear that I was right all the time and you were playing games

Ok piglet, you got me. All your talk of the poor subsidizing the rich in 262 was really just a smokescreen designed to hide your real concern “about how market distortions have shaped suburbia”. Who knew you were such a closet libertarian. But the simple fact is suburbia is the way it is because large numbers of people like it that way. So far all you’ve got is a maximum of $17,500 per house that doesn’t even go directly towards subsidizing suburbia.

Liberals can’t understand why everyone doesn’t want to live their preferred latte-bohemian lifestyle (hint: it’s not so great once you have kids), so they have to invent a giant market-distortion conspiracy rather than accept the truth that the majority of people don’t actually want to live that way.

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libertarian 08.26.10 at 1:25 am

it’s still utter nonsense.

You’re right Kvetch. I mean 6 meetings in a single month to discuss my local school curriculum and zoning with Arne Duncan and yet not once have I spoken to the county superintendent. Arne should be awarded the Leninist medal for central planning the way he manages to find time in his busy schedule for all 3,140 US counties .

297

piglet 08.26.10 at 2:24 am

As predicted, you are going to have the last word libertarian. Go on attacking me for “inventing” the mortgage subsidy, go on arguing that tens of thousands of dollars in transfers for individual rich home-owners are too insignificant for a true libertarian to worry about. You have made your point.

298

libertarian 08.26.10 at 3:09 am

go on arguing that tens of thousands of dollars in transfers for individual rich home-owners are too insignificant for a true libertarian to worry about.

I agreed the mortgage tax credit should be replaced with a uniform tax deduction. I just don’t agree that it has the distortionary power to create vast tracts of low-density suburbia where there would otherwise be bunny rabbits and Bambis.

299

Norwegian Guy 08.26.10 at 1:53 pm

Regarding the powers and responsibilities of state and federal government in the USA, it should be pointed out that American states have the sizes of small- to medium-sized countries. It’s not implausible that huge countries like China, India, USA etc. are too large for their own good.

“I am happy for the state to impose some restrictions on economic activity provided the people who are affected by those restrictions have a say in them at the ballot box.”

and

“At least in my state, people consistently vote to have tax dollars spent on highway infrastructure (usually through bond measures on the county or state ballots). In the one dens(ish) city in my state, they also vote to spend money on the metro system. I don’t see a big distortion that is not also reflected at the ballot box.”

This implies that you support democracy, even when people vote for stuff you don’t support, like having a welfare state, a national helth care system, rising taxes, restrict private property, nationalize industries, institute protective tariffs, ban narcotic drugs etc. Fine of you, especially since many libertarians do not agree. Hans Herman Hoppe thinks democracy is “the god who failed” and should be abolished. Many of the forefathers of libertarianism warned against universial suffrage, since the have-nots would outvote the haves, which they of course did, spelling the end of the classical liberal era.

“It also gives you a lot more choice: don’t like the way your county operates? Agitate for change or vote with your feet and move.”

Why should people have to quit their job, sell their house, and move away from where their friends and family have been living for perhaps centuries just because they can’t stand whoever is currently mayor?

300

roac 08.26.10 at 2:10 pm

Norwegian Guy, if you track the running exchange between libertarian and me on this thread (not easy to do as it is spread out), it will be clear that he has no problem with democracy as long as it is exercised only at the scale of the upper-middle-class suburb, where the economic interests of the upper middle class can be relied on to prevail. Democracy at scales where poor people (“special interest groups” in libertarian’s parlance) can outvote him, not so much.

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libertarian 08.26.10 at 2:50 pm

This implies that you support democracy, even when people vote for stuff you don’t support, like having a welfare state, a national helth care system, rising taxes, restrict private property, nationalize industries, institute protective tariffs, ban narcotic drugs etc.

Sure, but I also support choice. 50 states and 3,140 counties is enough diversity for people to experiment and gravitate towards the system they prefer. You like lower taxes and laissez faire? Texas may well suit you a lot more than California. I don’t have a problem with people choosing to live in a socialist utopia, provided I don’t have to live there and I don’t have to subsidize their choices. Yes, it is a pain to move, but that’s the price you pay for choice.

Unfortunately, we lose a lot of choice when too much power gets concentrated at the federal level, as is the case now. The founding fathers knew this and tried to constrain federal power but I’d say at this point the experiment has failed.

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