365 Comments

I think the fact that the EU has very aggressive antitrust and pro-privacy regulations and the fact that basically the only innovation to come from the EU's tech sector in recent years is making us click "Accept Cookies" are not unrelated.

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The eternal war for privacy is such a confusing thing - people superficially care, but in any implementation that matters they’d just prefer convenience. This goes for both gdpr in Europe and iOS14.5 in America, both of which are “privacy wins” but have really really hurt innovation and startups.

Second minor point on Matt’s post not related to yours - weird to point out stripe as an example of a “European company that went to America showing America is better” when their direct competitor Adyen (that stripe essentially copied) is Netherlands based, has a real public market cap equal to stripes fake valuation cap, and is overall significantly better financially and growing (whereas stripe is kind of in as much turmoil as a $50bb market cap company can be).

I don’t disagree with the overall point of American tech vs European tech, but think it’s an important note

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"The eternal war for privacy is such a confusing thing - people superficially care, but in any implementation that matters they’d just prefer convenience."

Privacy is also an excellent excuse for people to rationalize something they want for other reasons, like refusing vaccines or opposing camera speed enforcement.

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

So, I'm not a strict privacy absolutist. I absolutely am happy to see targeted ads in return for free stuff. I'm much more skeevy about government stuff where so often the "who cares about privacy?" line is in service of intense technocratic social manipulation and control strategies that are legitimately terrifying and bad. Shit like the Canadian government freezing the bank accounts of people based on what protests they attend is nightmarish. The extreme "efficiency" in governance sorts seem totally incapable and uninterested in effectively constraining the use of the excess visibility into people's lives that their policy means require to a manner that actually respects individual rights. The government should not be in the market manipulation/social engineering business and I don't see where you stop them if not at the data collection point.

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I view privacy as problematic when it only goes one way. That is, I'd be ok with the government having more visibility into my life if I had 100% transparency into how the data is used (including the ability to see specifically who uses MY data, and for what). Everything should have an electronic trail.

And yes, I recognize that this makes intelligence gathering (i.e. "spycraft") more difficult and expensive. Cry me a tiny sized violin. This fact does not change my opinion.

In fact this is a huge part of GDPR and CRPA and one of the only things I like about that law. I can file a petition to facebook, and they have to tell me exactly what they do with my data and where my data is stored, etc. I think we should hold governments to the same standard.

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I mean, he also ignored SAP, which has a larger market cap than Intel. The US certainly does much better than Europe in tech, but the number of successful European software companies is way larger than he gives it credit for.

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Look, any sensible thinking person ignores SAP if it is even remotely possible in their personal and professional lives.

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For a while in the 2010s, this was notably *not* possible if your personal or professional life involved "being at the airport, ever :P"

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founding

I only know about SAP from those airport ads. I had no idea that Concur was from them!

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To be honest I was mostly just poking fun at that damn ubiquitous ad campaign :).

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You’re not wrong

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>I mean, he also ignored SAP

It was founded in 1972? Your list of 'successful European software companies' probably has to include some that were founded after disco and bell bottoms

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Two of the three American companies he named were Microsoft (founded 1975) and Apple (founded 1976).

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Each of them is over 10x more valuable than SAP as well.

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I think the idea that the US has less of an absolute advantage in payments tech, when payments is such a heavily regulated thing, kinda supports the idea that more heavy-handed regulation = less economic dynamism

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Privacy is one of many areas where stated preferences and revealed preferences greatly differ (another being dating/courtship/mating/whatever-you-want-to-label-it)

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As a lawyer working for a software company based in the EU that serves EU-based Banks, I can confirm this is absolutely the case. The amount and breadth of laws that regulate privacy and subcontracting is frankly absurd - the contrast is really stark when you compare how an American bank handles the same issues. On more than one occasion I've seen these onerous regulations kill deals where they otherwise would've survived in the US.

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The irony is that in some EU countries (I’m thinking of France), the national intelligence agencies have really broad powers to collect information on their own citizens. I’m not convinced that companies tracking my movements is that much wire than a government agency doing the same thing.

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the government tracking your movements is done so it can easier to arrest you if they want

corporations tracking your movements is done so they can sell you stuff you may want

that's the big difference

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"Antitrust and privacy" are marketing for GDPR and not the actual motivation for the process, which is just that they don't have any large tech companies and so feel free to meddle with everyone else's.

All the other upcoming laws like DMA and Cyber Resilience have the same actual structure (only applying to large foreign companies and make their products worse in a way that sounds good), same penalty structures, etc.

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I think this is true, but not necessarily for reasons that policymakers could have easily foreseen 10-15 years ago.

It turns out that the dominant strategy for improving machine learning performance has just been “hyperscale your model’s parameter count”, and to do that, you need gigantic training datasets. A more fast and loose approach to data privacy makes it much easier to build those datasets.

It’s also worth noting that 15 years ago, we didn’t really know that the hyperscaling strategy for boosting ML performance would be so dominant— and consequently, that the adtech industry would generate as many useful by-products as it has. (Meta’s core products are probably net negative utility for humanity as a whole; it certainly wasn’t obvious a decade or so ago that giving them free reign would be at all helpful to human flourishing.)

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I have yet to see a compelling case for the "net negative utility" case for Meta. I tend to think of it more in the vein of radio and television, which continues to be used for bad things, and perhaps continues to be addictive/self-destructive for a small portion of audience. I get the idea that revealed preferences aren't everything, but I also trust that 3 billion users aren't using FB monthly without deriving any positive value from it.

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There’s a difference between “net negative” and “no positive.” I think that Facebook is pretty useful as a tool for maintaining contact with friends and acquaintances, for example. But all of Meta’s products are designed to be addictive and have (in ecological studies and experiments) repeatedly been demonstrated to make their users less happy and mentally healthy overall. Facebook and Instagram are like alcohol and cigarettes— products with some upsides whose addictive properties encourage people to use them even though it harms them.

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I don’t like that this is probably true but I also suspect that it is.

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

Writing as an American from Sweden, this essay strikes me as superficial, unsubstantiated, and just incorrect on its own terms.

Firstly, it misinterprets the reasons why the United States is uniquely successful in certain key areas (IT, domestic energy) as policy choices rather than just "not screwing up a lucky break." And it points the finger at European for dropping the ball when a lot of what they "did wrong" was just an issue of structural constraints and no-win dilemmas. And granting "the win" to Obama and Biden is granting them too much agency in this process. If anything, the policy choices that had more bearing on those successes in both Silicon Valley and Houston go back WAY further, to the first half of the 20th Century. And that subject deserves a closer examination from you here because Americans tend to think that tech, especially, is some new thing dreamt up by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, instead of an industry that saw its inception prior to WWII (and scaled out largely because of the war).

But, whatever the origin story, the salient factor for American Big Tech's dominance today has less to do with entrepreneurial genius, government policy, or anything purposeful like that. It's just a matter of size: the United States has Silicon Valley because it, alone, is the world's only rich, single market of sufficient size for an industry that rewards network effects and clustering. Europe (or the EU/EEA) is a single market on paper, but it has structural barriers that create friction for developing scale in financing, talent pipelines, and go-to-market. I can tell you all sorts of anecdotal stories about this as a founder and employee for both American and European tech companies of every size, but just imagine what it's like for a London tech office (still the dominant European tech city even after Brexit) to recruit tech workers from even neighboring France (impossible to get working visas, language barriers, Brexit-driven administrative nightmares, etc.) and compare that to the pool of 330 million Americans that any US tech employer can draw to Silicon Valley or elsewhere without any of that. Germany managed to make a tech giant in SAP right around the time that Microsoft was incubating, but SAP is never going to be able to draw upon a huge, captive domestic market like its tech peers Microsoft, Oracle, or Google. Since IT hardware is simpler to export, you have a different story for Europe there: chipmaker ASML is certainly doing quite well for itself coming out of tiny Netherlands.

China and India are the only two other continent-sized countries with huge population that could scale like this, but both of them are still poor on a per-capita basis, retain significant internal barriers for business even within their own countries, and are extremely difficult to recruit foreign talent into. China has its Alibaba and India its Infosys, but they're likely never going to surpass their American competitors as long as the United States is still the only really big, really rich country.

Energy is an even more obvious area where the United States is just plain lucky. The oil boom started in Pennsylvania and America was the world's largest exporter until the 1970s and now again today. Europe (ex. Russia) basically doesn't have fossil fuels. Norway's production is enough to make Norwegians rich, but nowhere near enough to even feed Scandinavian energy demand, much less the entire EU's. Yes, some European countries could have joined the fracking boom (and you neglected to mention how some like Poland, Romania, and Denmark actually did), but that wouldn't have moved the needle significantly. Europe just doesn't have this option on the table, whatever their qualms. Again, structural factors matter: Sweden transitioned away from oil in the 1970s not for environmental reasons, but purely for pragmatic ones after the various oil crises of the decade threatened to derail their heavily industrialized economy that lacked domestic fossil fuel access. The Swedes quickly built out hydropower and nuclear power at a fast clip because that's what Sweden could do. For France, lacking hydropower, their answer was the world's biggest concentration of nuclear power plants. Germany could have chosen to take after France, but they instead fell back on that Ol' Ruhr Valley Reliable: coal. A fateful decision that continues to haunt them. The UK and Denmark have now been opting for wind because that's what they have a lot of, just like Spain and Italy are going big on solar, and Norway and Sweden continue to enjoy their geographic gift of abundant hydropower. Iceland, famously, leverages its geothermal resources to not only be largely energy-independent, but also to dominate the aluminum smelting market with some of the cheapest electricity and industrial heat in the world.

Aside from Germany and their peculiar and paradoxical anti-nuke Green politics and soft-on-Russia Ostpolitik, I don't see a lot of evidence of Europeans lacking pragmatism or making stupid decisions on energy. Yes, I absolutely would have loved to see the EU and ECB itself take a bigger role in facilitating the green transition and maybe even resolving some of the cost and scaling issues of nuclear power with some subsidies, but that's the weakness of a contested federal system, isn't it? We have had the same issue in the US for decades until "Bidenomics" (which, as you have written about, isn't an unmitigated success yet). Mostly I just see Europeans making pretty good choices within some major structural constraints.

But that's not a story that Americans like to hear. Europe is a dark mirror for Americans, either a Utopia or a Dystopia! A shining exemplar or a miserable failure! Maybe both...? But couldn't it be true that Europe isn't perfect but is just... doing fine? And that it's not just a "good place to vacation," but also a great place to live?

And that Europe is arguably even better for the median European than the United States is for the median American, by most objective standards? (Glove thrown!)

You mention (and wave off) the embarrassing issues of the Great American Life Expectancy Deficit, where Europe is clearly wiping the floor with the United States. But you could have mentioned all sorts of other quality-of-life factors, too, even the ones that Americans pride themselves on. We all know that Europeans have it made when it comes to vacation time, paternity leave, healthcare access, public transit, unionization and working conditions, walkable cities, delicious food, non-toxic environment, and joie de vivre-type stuff like that. But what about all the materialist pleasures that Americans ostensibly value? The country where you can get hella rich, even if it kills you, bro! Though Americans do make higher salaries and pay lower taxes, they actually have a much lower household savings rate than Europeans. Which is pretty obvious when you account for all the things that those (slightly) higher salaries are supposed to pay for on the (crazy inflated) private market: a (big, expensive) car for every adult, five-figures in daycare for every child under age 5, thousands out-of-pocket for healthcare (with "good" insurance!), ruinous costs for eldercare for all those Boomers, etc. Stuff that is covered in the (slightly higher) taxes for most Europeans. Also, we tend to assume that workaholic Americans are always working, but it turns out that they're not: the US also has much a lower labor participation rate than "lazy" Europe. A shocking and under-discussed issue that is related to the sorry state of our safety net and healthcare "system." Americans also don't own their homes at the same rate as Europeans, and their experience as renters is far worse than their European peers. They have higher poverty, too, both in relative and absolute terms. So, it turns out that we Americans are not actually so rich, in practice, but we will certainly die tryin!

That type of stuff might not register to well-compensated Substack columnists who experience Europe as tourists, but it is exactly the kind of stuff you should be interrogating when making statements about how the US "beat Europe." This isn't to say that the US is a dystopia or miserable failure, either. Both places house among the luckiest humans alive or dead, living a lifestyle unimaginably abundant for most people who have ever lived. But, in terms of making that abundant life abundant for a wider swath of the population than only the top 20%, Europe still has a lot to teach Americans.

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There are many good points in here (none of which contradict what matt wrote, imo) mixed into a gish gallop of irrelevant assertions.

Fundamentally, though, "don't screw up a lucky break" is the most important achievement that's realistically within reach of ordinary politicians and it makes no sense to despise or belittle it.

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Yeah, I read the part about "you attributed it to policy when it was really not screwing up" and like…?

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But my point is that Europe didn’t even have the option to success-by-not-screwing-up on these. Europe never had a lot of oil and natural gas, to chose to cultivate well or not. And Europe in its current configuration could never have been the world’s software or cloud tech leader, even with the best possible policy environment (unless, for some idiosyncratic historical reason, the United States had just never gone down that road at all).

So, while Matt is writing an essay patting the Obama and Biden Administration for “beating Europe” and pulling ahead since 2008, I’m saying that they basically governed a lucky country and just didn’t get too much in the way, but that even the worst president (like, say, Trump) couldn’t stymie this success.

And, conversely, I’m saying that Europe is doing just fine, despite its relative lack of luck on those structural fronts and an arguably suboptimal decision making at the EU level.

In other words, this isn’t a Great Man of History story.

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>And Europe in its current configuration could never have been the world’s software or cloud tech leader<

Because the laws of the universe require Europe to be "in its current configuration"?

I agree the long legacy of many different events and structures impart a significant advantage to the US over Europe when it comes to the tech sector. But this doesn't seem to be a situation Europeans qua Europeans are *fated* to live with. Rightly or wrongly they simply prioritize other things over a robust tech economy.

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The central error in this essay and comments responding to it is that the US *chose* a robust tech economy. It didn't. But a robust tech economy is what happened, largely in pursuit of other goals, entirely: the (very messy, corrupt and fascinating) story of the 19th Century development of the Trans-Continental Railroad, the build-out of the military-industrial complex during and after WWII, and the Cold War Era prerogative to stay ahead of the Soviets in fields like rocketry, surveillance, and war-proof telecommunications. None of these initiatives was aimed at the B2C consumer tech revolution that came in the form of Personal Computing in the 1970s/80s, the Internet in the 1990s, and the various waves of online moneymakers since.

Europeans also wanted to develop all those same things that the US did from the late 19th Century through WWII and the Cold War. And they did. Much of that technology was obviously developed in Europe, first. But where Europe simply couldn't keep up was when the computing and Internet revolutions gave us a new definition for "tech" that is now synonymous with IT. And that's because of the structural scaling constraint that I mentioned above. The US was fertile ground for personal computing and Internet businesses to take off and Europe wasn't (and still isn't) for no fault of policymakers or any strategies they may have created or attempted to execute.

It's hard for us to remember now, but these waves of computing advances happened *despite* (and maybe even because of) Washington's disinterest in the burgeoning sector. You can look up clips and articles from the 1970s, 80s, and even 90s with prominent politicians dismissal or even hostility to something so useless. So it often is with consumer tech. It's hard to see where it will go, even as the inventor of the technology.

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"And that Europe is arguably even better for the median European than the United States is for the median American, by most objective standards? (Glove thrown!)"

Median individual income, $USD PPP-adjusted:

Germany: $32,133

France: $28,146

Sweden: $32,772

UK: $25,407

USA: $46,625

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Every time I see some statistic indicating just how badly the non-rich-Londoners are doing in the UK, I think "there's no way they can surprise me again at just how badly they're doing".

And yet they keep coming through for me.

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I really worry about the UK. It's one of the very few countries the US can actually count on with regard to defense, so their economic woes are becoming a serious security problem.

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One of the most disappointing aspects of the Biden administration foreign policy has been apparent reticence to fully embrace the UK after Brexit and go all-in on integrating the UK into a North America+ economic bloc. If some of the reporting is to be believed and this is partly because of some kind of cranky Irish anti-British sentiment on Biden's part, its even more disappointing.

One of the comments above made the point that not screwing up a lucky break is one of the important achievements realistically available to a politician, and Biden seems to be screwing this up. With the right strategic perspective, Brexit was a lucky break for the US -- the EU's loss could be our gain.

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Adding the UK to USMCA seems like a no-brainer. The Northern Triangle countries should probably be added too. If it gets Biden on board or avoids difficult Northern Ireland issues, add the Republic of Ireland.

Edit: To be clear, I think the UK is important enough from a defense perspective and large enough that the US should enter into a bilateral free trade agreement if for some reason USMCA isn't feasible. Add Ireland to the agreement if that makes it easier.

The Northern Triangle is such a problem that just slashing US barriers to imports from the NT would be desirable by itself, no need to even make it bilateral or part of USMCA if that would cause a delay.

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Yes. USMCA plus UK, Northern Triangle and Japan, and there's a region that runs the gamut from very poor low wage manufacturing to the highest of high value , high tech -- a base for a complete national security sensitive supply chain that's in a position to negotiate trade terms with the rest of the world from a place of strength and independence, rather than dependence.

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Yea, Europe's genuine advantage in "more government provision of public and club goods including transport, childcare, and healthcare" does NOT suffice to close a 40-50% shortfall in household income.

It'd be wonderful if the US could get better at those things, but I am firmly convinced it's unnecessary to do most of what Europe does in order to do so, and most of "what Europe does" just decreases well-being without any countervailing benefits, concealed by a genuinely better approach to healthcare, urban planning, and some forms of social insurance.

If the US had better transit, universal catastrophic coverage health insurance, a 1% payroll tax feeding a $500/mo child cash subsidy for 0-5's (basically reinsurance for childbearing, and an actual subsidy from old to young for once), better public safety in urban centers, and more robust anti-trust and anti-rent policy in many sectors, we would open the QoL gap so wide that our model would just be plainly better in every way.

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While I would like to see all of it, there are some pretty huge asks in your last paragraph. "Better transit" and "better public safety" especially are outcomes rather than policies.

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Agreed, though there are straightforward policies to get us there.

My overall point is that the current US model works better than the current European for all but a few fields of endeavor/economic sectors, most especially healthcare, childcare, and transportation. Those three are big and crucial enough that good European policy there conceals just how *terrible* European policy on basically everything else is.

TL;DR: We overregulate construction and childcare, and underregulate healthcare, but otherwise our balance of regulation on most other fields is decent, if a bit permissive towards rent-seeking. The Europeans do better on those three sectors but overregulate the ever-loving fuck out of everything else, most egregiously labor markets.

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Congrats, you churlishly ignored my entire point. If you live in NYC and make $20/hour, but your rent is $3,000 and I live in Indianapolis and make $10/hour, but my rent is $1,000 (with other costs cheaper to an equivalent degree), who actually living a higher standard of living?

What matters is your spending power, after your mandatory expenditures.

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You mentioned objective metrics, and I provided a pretty important one. Also the figures I shared are adjusted for cost of living differences, so we're comparing indy apples to indy apples here.

Now, if you're willing to have your income cut by a third in order to ride trains more and have your health insurance paid indirectly by taxes as opposed to being paid indirectly by your employer, then that's totally cool! But those are subjective preferences, not objective metrics.

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Dude, you are not seriously going to argue that rent in Europe is cheap, now, are you? Europe is a fantastically densely populated continent, lots of it in areas with big constraints on housing construction (my favorite being the law in Munich that no building is allowed to be taller than one of the cathedrals), and rent prices reflect this.

NYC, SF, and Seattle are probably the only US markets that can hold a candle to how expensive rent is in places like Germany, and that is IF you can find a vacancy.

Also re: Spending power, Europe is expensive. Some of this is because of VAT, some of this is because of higher wages, some of this is sin tax (I am sure living in Sweden, you are familiar -- what's a pint of beer going for these days? 100 Krona? So... $10 for a beer? Probably $12-$13 in Oslo?), some of it is because of price floors (I mean, France *literally* has laws about when things can go on clearance sale), some of it is because of (here's that word again) rent, some of it is supply side constraints. There are cheap grocery stores like Aldi, but in general going out, buying clothes, etc, are all expensive in Europe.

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Cost of rent is, indeed, lower on average in Germany than in the US. You can look that up on any cost-of-living site. It’s obviously more complicated than that because most people aren’t comparing the country as a whole but individual cities where they can find employment. And, there, too, you’ll find that Berlin is cheaper than New York City, for example. But Munich is certainly more expensive than many medium-sized American cities. Which isn’t a like-for-like comparison.

It’s a similar story in Sweden. I own two units here. One’s a lake house in a rural area that is cheaper than any lake house I could ever imagine anywhere in the US, especially now. The other is a more expensive coop in Stockholm, which costs about the same as a equivalent unit in, say, Washington, DC. So, it’s a mixed bag, but my overall housing cost here is cheaper.

As for shopping, that doesn’t matter either way because it’s a small percentage of anyone’s total expenditure in either country. Food is a bigger line item, and the food costs used to be more expensive but now aren’t anymore with recent inflation in the US. I visited the US in April and my groceries cost the same or even more than they do here. (Ditto with shopping generally, which used to be noticeably cheaper in the States, so that I would do a lot of my buying there… but the difference is now basically nothing, aside from some specific items like books, physical movie discs, and some electronics).

Where I’m arguing things get *significantly* cheaper is in stuff like transport, healthcare, childcare, education, and eldercare. Those are big, fat chunks of your household expenditure and I save a shit-ton on them here. Sometimes single American dudes with no dependents or health problems who have professional jobs can’t see as much difference, but as they age or amass families, they absolutely will. I would have to earn double what I make in Sweden to have the same welfare. Which isn’t impossible, but isn’t a given. And if I weren’t a higher earner and just a regular, median Swede or American, I would find that my costs were much higher in the US without a much higher income (or even much lower income if I were a lower-paid service worker or non-union manufacturing employee).

Now, this is also a more complicated comparison to make, since there are different consumer preferences people have and also every person’s situation is different and not reducible to averages or medians. A given American is going to generally be able to afford a larger McMansion type house or a big, oversized SUV than a European, since those things are pretty niche here. If that’s the consumer preference and consumption measure we’re working from—and the American avoids expensive stuff like health problems, having kids, or aging—then the American might be doing better in the middle of their life. Also, certain fields just lay so much better in the US than here that the American would probably be better off than their peer, even with higher costs: skilled healthcare worker comes to mind.

But I maintain my point that the median person is doing better here than there, and that there’s a lot of quantified data to back that.

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I think the McMansion comment is strawmanning, and I think you do that a fair bit in this thread. You make a lot of comparisons to DC or to NYC but that isn't where the median american lives. We can talk anecdotally or we can use data, but the median European absolutely lives in a denser area than the median American. We are extremely spread out.

There are many (many) places in the US where you can buy 4beds, 2 baths, and a half acre of land for $350k or less. If you want to get real rural, half an acre is probably thinking too small.

Sure, none of them are near Chicago, or NYC, or SF, or DC. But I am not comparing those cities to "Europe", and if I were, I'd restrict myself to cites like London, Munich, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam (Oslo, to be quite frank, probably doesn't make the cut). I think you can find tons of both anecdotal and statistical evidence that the big European cities can totally pull their weight in all the "wow this shit's expensive" categories with the US. And aside from NYC, many of them would win in the "wow this shithole of a building is expensive to live in" competitions.

It's hard to tell because I am not sure if Germany has a Zillow, but I doubt you can get that for less than $600-700k in most places (quick google leads me to guess the median home price is currently 529k euro), definitely not in a city as big as, say, Memphis, or OKC.

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I’ve lived in two of the most expensive cities in the world: Dublin and Stockholm. I’m not denying that they’re expensive. Dublin is more expensive than Washington, DC, and has no right to be, given the local salaries. It’s definitely approaching “wow, this shithole is expensive and not worth it” territory, as many Irish people and immigrants/expats, alike would agree. Stockholm isn’t unreasonable in local affordability terms, but it’s still very pricey. All three cities are way more expensive than most in the United States or Europe.

Oslo and Norway generally are eye-wateringly expensive, yes. But Norway is also really rich. Like Switzerland, which is also really expensive and really rich. They are outliers, like San Francisco in California in the US. But unlike California, neither city or country has a major issue with relative or absolute poverty or homelessness. And that tells you something about the distinction I’m drawing here.

Most of Europe, like most of the US, isn’t filled with expensive housing in global cities occupied by high-paid tech or finance professionals. I currently live in a very cheap, working class part of Sweden that is the opposite to Stockholm, having decamped from there due to the opportunities presented by COVID and remote working. Anyone could afford a home here where I live. My wife once “bought” an apartment here in her youth for free, literally. (She, like many Swedes, moved out long before it’s normal for American teens to do so—who can afford it!?) I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the price for the house on a lake I live in. We bought it back before COVID hit without even much consideration, given the minuscule cost. And there are places like this all over Sweden, where most everyone can afford a home (and even a vacation property) and a nice, middle-class life generally on a very modest salary.

That’s even true in poorer places like Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece, where unemployment has been relatively high and salaries low, but people still owned their homes and still lived better than an underemployed American their same circumstances would. They aren’t doing as well as Swedes, but they are doing better than you’d expect for an economically struggling part of the European Union. If only we Americans could say that same for Appalachia, the Deep South, or the Rust Belt.

These are, all, snapshots. That’s why I draw on median statistics to smooth them out to something more comparable. It’s not perfect because there are too many variables at play, but I’m at least trying to offer more data and fewer generalizations than the essay above this Comment section.

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Indy underrated place to live

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What does that mean? After taxes? After taxes and transfers? Value of public sector goods/services? Only people who earn income but not their dependents ("individuals")? Also, sources? And life expectancy is far from the whole enchilada, but it ain't nothing!

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I recently worked on a transaction where the company I worked for bought a smallish software company based in the EEA. I was absolutely shocked to see the salaries of the CEO, COO and CTO which were easily 3-5x less what they would've been at an American equivalent.

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This isn't EEA, but my employer pays entry level software engineers in solidly MCOL cities in the US more than twice as much as they pay senior software engineers in London. And it's common for the US SWEs to whine about how we're underpaid compared to big tech.

I do think I'd much rather be poor in northern Europe than the US, but when I've looked at how much less I'd make if I moved, it's a huge lifestyle cut. Plus, if I was on a work visa, I'd have even more employment/health precarity than I've got in the US. Instead of taking short term disability for an illness I could be deported!

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100% agree. It's probably better to be poor in Europe but unambiguously better to be middle class or rich in the US.

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It is clearly better to be poorer in Europe and upper middle class in the US. If you are “rich” there are very subjective trade offs to be made as the cost differences shrink in relative terms.

But this thread shows that for the middle class it really isn’t clear what is better. The trade offs depend on circumstances and people differ on how they weigh them. Otherwise there wouldn’t be as much contention whenever this is brought up.

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Interesting. There's a lot here. One point -- I think you handwave Silicon Valley dominance and make it seem far more deterministic than it was / is. Our tax structure is a huge part of it. Our bankruptcy laws are a huge part of it. Our regulatory environment is a huge part of it where the default EU position is protectionist. Our universities and especially attracting top international students - as Matt highlights - are a huge part of it. There's a reason more companies are being started right now in the US than in Germany. It's really hard and really expense to start a company in Germany. The inability of the EU to foster a more dynamic start-up economy is a long-term and still current policy failure.

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I got shit to do but am going to make the extraordinarily well-understood point:

“Though Americans do make higher salaries and pay lower taxes, they actually have a much lower household savings rate than Europeans.”

That ain’t how savings rates work.

Unless you propose that the rural Chinese peasantry is living vastly better than the European middle class because they’re “able to save more?”

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Any data point taken in isolation here isn’t telling the whole story for welfare or economic consumption ability. That’s why I listed a series. Chinese people have high savings rates because they (ironically for a Communist system) didn't have any of the public social systems that Europeans and even Americans take for granted. But if they did have those social insurance systems, healthcare coverage, etc. and *still* had a high savings rate, that would suggest something about the affordability of normal life there, wouldn’t it? Sure, it could be that they chose to save rather than eat food or drive cars because of some cultural paranoia (which in their case is historically justified). But let’s say they also consume a similar basket of goods to Americans and Europeans and have all those social programs and still save a lot. Then we’re getting closer to declaring that the Chinese are a combination of financially savvy and also lucky to live in a well-calibrated society that encourages economic flourishing.

Europeans have social insurance programs and state and employer pensions and buy lots of stuff and own their homes at higher rates and pay higher taxes and earn less and travel and spend more time/money on leisure and *still* save way more than Americans. Those facts together tell you something.

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Yep. Last time I looked US average household net worth was like, #4 in the world (just behind Switzerland and just ahead of Singapore). But somewhere around #26 in *median* household net worth (behind Portugal, Greece and Taiwan).

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One factor is availability of credit. Less reason to save if you can get it now and pay back later. The US has significantly easier access to credit.

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I think the idea that a typical middle class person has a higher overall quality of life in, say, Italy or France or the UK than in the USA is pretty indefensible. It’s true that the US is much more car dependent and that’s really annoying, and nobody likes insurance companies, but basically everything else here is better and it’s not close.

When comparing US to Europe people tend to mix together a vague sense of Nordic economies and demographics, French restaurants and Spanish transit (and only consider dense urban living to boot).

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Insert “in heaven, the lovers are French, the chefs are Italian, the mechanics are German…” joke here.

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Huh, the one I know is English, not Italian, and has different vocations.

Heaven: English police, French cooks, German engineers

Hell: English cooks, French engineers, German police

I wonder how many versions of this there are...

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The version I've heard is: a Japanese wife, a Chinese cook, and an American house.

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I agree - I think a lot of people just pick and choose from whichever European country or region is the best at (food, transportation, health care) and mash it up into one single mythical Happy Rainbow Gumdrop Land.

Many of them also, as Colin Chaudhuri and a few others pointed out in a previous post, are coming at it from the experience of being a tourist or exchange student, not a resident, which involves a lot of rose-colored glasses. The French and Italians *want* you to rave about their food. Britain *wants* you to rave about London and its museums and Underground. Same with Spain, Madrid, and Barcelona! Sweden *wants* you to rave about its well-provided-for society. This keeps tourists coming back and exchange students wanting to spend the summer! $$$$$ !

It’s not that many European countries do various things better than the US - I’m thinking especially of health care and child care - but visitors see the good parts, and yes, they visit dense urban centers and not the ass end of Yorkshire or Extremadura or France’s Empty Diagonal.

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>I think the idea that a typical middle class person has a higher overall quality of life in, say, Italy or France or the UK than in the USA is pretty indefensible.<

I think this statement is plausible. On the other hand, the idea that a typical middle class person has a higher quality of life in, say, Denmark, The Netherlands or Norway than the USA strikes me as highly defensible (though not inarguable; a lot depends on what one prioritizes!). Aha, you cry: you're cherry-picking rich European countries. And that's true: typical middle class Americans might well enjoy a higher quality of life than the equivalent in poorer countries (duh). But what's the comparison look like vis-a-vis comparably rich countries?

(Also, "quality of life" is a nebulous term, as is "typical." Are we talking 50th percentile in income? At that level a French person earns less in take-home than an American—though the disparity is surely less than at the 80th percentile—but they have lifetime health insurance; they don't have to save as much for retirement or education; they live in a country with a fraction of the homicide rate as the US; they're likely under a lot less pressure to own/operate a car; they can expect to live longer; they can retire earlier and take longer vacations; and their kids are more likely than American children to rise up SES ladder).

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Also, if we are picking specific EU countries, it should really be compared to like the typical Massachusetts resident or something,

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Much of this is true, but none of it changes the fact that the EU (along with the UK) made a massive policy error when they pushed austerity after the Great Recession. The US also understimulated its economy, but not nearly to the same degree. Yes, there are things that Europeans do right, that Americans do wrong, but macroeconomic stabilization is important (and probably a bit underrated by us folks who are well off enough to afford fancy Substance subscriptions). Over the last decade, the US has been less bad at it. You can credit that to the Fed vs the ECB, but it is an important difference.

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The problem is that the longer Europe isn't growing as fast as America, the bigger the gulf in living standards will be in the future. Think Europe is better now? Well, it won't be the longer this keeps up. The difference in life expectancy is a factor of drug use and gun violence, and if you can keep away from that nonsense you will be okay.

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Probably also some extra traffic deaths, to be fair. Transit is safer when you're in a dense city center on a slow bus.

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

Traffic deaths are a big part of this—there are more motor vehicle related deaths than homicides (as of 2020, but that general pattern has been consistent for a while), and there are a smidge fewer MV deaths than suicides.

MV deaths were also number one for children and young adults until 2018ish (when gun related deaths spiked).

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The difference in life expectancy is absolutely not down to drug use and gun violence. It’s also nothing new. I don’t have the links handy, but look into this yourself and you’ll see some ready research on this topic that shows that “deaths of despair” are a newly important driver in recent years of the unprecedented and unusual actual reversal in American life expectancy, but that the baseline higher morbidity and mortality among Americans have long been more tied to lifestyle diseases and unequal access to healthcare.

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'Deaths of despair' is generally understood to include drug use/overdoses, you've invented your own non-standard definition of the term if you've somehow excluded drugs.

My understanding is that the difference in life expectancy is absolutely, 100% tied to drugs, guns, and motor vehicle deaths. Once you start from there, you see how 'access to healthcare' is a non-sequitur. Resurrection is not a medical treatment currently on-offer, so if you just died of an OD, in a shooting or in a car accident, access to healthcare is irrelevant- doctors can't raise the dead

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>The difference in life expectancy is absolutely not down to drug use and gun violence.<

A lot of it is. But you do have to throw in highway deaths. For obvious reasons, increased mortality among the non-elderly has an outsized impact on dragging down life expectancy in a population.

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"it misinterprets the reasons why the United States is uniquely successful in certain key areas (IT, domestic energy) as policy choices rather than just 'not screwing up a lucky break.'"

Except that managing to not screw up a lucky break year after year is, in fact, a policy choice.

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> delicious food

This is one factor where the US really has caught up to Europe on average. While perhaps, such as in most of the QoL metrics the bottom decile might have worse access than the same group in the EU, I would hazard the median is actually better in the US at this point. The restaurant scene, the access to farmers markets, supermarkets with quality products across the US in small towns, mid-size and large cities is pretty excellent these days. The consumption patterns of many of my fellow american's might not be ideal, but for most that isn't a question of access or even price (relative to the EU). Even old standards like the cost of a good bottle of wine aren't nearly as distinguishable between the continents anymore.

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I actually noticed while watching a travel show the other night that when I see European markets now they no longer look amazing compared to nice farmer's markets in the US, like they did 30 years ago. The US caught up in wine, and then beer, and it's not surprising that food has caught up as well. Being richer eventually pays off.

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I have a couple Mollie Katzen cookbooks dating back to the late 80’s and early 90’s and there was so much jury-rigging of ingredients if you couldn’t find mirin (substitute sherry!) or fish sauce or unsweetened coconut milk. Now every Safeway or Kroger’s has those. And so many more places have farmer’s markets; even regular grocery stores have an array of produce instead of just the basics + whatever is in season.

The problem is that a lot of people in the lower income brackets don’t have the time or the storage or the facilities to prepare and enjoy the fresh ingredients. BUT for those who do, and who live in a mid-sized or larger city, we have tremendous variety. Look at all the farmer’s markets you can find in second-tier cities in Ohio, for instance: https://bestthingsoh.com/farmers-markets/#gsc.tab=0 They are not what they were 20 years ago, a wealthy coastal luxury. Same with wine, beer, liquor (the boom in craft beer and specialty cocktails), indeed just about anything.

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There is no ingredient for any style of cooking I've done (which is, being a bit of an egotist about my cooking, a lot of them), that I've been unable to find in Philadelphia in the last 7 years. That would not have been true when I was a child.

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

I’m not sure farmers’ markets were ever a coastal luxury; the biggest farmers’ market I’m aware of is in Des Moines and it’s been there forever. It’s much larger than the equivalents in East Coast cities or Chicago (can’t speak for the West Coast).

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yes, the food is delicious in Europe.... until you try to eat Mexican or Chinese or, frankly, almost any food from any ethnicity that originates outside of Europe, with the possible exception of Indian, but then only in the Netherlands and in the UK, really.

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Rijsttafel!

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You’re comparing the high end of American food with the high end of French food or whatever—and there I’d even agree that the Americans are winning that contest. New York has better French chefs than France. And my own home state/city of DC has a great dining scene now—*if* you’ve got the coin to drop.

But I’m basing my statement on the food that the average person in Europe vs. the US actually has access to and eats regularly. There, the comparison is far less flattering. Even McDonalds is far better in Europe. And McDonald’s is closer to the local cuisine for most Americans than a high end restaurant in Napa Valley or Manhattan. People living in small, forgotten places in Europe aren’t eating haute cuisine, either, but they do usually have access to a simple-but-good family-owned restaurant even in the least populous communities. And more immigrant-heavy American communities do make up the difference with hidden gems of ethnic cuisine, but that’s not widely distributed.

As for what’s available in your local grocer (or, if you’re living in much of exurban or suburban America, your local Walmart), the food quality is just much poorer, on average. It’s really common for Americans to live very far away from any retailer of fresh produce, and this is unheard of in most of Europe, even the poor parts.

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

As someone who grew up in the middle of nowhere, I’m really confused about the claims here. It just isn’t true that you can’t find produce in rural areas—where do you think it’s from!—that small towns do not have good family-owned restaurants, or that Walmart is the dominant grocery provider ~anywhere. (And anyway Walmart groceries aren’t bad IME.) I also think the idea that you can only get ethnic food in large cities is outdated. You can get decent Mexican food anywhere, and Mexican immigrants drawn by agriculture are now a major presence in rural America. If anything Americans don’t really consider Mexican “ethnic,” it’s taken for granted.

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I didn’t grow up in the middle of nowhere and my largish American city was a total food desert in the 1980s and 1990s. Even the Washington, DC that I was born in and later moved back to for school and work was pretty unimpressive, cuisine-wise until the late 2000s and 2010s. And even now the city is still dominated in most places by milquetoast chains, as in most of the US. The DC of my dad’s early 20th Century youth had a good food hall in every neighborhood, rich or poor. They’ve (some of them) returned, but only to the wealthy areas and only as a niche, yuppie experience. And on the other side of the tracks there might not be a grocery story at all. Even in the nation’s capital, there are vast food desserts with not even as much as a bodega or non-fast-food restaurant. And it’s not like in the wealthier suburbs or exurbs the likes of Kroger or Safeway are offering the best produce. It’s only “good” by American standards. I hadn’t really experienced how a tomato should even taste until I left the country! Nor can I even stand to eat what presents itself as bread in most American grocery stores—count the many unpronounceable ingredients and how early some kind of sugar is listed among them for this “bread.” I know that sounds very precious, but these are humble, inexpensive food staples we’re taking about that are just better in even the crappy towns in Europe.

Can I find absolutely amazing food in many parts of the US? Absolutely! Can I go out of my way to secure the best organic produce and the most impressive sit-fown cuisine? With enough time and budget, yes. And are American cuisines in many places as delicious on the low-end as the high-end, thanks in no small part to our richly diverse population and multifarious immigrant groups? Oftentimes, yes. But take a drive through the vast, fertile agricultural lands of much of the Midwest and you find that you are not only surrounded by monoculture crops destined for the inside of a gas tank or animal feed instead of a human, but that the only choices for eating are owned by Yum Brands or the like.

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Nah, the US has really changed dramatically here since the 80s, even at the low end.

This is actually a topic that many, many famous french cooks have talked about. Many of them came to America in the "food network boom" of the early nineties and beyond, and they talked about how at first they couldn't get many common (for them) spices and ingredients, but that the superior quality of the beef and of many vegetables made up for it.

> It’s really common for Americans to live very far away from any retailer of fresh produce

I think this is true of some inner cities, and truly affects the poor, but is totally irrelevant for "exurbans" who grow up near Walmarts. I grew up in one of those places. a) there were plenty of fresh veggies at our local grocery store, like, literally no one bought groceries at Walmart. This is a development of the past 20ish years and still, Walmart is considered pretty low class for groceries. You go to Walmart to buy guns, or TVs, not tomatoes. b) those are very often by definition near lots of farmland. Growing up, my family would have gasped in shock if you bought asparagus or corn from a supermarket instead of from a roadside stand.

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Minor point, but did you mean ASML instead of NVIDIA? I hadn't heard of any connection between the Netherlands and NVIDIA and couldn't find one either when I looked for it.

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nvidia was founded by a guy from oregon state, go beavs

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I grew up in the mid-willamette valley and did not know this!

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There's no connection - other than both are rocket ships right now and I'm embarrassed to have missed out on them when I've been following the LLM development pretty closely. The point about "IT hardware is simpler to export" makes no sense tho. Each ASML EUV machine takes 40 containers to ship and then assemble. I'd rather just "ship" code.

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I think the point about export is that lots of software benefits from scale more than hardware, and the language/govt barriers between European countries are more significant for software than hardware.

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Yes, brain fart. I meant ASML!

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It's not a 1:1 swap though because ASML is not a chipmaker; it's a supplier of equipment to chipmakers.

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Ice cubes in drinks.

Q.E.D.

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My four years in Denmark taught me how protectionist and fragmented the economies of Europe are. Each country has specific apps, local monopolies of certain goods/services, and you cannot easily buy rail transport across multiple borders.

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My only recent experience with European commerce is buying gifts for family members in Switzerland. Due to some kind of protectionism, you have to use a Swiss retailer (no Amazon, but also no German or French equivalent.)

Maybe explains why you don't get an Amazon-type superpower in Europe. And Amazon's retail success led to the US-dominance of cloud hosting. Big one in the annals of unanticipated (and un-anticipatable) consequences of regulation.

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Even things like the EU "Four Freedoms" aren't as absolute as you'd think: An EU citizen can't just get up and move to another EU country, just like that. You need to show that you have sufficient income, transferrable healthcare coverage, etc. Americans can move wherever they want in the US without conditions.

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

I liked both this comment and Matt's essay, but a few points here:

-I believe there are a number of European countries that do, or could, have gas resources accessible via fracking (and not just Denmark, Poland, and Romania)....but they banned it. Would it be enough to make up the difference with the US? Probably not. But still, it's something, and banning fracking was really dumb.

-On the whole, my guess - having never lived in Europe - is that standard of living is pretty similar for middle-class Americans and Europeans, just with a different set of trade-offs.

-I have worked with Europeans a fair bit (mostly Brits, some Germans and Dutch), and I kind of get the sense that they work more efficiently than Americans? This is purely anecdotal, but they seem to answer messages more quickly and be very prompt and well-prepared in meetings. But they take long vacations. I suspect Americans - or at least white-collar Americans - "work" longer hours but spend more time goofing off at work.

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In my experience and back in mid 2000s -- I felt Germany had a slightly lower standard of living vs. the US. The biggest driver was my apartment was way smaller and more expensive. Transport felt like a wash between lower cost for public vs. higher convivence of having a car. I know people crave "walkability" but IDK ... going to grocery store 2-3x per week and lugging bags for a transfer and 3-4 block walk got old.

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From my perspective, the essentially fixed cost of checkout tedium and line-waiting for every trip has always suggested that grocery shopping is best amortized over as few trips as possible to minimize time-overhead even if the travel time to and from the grocery itself were negligible. I tend to view the "just shop for fresh ingredients 3-4x a week!" crowd with a jaundiced eye.

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This is why supermarkets are superior to bodegas, drug stores, small grocery stores, etc.

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I agree. Visiting the grocer’s every couple of days is NOT my idea of fun. It’s very romanticized when Americans talk about “Europe,” but it’s sustainable only if you have a stay-home spouse to do the shopping or it’s really Ye Old Corner Store and has a lot of fresh ingredients, and you can be in and out in 20 minutes or so. But going to Aldi and standing in line 3 times a week, no no no. I’ll schlep my groceries in my too-large vehicle once a week, thanks.

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Jul 21, 2023·edited Jul 21, 2023

"Walkability" is very important to me, actually (I wouldn't want to live in area where I couldn't walk to at least some places), but I do agree that the American model of driving to a grocery story less frequently is better than walking to one multiple times per week. I used to walk to a local grocery store for awhile when I lived in Brooklyn, and it got old. But I had a car, and eventually I just started driving to a (different, better) grocery store a bit further away that had a parking lot.

This gets at why I am a big fan of the "have a car at your disposal but don't live somewhere where you need to use it every single time you leave the house" mode of living.

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I’ll gladly pay post mates to get my groceries for me once a week over walking to the local grocery store 3-4x a week.

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Your anecdata about efficient work could not be further from my anecdata. My lazy-ass European counterparts won't even answer emails on weekends.

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Isn't that actually the same point as their making? When they're at work, they're efficient, but they're at work less?

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Sure--bad, semi-snarky example on my part.

But all the same, I'm really not impressed by the efficiency of my EU colleagues.

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My understanding is that the UK (to pick the example I know best) has some frackable gas and did a little test fracking, measured how much there actually was, and decided that it wasn't enough to be worth the political capital that would have to be spent to get approvals through.

This seems to be pretty common - countries with a lot of frackable gas like Poland are approving it, countries with little find that the political cost is the same to approve it regardless of how much gas there is, but the economic benefit is far higher if there's lots of gas, so only the countries with a lot approve anything.

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That’s it right there. Fracking hasn’t even really paid off financially for the companies that pursued it in the US. So why dive into the investment and dubious ROI, plus the political problems and potential environmental externalities when it’s not going to actually move the needle for you much in terms of energy?

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Late on the reply here, but this seems reasonable.

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>is that standard of living is pretty similar for middle-class Americans and Europeans, just with a different set of trade-offs.<

Seems reasonable: more time off, less financial pressure to operate a dependable, late-model large vehicle, less personal financial risk in general (the state shoulders more of it).....but less living space, smaller wardrobes, less eating out, and less frequent upgrades of electronics and appliance.

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I didn’t read this whole thing but a couple of corrections. Germany has large shale oil deposits as well, but they banned fracking.

Also, NVIDIA is from California.

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Good points, particularly, "And that Europe is arguably even better for the median European than the United States is for the median American, by most objective standards? (Glove thrown!)".

I would add that social media and other VC and Big Tech products may be doing as much harm as good to the human race. So making their massive power and profits an indicator of America's relative strength makes no sense to the millions of Americans who experience the most harm. And a major reason Big Tech has been so reckless about safety (among many things) is the utter failure to regulate them according to existing law. Guess who was constantly championing Big Tech as a way to brandish his "new Democrat" credentials? Obama. Who's FTC overruled its own staff and decided not to sue Google for anti-trust violations. And so they grew more and more powerful and reckless for eight more years until Biden.

To me it seems obvious that the US is stronger and more powerful as a political entity, the US is the world's superpower and has the biggest, strongest and most resilient economy. But whether or not the median American is better off than the median European -- or whether on some kind of measure that takes into consideration the misery and insecurity of being poor in America versus being poor in Europe -- would seem to be an entirely different question.

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

>I would add that social media and other VC and Big Tech products may be doing as much harm as good to the human race.

>sent from my iphone

(EDIT: the more serious point is that you shouldn't conflate technology with social media)

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"I would add that tobacco cultivation may be doing more harm than good to the human race," he said puffing on a cigarette.

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Europe beat the USA at welfare state construction during the period ~1900 or 1945 - 1980 or so period when political circumstances were propitious for entrenching a strong welfare state, which is something you can blame on racial tension and the Vietnam War. Since that time both the welfare state and organized labor has been more or less under siege everywhere in the democratic world, with marginal gains at best. The gains of midcentury social democracy have been better defended in Sweden than in Germany or the USA, and there are more of them to defend. But the direction of travel has been the same.

Europe catastrophically bungled its response to the 2008 / Eurozone crisis (which were the same crisis) and the whole continent is poorer than it would otherwise be as a result. There seems to have been a bit of institutional learning since then (they did a better job responding to the economic effects of COVID), but the EU political system seems to make the reality of what happened in the recent past impossible to acknowledge.

I think Europe is a nicer, more humane place to live and work than the United States: less poverty and inequality, more vacation, better public goods (in some countries at least) and a higher life expectancy more than make up for a GDP differential. But these advantages are thanks to institutions and practices set up in the post-war era. In terms of direction-of-travel for public policy there is no Euro equivalent of the ACA. The EU has been very poorly run since 2008, and the prospects of European institutions reforming themselves don't seem good.

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Jul 17, 2023Liked by Matthew Yglesias

Taking advantage of being in Germany to claim first comment, completely devoid of any substantive contribution.

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this is how i get to feel all the time as an american living in the uk ;)

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You would have loved ~2001 Slashdot.

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Riding on your coattails to boost a completely worthless comment:

I occasionally wonder about the extent to which the Willow Affair’s virality was influenced by the simple fact that the name “Willow” is the sort of name that Tik-Tok-ing Zoomers have mostly experienced in positive contexts.

Zoomers’ Xer and Millennial parents’ have had a well-documented decades-long obsession with giving their children unique names like “Willow”. The Zoomers in turn have become habituated to thinking of such names as cute, quirky, and high-status. Think of all the occasions that must have happened in the last 20 years when some young Zoomer was playing in a sandbox and overheard their parent cooing, “[Willow/Summer/Brayden/Grayse/whatever], aww that’s such a cute name!”.

I’m sure there are plenty of well-educated, well-informed, highly intentional Zoomers who have grown up as climate activists and would have fought the Willow battle regardless of the name. They likely even played an integral role in that battle!

But most of their normie friends who made up the lion’s share of the Willow Affair’s virality were probably strongly responding to a name that they couldn’t possibly conceive of as anything but innocent and cutesy.

And while I wouldn’t put money on it, I also wouldn’t be surprised if out of all the geographic names associated with the project, “Willow” was chosen by workshop/committee as the most internet-genic banner to rally the Zoomer masses under.

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founding

What is the Willow Affair? When I Google I find some tabloid stuff about Jada Pinkett-Smith and her daughter Willow, but I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about.

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It was that flap about some oil project in Alaska that the Zoomers were freaking out about because the doomers went viral on Tik Tok about how it was going to tip the climate over the edge.

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Thanks for asking this question!

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I assumed it was named after one of Sarah Palin's kids.

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That…is plausible, actually. Willow is also a popular name for cats, and is in fact the name of the First Cat. Very possible they saw the name and ran with it. “The Willow Project” sounds like it could be an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or a fanfic.

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Yep! It sounds like the sort of thing that _must_absolutely_be_preserved_.

No one cares if Shartsniffleton down by the Shitsville waste treatment plant gets strip-mined.

But EVERYONE wants to instinctively protect "The Willow Reserve". Because a lot of cute little girls (or cute little girls who have grown up into hot girls they now want to bang) are named Willow.

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The Willow Reserve sounds like either a third tier whiskey brand or an exurban housing development.

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EU-level decision making is an excellent illustration of the “having too many veto points makes you sclerotic” theme that frequently comes up here. It’s incredibly hard to adapt to changing circumstances if any tiny member state can derail any proposed change. Articles of Confrderation-ass governing system.

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founding

I think a subtle point Matt is also making here is that a lot of people seem to think it would be an improvement if we could de-politicize a lot of policy decisions to take them away from the echo chamber cycle, but the obvious ways to do that end up turning it into the European Commission.

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And I do agree with him there. The EU’s governance is extremely un-democratic and this is not just a problem for political legitimacy (which has long been an issue) but also for the quality of governance, which is disappointing at the EU level.

American liberals may be disappointed with democracy after realizing that a plurality of their countrymen are… maybe not very reliable decision-makers, at best. But the temptation to surrender to technocratic governance should be resisted.

Europe is, IMO, a better place to live for the median resident not because of the EU but because of factors that long predated it, and are, unfortunately running out of steam (as another commenter put it so well). And maybe even *despite* the EU in its current form.

The reason Europe is nice today because Europeans fought for it to be nice via labor unions and Social Democratic worker politics, uniquely enabled by the historical cataclysm of WWII. And that may no longer be the case in another generation or two hence, considering the decline of worker politics on both sides of the Atlantic and the general lethargy of political liberalism in the West. I don’t see any reason why the US is doing any better on that front, though, so I think it’ll be a bad result for both continents in the second half of the 21st Century, quite frankly.

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Politically this seems like a challenge for the Democrats, for whom “we should be more like Europe” had long been a rhetorical North Star. If Europe is increasingly seen as a laggard it is a big challenge to that framework.

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This is probably a good thing, in my opinion. A dynamic economy to grow the pie and more humane ways to divide the pie seem like the right combination to me. We can still take some inspiration from Europe on the second part.

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So long as we're doing kind of lazy, strictly anecdotal speculating about how Europeans are from Venus and Americans are from Mars or whatever: I am not convinced Americans are pragmatic problem-solvers and Europeans are not. However, it may be true that while Europeans have a superior sense of collective responsibility for problems, they also have a weaker sense of individual responsibility. Just my experience. "I should try to solve this problem" may not come so naturally to them, but the sticking point might be I, not solve the problem. If it's not a specific tradition for individuals or communities to discharge a task, many Europeans may really see it as the state's responsibility to respond to situations.

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That seems awfully close to passively waiting for somebody else to solve your problems.

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founding

The WSJ covered this topic today also. Eerie.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/europeans-poorer-inflation-economy-255eb629?mod=hp_lead_pos7

"Europe’s current predicament has been long in the making. An aging population with a preference for free time and job security over earnings ushered in years of lackluster economic and productivity growth. Then came the one-two punch of the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s protracted war in Ukraine. By upending global supply chains and sending the prices of energy and food rocketing, the crises aggravated ailments that had been festering for decades."

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I was going to share the same article - EU vs US discussion can get lost in the weeds on GDP/GPP per capita, growth rates, etc., but seeing pullback on classic high-income signifiers like consumption of meat or the ability to heat your home is shocking.

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Great piece. As a small business owner since 1995, I still think the most important thing we did was pass the Affordable Care Act. It still needs to improve and expand, but, in my opinion, it did the most to free up average, middle class folks to bet on themselves--to start new businesses and join new small businesses. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, we could both take a real chance on creating real economic freedom and prosperity for ourselves and our families without taking on the horrible prospect of bankrupting our families, or losing the family home, if one of us got sick.

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

Can I ask, what further changes to the healthcare system would make it easier for individuals to run their own small businesses, in your view?

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I (also a small business owner) would just say cost. I personally pay $5k a year for a self-employed health insurance plan. It's been about the same price for a few years, but it has a high deductible. When I moved from Large Wealthy Blue State back to the smaller rural state I grew up in- it got quite a bit worse as well. For example I was attending physical therapy, but my plan doesn't cover the first 10 PT visits now (it used to cover part of them in my last state). So at $350 a pop, I'd have to pay $3500 out of my own pocket before health insurance would pay anything. That's on top of $5k annually in deductibles!

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In the plan's defense, as someone going through PT right now, I can say it is a complete rip off. $125 a session, and I see a new PT about half the time, meaning I waste the first 20m of many sessions re-explaining my symptoms. Then the PT guides me through a few exercises, which almost never change. I really only needed the first session. The subsequent ones feel just like they are there to motivate me to keep up my practice. If my plan were not paying, I would 100% not attend them.

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Sorry to hear that. As someone who's easily seen 8-10+ PTs over the last few years for a variety of issues- quality varies WILDLY. I'd lean more towards PTs who treat athletes, as that's very results-oriented and can't be BSed. If you're seeing a new PT every session, you should switch immediately.

I do sort of agree with your point, but you also have to (I hate this phrase but it's true) 'do your own research' on your symptoms. There's lots of written material on injuries online, and believe it or not there's lots of good PTs on Youtube too. (The Australians in general seem to be the best, not sure if it's a big national focus or something).

I mix personal research and experimentation with occasional PT check-in to discuss my progress, works pretty well. I rotate between 3 separate PTs and even went to a chiropractor once

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While I think Brexit was a huge mistake that will make the UK economic situation worse, it is still the case that the EU hasn't covered itself in any glory. I don't know the extent to which this is structural and something very hard to fix, or something that can be fixed by better management. I do think that the US benefits by being one nation.

For example, it has one military commanded by one Federal government. It has a much wider pool of talent to select from and a wider pool of contractors to buy things from, and so can do so much more with the same percentage of GDP. Another example, Apple completely destroyed Nokia in a few years when it entered the smartphone market, which I think does have a lot to do with Apple hiring employees from across the US and Nokia mainly being Finnish with more limited operations elsewhere.

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The Brexiteers weren’t wrong about the EU having significant problems, but they were extremely wrong about how well their extremely financial and business service sector-dominated economy would fare outside of a big free trade zone.

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Apple calls itself "the intersection of technology and liberal arts" and it isn't a lie; when Nokia got the first iPhone they were unable to recognize it as a good consumer product and instead disassembled it into individual specs, filmed the animations with high-speed cameras and decided 60fps animations were what made it good, etc.

Nokia shipped phones with the kind of names like "N900" Apple uses for codenames.

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Don't forget the N-Gage!

(Said with loving affection for the rubber boot company that transformed itself into a tech giant.)

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>We got back in the van, and she said to the driver very definitively, “that’s the American spirit!”

Perhaps revealing a little too much Yglesias content consumption on my own part but you told this story before, and this new version is a tad sanitized. Last time the lady said "see, this is why you guys lost the war!" Which is funnier but also potentially meaner, so I can't blame you for changing it.

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The US is also now a net exporter of petroleum, and most of our imported crude now comes from Canada and Mexico, not overseas. Those are major shifts since 15 years ago as well.

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The US has always imported most of its non-domestic oil and natural gas from its North American neighbors—for obvious reasons. That was kind of lost in the post-1970s rhetoric around energy independence and getting away from Middle Eastern oil (which has always been exported to other places, primarily) because it’s hard for people to understand that oil is a global market and that you are affected by exporters even when you don’t consume their oil, in particular.

What’s new is now being a net exporter of oil, again.

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founding

If you are a wealthy American, you enjoy a life expectancy equal to other developed countries. It is the life expectancy and health gap between the American rich and everyone else that explains a lot of the statistic you quote.

Fifteen year gap between the richest and poorest 1%. Five year gap between the median income and the richest 1%.

I'm glad you highlighted overall average life expectancy as a problem for us, and I think it's worthwhile digging in to the specifics behind it and the tradeoffs between (1) GDP and income statistics and (2) life expectancy and the moral implications of the gaps between rich and poor.

I'm a lifelong believer and beneficiary of American free enterprise, but I've started to challenge myself on these questions of tradeoffs.

If interested in the topic, below is a short post I wrote.

https://robertsdavidn.substack.com/p/challenging-my-own-thinking-is-modern

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Yeah I don't see much evidence that if the top quintile (or whatever) for America became poorer that that would mean lower income Americans would live longer.

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You haven’t seen evidence for a link between income inequality and life expectancy?

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

Not in a causal way, no.

Like, if Jeff Bezos' wealth triples, does that mean I'm suddenly more likely to die prematurely?

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If that’s the question you’re asking, I’m not surprised you haven’t seen any evidence! A more interesting question is: “If the state transferred wealth from those in the highest quintile of earners to those in the lowest, would they be less likely to die prematurely?”

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Yes, I would expect that to increase life expectancies.

But the causal mechanism is because of a change in absolute incomes, not a change in relative incomes.

The reason the US has higher inequality than Europe is not because our poor are meaningfully poorer, it's because we have a huge upper middle class that is very rich by European standards. If our top ~20% made EU wages and our bottom 80% made the same, we'd have *much* lower inequality, but I have a hard time believing that would increase life expectancies.

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I’m not sure what your point is then. I don’t believe anybody believes that the solution to income inequality is to simply “disappear” a bunch of wealth from the top of the distribution.

Your argument is basically “Life expectancy would not improve if we were all collectively poorer”, which while true is not exactly point of contention.

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Didn't we sort of run that experiment in 2020 with various covid relief programs? And there was a giant increase in all kinds of causes of death, particularly in "avoidable" deaths like drug overdoses, alcohol deaths, homicides and traffic accidents.

https://theusaindata.pythonanywhere.com/avoidable_deaths_after2020

https://theusaindata.pythonanywhere.com/death2020

Yes, I know some other obvious changes happened in 2020 and certainly we can't say wealth transfers caused covid deaths. But it's worth pointing out that if wealth transfers were a powerful cause of life expectancy improvement, we would hope to see evidence that a little of the covid/lockdown mortality was defrayed and that some non-covid causes of death decreased.

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yeah I think there are so many things confounded with covid that it's hard to draw any real conclusions one way or another.

my unfalsifiable, unscientific, and still probably true opinion is that america's individualistic "screw you ill do what I want / move that smartcar / not ask permission" ethos makes the US more likely to have successful businesses while also making us less likely to take a life-saving vaccine.

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I’m not sure you could say we ran that experiment in 2020, not least of all because it was a hardly a year of sober-minded policy making.

FWIW though, I believe the expanded CTC did have some evidence for improved health outcomes for kids and parents, although granted the intended outcomes were not related to homicide, drug poisonings, etc!

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the reasons that seem most explanatory for our lower life expectancy:

-addiction

-obesity

-car dependency

-guns and homicide

-less-than-universal healthcare

all seem at best tenuously connected to there being a wide gap between the haves and have-nots (the last bullet being the most directly connected imo, though medicaid and medicare exist are universal programs).

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

The first two seem like there may be explanatory power of inequality in (1) lower relative status being objecitvely unpleasant regardless of material abundance, which creates incentive to do drugs (and economic segregation also presumably exacerbates social milieux that engage in such behaviors since social contagion seems like a mich stronger first-order explanatory variable) and (2) healthy food often being more expensive (in both money and time) than hyperpalatable, inexpensive, and above all long-lasting and essentially nonperishable prepared foods.

Mind you I don’t think either of these is a complete or likely even a majority (or even plurality) causal factor, but it's also unlikely that their contribution is zero and they do fall under the have/have-not gap umbrella.

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I think I largely agree with you, though point #1 seems far from parsimonious. Point #2 makes sense given Baumol's cost disease -- healthy food becomes more expensive as wages rise, so it makes sense that healthy food is relatively more expensive in the states as wages are so much higher overall.

So yeah, both effects are likely marginal but directionally point to lower life expectancies.

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founding

I think an important factor is that European policy tends to make all food more expensive, while American policy reduces average food cost by creating a price gap between healthy and non-healthy food.

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Yeah, agreed #1 isn't parsimonious and I wouldn't over-weight it, especially when the availability of other less-destructive vices at relatively low expense (videogames, TV) seems like a function of objective rather than relative wealth level.

I just have a bit of a bugbear about the standard libertarian / neoliberal platitude about inequality having no or negligible intrinsic utility / disutility relative to "hard" availability of goods and services. If you're living in even run-down public housing with access to hot and cold running water, basic sanitation, free public education and general food security, the fact that you're doing better than the overwhelming majority of humans pre-1800 or so (or quite possibly later than that) is nevertheless basically non-responsive to your social risk factors for engaging in vice or your status-mediated subjective wellbeing. Gotta account for that *somewhere,* you know?

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IIRC the life expectancy gap is almost entirely explained by an elevated death rate for Americans 25 and under, particularly men 25 and under.

In other words, it's the homicides, stupid.

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Maybe it is that my occupation falls in a sparsely populated mid-level strata - not eligible for Medicaid, but the job either provides expensive insurance or no insurance, but lots of people can't really afford medical care. They may have insurance, but the deductible and co-pays are so high that lots of people choose not to use medical services until it is an emergency. Most people I work with, including myself, in my white collar industry put off medical care for financial reasons.

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A festering sort of fancy of mine--the kind where you picture yourself as world emperor for a day and can wave a magic wand*--would be to decree that a majority of world GDP be immediately funneled into rapidly expanding human life and health spans by 35-50 percent.

The idea is that our short-sighted policies are borne of a worldview forever constrained by our rapidly approaching mortality. Far-seeing policy would more likely emanate from far-living people.

The hope would be that it would take decades for myopic societal thinking to re-emerge in orientation to our new timelines, and that by then we would have learned new approaches to sustainable human flourishing.

The counterpoint is that our fleeting existence is what encourages the innovation that has gotten us this far, including past increases in life expectancy.

Don’t bother, I’ll show myself out. But for real, what lies downstream of increased investment in expansion of life/health span?

*If you’re worried about all the death and suffering from the dearth of erstwhile societal stimulus and investment, remember it’s a magic wand.

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founding

The sentence you wrote is true and wise:

"The idea is that our short-sighted policies are borne of a worldview forever constrained by our rapidly approaching mortality."

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I always feel somewhat tenuous about these international comparisons having worked abroad. It seems to me a lot of American wealth is just wasted. I’ve never lived in Europe but I make more money at least as a direct conversion teaching stateside than I did in Seoul and Shanghai but my quality of life was worse especially as a bachelor.

So much of us wealth seems to go to cars and big homes and healthcare.

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This may apparently shock you, but Americans buy nice cars and big homes because they consider these things desirable, and would not chock that spending up to "waste". On the whole, they would likely say their quality of life would be worse if they had a shitty car or a tiny house.

Give people agency, jeeze.

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You literally cannot live normally in most of the United States without a car. Matt lives in DC near where I was born and he, like my parents, has a car, despite DC having one of the best public transit systems in the US (a dubious distinction, given that city's major transit dysfunctions). Outside of DC, NYC, Boston, Chicago, or SF, you don't even have a half-assed transit system good enough to go without wheels.

So, having a car in the US isn't really a choice. And spending more than you can afford on said car is also increasingly not a choice for Americans, now, either, given the average cost of new cars and the eyewatering inflation in used car prices lately. Like with housing, there's really no such thing as affordable "starter cars" available for purchase anymore. And remember that the median household income isn't much higher than the average American new car cost. For most Americans, then, their car is strictly a utilitarian need, at best, and a financial albatross that costs them way too much money to purchase and keep running, at worst. This is especially true for the working poor, who must hope and pray daily that their cars keep running and don't earn them a parking ticket or unexpected repair bill that will mean the difference in making rent that month or not.

By contrast, I have lived in two countries in Europe without a car: Ireland and Sweden. The former has terrible public transit by European standards, but I could still get around just fine in Dublin without one, using the anemic light rail system, workable bus network, bikeshare, and walking (Dublin's medieval core is very walkable). In Sweden, you can live without a car even in small cities and rural areas, the transit is so good. In Stockholm, with its world-class transit, having a car is as ridiculous as having one in Manhattan. Europeans do still have cars, of course, but they don't *need* to have them. And those who can't afford them aren't forced to take out high-interest debt to secure them, since they have perfectly good transit alternative. Which isn't to say that Europeans don't also like nice cars. Swedes have more classic American cars per capita than Americans, I'd wager, lovingly maintained for cruising on nice days. But I have never met a Swede who fretted about being able to afford their car payment, lest they lose their job and then spiral into penury.

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lmao, the median US household income is north of $70,000

https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2022/demo/p60-276.html

Peddle this nonsense at someone else.

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The median US household income is $70K and the average American car price is... $46K. How much do you take home from $70K? Let's say about $50K. Do the math.

And we're not just talking one car, either, are we? How many cars per household do you need in a totally car-dependent American household? In mine it was 2x for my parents and then another 2x for my brother and I. That's 4x cars for a typical nuclear family.

How do people afford that? By keeping their cars for a very long time. And by taking on increasing amounts of auto-loan debt to afford it. So, yes, laugh your ass off at this nonsense, but it's not a laughing matter to a family struggling to make that work, is it?

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>the average American car price is... $46K

The cost of a brand new budget sedan is less than $20K, so if everyone is struggling for money and doesn't value a car why are they buying the big bloated SUVs and trucks and stuff thats so expensive?

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The sensible, no-frills, once-affordable Toyota Corolla that my mom drove many iterations of in the 1990s through today now costs $22K. That's nearly half the net income of our median family in question. So, if we're asking them to spend 44% of their take-home on a budget sedan, how much is left over for everything else? And, again, every working adult in that household probably needs their own vehicle, practically-speaking. Obviously those Toyotas last a long time, so the $22K is a once-a-decade expenditure, hopefully, but meanwhile, the annual running cost of that vehicle averages $5-8K, not even accounting for the purchase price. So, say this family, like my own in the 1990s, keeps their Toyotas until they top going. They're still spending $10-16K a year just in marginal costs to get to work, plus the cost of the vehicle purchases amortized over about a decade. This is a HUGE percentage of spending power diverted to cars just to get around! All without buying bloated SUVs and trucks (which I agree are totally foolish purchases, especially for those lacking the ability to actually afford them without high-interest financing).

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> How many cars per household do you need in a totally car-dependent American household? In mine it was 2x for my parents and then another 2x for my brother and I. That's 4x cars for a typical nuclear family.

LOL.

"need"

LMAO.

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This wasn't a representative example. Neither me nor my brother drove before we turned 16, obviously, and we didn't live at home after we left for college. And, actually, we never owned cars at the same time while living in the same household, since I was nearly four years older than my brother. So, we're really talking a peak of 3x cars for only a few years, with 2x cars being the norm. Even so, it's not at all unusual for people to have more teenage or young-adult children living at home, or otherwise to have multi-generational households. And, given that nobody in the household can work or study or otherwise get around without a passenger vehicle, that means a lot of cars. Which are all very expensive to buy and to run. Do people "need" them? Well, no, in the same way that we don't *need" computers, phones, etc. But you cannot live normal American life without a car. And any family of teenagers quickly learns that carpooling for everyone becomes unworkable. So, yes, we could have all sat at home without a vehicle and not earned sufficient income to live and stuff. Checkmate.

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

Just to fact check you here ... the average vehicle value in the US is ~ $22k. So more than half your estimate. There's 280M vehicles registered in the US. The average age is 12.2 model years. The left side of the distribution is super affordable. So yes "they" afford it by buyer older used vehicles which are affordable by any measure.

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Your family had four cars? How common do you think that is? If you had to get rid of one of the cars, would that have posed an unacceptable hardship?

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Median income may be $70,000, but that means there are plenty of people that make a lot less than that, even in professional fields, never mind blue collar jobs. And everything Geoffrey says is true for them (us). I live in a place where it is possible to live without a car, but it greatly limits which jobs you can accept. Cars are a huge money sink, and it is important to consider the need for cars when comparing standards of living. Not to mention the standard of living for all the people who can't drive for whatever reason, including being too young.

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But what is the relevance of the "average" new car cost? Whether you are born rich or poor is random, but whether you buy an expensive new car or a cheap used one is not random.

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Maybe price of a car isn't relevant, but the necessity of owning one is. Owning a car is always expensive.

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Hey, it wasn't my idiotic talking point. I just wanted to point out that simple facts are easy, and societal analysis is hard. GGreene completely shat the pants in even trying to describe a simple point of fact. If he can't even get the easy, simple facts right, we should probably be pretty skeptical of his wide, sweeping societal analyses.

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

Average new car price in the U.S. is about $50k right now.

https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a43611570/average-new-car-price-down-still-high/

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"Average" is doing a lot of work there, to be fair. The lowest-spec Toyota Corolla is about $21-23k -- and the lowest-spec Toyota Corolla is objectively a really, really good and extremely reliable car.

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Compared to taking high quality transit the payments on that still ate up a ton of my income.

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"New" vehicles also represent just 5% of the registered vehicle population and just 25% of the total vehicles sold each year.

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I said this elsewhere but the "average" cost is irrelevant. People buy cars at their price point, not at random, so the question is whether there are enough cheap cars (including used cars) to meet demand, not what the average of all car sales is.

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“Normally” is doing so much work in your first sentence, and largely destroys the point of comparison of the standards of living between countries. There are many places in the US you can live without a car and small apartments are available almost everywhere. A reliable used car would easily be found for $15,000 anywhere in the US.

But it seems your point is that if you live like a median European in the US you will be poor RELATIVE to others in the US. You won’t feel “normal.” And that probably has social and collateral consequences-your life might in fact be less desirable in the US than in Europe even if by objective measures it appears very similar. But I don’t know how you can claim this as evidence of a higher standard of living in Europe rather than evidence that people measure their standard of living relative to their communities, which creates social norms around consumption, etc.

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Used cars are not that expensive. You can get a crappy one for a few grand. People spend much, much more on cars than the minimum necessary because they value having a nicer car not because there is no other choice.

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Why are you comparing the *capital cities* of two countries with *the whole of the US*? Plenty of people in major US cities (not just NYC) make do without cars, too, though it's true they usually buy cars when they can afford them, which is sooner because you can make more money in the US. But, like, do you think people outside the cities in Ireland don't have cars?

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I don’t just think that people outside the cities in Ireland sometimes don’t have cars, *I know that.* I lived in Ireland and met any people who lived in rural areas who didn’t own a car. They biked, walked, or took the bus. Again, Ireland is terrible by European standards for public transit, but it’s still better, on average, than the US. Even in rural areas!

Americans don’t believe me when I say this stuff because they’re thinking about the experience of, say, taking a bus where they live. If a local bus line even exists at all, the service is terrible, there’s often crime or passenger disruption, it’s oddly expensive, and it’s just basically something that only poor people with no other options would even dream of subjecting themselves to.

That’s not how public transit is in Europe. Even outside the biggest cities. I used to live in Stockholm but have recently relocated full-time to a tiny hamlet of only 700 people in the middle of nowhere. We have an airport, buses, and even a train stop nearby. I own a (single) car for our household and we make do just fine with it. We often take public transit because it’s just a better option (save gas, avoid driving, be able to drink, whatever).

I could afford more than one car, but I have no need to. I’d rather spend the money, instead, on travel, owning a second property, saving for retirement, etc. If we lived in the US today, that just wouldn’t be viable. Were I to move back to DC, we’d certainly have to retain at least the single car for the family. But if we moved to the suburbs, it’d be unworkable to have fewer than two, even with the relatively-better local transit. If we lived in a tiny hamlet of 700 people like now, there’s no way we’d be able to make a single car work. There wouldn’t even be a bus line at all, much less a local airport or train station. This makes transit option much less and the percentage of my spending on transit much higher, which reduces the money I can spend on other things.

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Lots of suburban and rural families in America make do with one car just fine. The average number of cars per household in the US is just under two.

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You’re forgetting that almost a third of households (more than 28%!) in the US are single-occupant. And how many families only have a single adult in the household? It’s the highest percentage in the world, but I don’t know the exact number. Obviously, together, this plurality of households with only one adult in them is going to drag the average of cars/household down.

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But we don’t give people agency, small homes are illegal and public transportation isn’t available. The few places where it is have been super pricey for a long, long time.

If you’re a bachelor who wants to buy experiences more than things it’s really discouraged in most of the us and I felt pretty poor coming back even though if you do the conversion I made more dollars than local currency.

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Even by your standards, this is a "piss on my shoes and tell me it's raining" comment.

I could take the bus to work every morning, trivially. I don't, because it would take an extra twenty minutes and I live in a society of wealth and abundance.

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I used to bike-train-bike to work after moving back here before having a kid, because it was nice to get my daily exercise in and read on the train, even though it took 50% longer.

Now that trade-off makes no sense and I am happy to have access to a car. If I were still in Beijing, I would not have access to a car because my (locally 90th percentile) income wouldn't support it. Transit there is only 25% slower than cars for most applications, so it's not as much of a trade-off, but hauling strollers around subway systems sucks.

Almost everyone I've met who thinks the US is some sort of suburban hellscape does not and likely never will have kids, lol.

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I think a lot depends on where you live. For many years I lived in various suburbs of Boston, where the suburbs were real towns in their own right first. They have village greens and downtowns and sidewalks, and the older housing has connected streets in neighborhoods where it is easy for kids to walk and bike to friends' houses.

It wasn't until I was well into adulthood when I saw more modern suburbs, set up in subdivisions, often with cul-de-sacs, with only one or two through streets that are dangerous to walk or bike on and where many stores are in strip malls in locations where it is very difficult to cross the street. The latter is definitely a hellscape. I lived in one of those places for the first couple of years of my oldest's life, and I couldn't wait to get out. We lived about a mile from the library, but I couldn't walk there because it would be too dangerous with a stroller.

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But plenty of families, even most, prefer to live in the latter. There are *plenty* of options for you and I, the main issue being that they increasingly require a professional-class income as our inner-suburbs and safe urban neighborhoods don't meet the full demand for what you and I prefer.

That's not the same as the original commenter's meltdown about how the US sucks, it's MY's original thesis that we need more missing middle density and zoning/cast-in-amber sentiments are the main obstacle.

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Jul 17, 2023·edited Jul 17, 2023

Seems to be quite the opposite: if I would prefer to live in an EU, Japanese, etc. quality walkable urban environment and take good public transportation, that's basically completely inaccessible on most incomes in the US. You can get the B+ diet version, maybe, depending on where you live. Saying "well, a huge house in the exurbs and a fancy car are easier to get" if I didn't particularly value those things is pissing on my shoes and telling me it's raining.

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Sure, and if you most value feeling a connection to the land and the virtues of hard work, then you'd be happier on a subsistence farm than in a townhouse. But I thought we were talking about standards of living.

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