Posts tagged ‘Cowboy Capitalism’

The Scandinavian Standard of Living Myth

There is a widespread notion that the Scandinavian countries somehow have crafted for themselves the highest standard of living in the world.  This never made much sense to me, since I just couldn't believe their socialist economies could really create the wealth needed to support this alleged standard of living.  As it turns out, they can't and don't, and owe their reputation more to PR than reality:

THE received wisdom about economic life in the Nordic countries is
easily summed up: people here are incomparably affluent, with all their
needs met by an efficient welfare state. They believe it themselves.
Yet the reality - as this Oslo-dwelling American can attest, and as
some recent studies confirm - is not quite what it appears....

All this was illuminated last year in a study by a Swedish research
organization, Timbro, which compared the gross domestic products of the
15 European Union members (before the 2004 expansion) with those of the
50 American states and the District of Columbia. (Norway, not being a
member of the union, was not included.)

After adjusting the
figures for the different purchasing powers of the dollar and euro, the
only European country whose economic output per person was greater than
the United States average was the tiny tax haven of Luxembourg, which
ranked third, just behind Delaware and slightly ahead of Connecticut.

The next European country on the list was Ireland, down at 41st
place out of 66; Sweden was 14th from the bottom (after Alabama),
followed by Oklahoma, and then Britain, France, Finland, Germany and
Italy. The bottom three spots on the list went to Spain, Portugal and

Alternatively, the study found, if the E.U. was treated
as a single American state, it would rank fifth from the bottom,
topping only Arkansas, Montana, West Virginia and Mississippi. In
short, while Scandinavians are constantly told how much better they
have it than Americans, Timbro's statistics suggest otherwise. So did a
paper by a Swedish economics writer, Johan Norberg.

So Europeans, in terms of being well-off, rank right up there with... Appalachia.  "Jimmy, you have to finish that liver - you know there are starving kids in Norway that would love to have that food."

Anyway, if this topic interests you, of true comparisons of US vs European economies, income distribution, work weeks, etc., Cowboy Capitalism is a good place to start.  (hat tip Instapundit)

Market Dynamism, US vs Europe

I am reading Olaf Gersemann's book Cowboy Capitalism and enjoying it immensely.  He points out that of the top 20 largest publicly traded companies in the US in 1967, only 11 are even in the top 60 today, much less the top 20.  In contrast, he points out that of the 20 largest German companies in 1967, today, thirty-five years and nearly two generations later, 19 are still in the top 60 and 15 are still in the top 20.

We think of European fascism as having been defeated in 1945, but, at least in terms of fascist economic ideas like the corporate state, it is alive and well in old Europe.  Take France for example.  France is run by an elite group from a couple of universities who circulate and criss-cross paths between government, large corporations, unions, and the military.  This group is loyal to each other first, and to ideology second.  What the US Government stands accused of doing to support Haliburton (forget what actually happened - just take the wildest accusations) happens routinely and as a matter of policy between the French Government and their largest corporations.

Though the US has from time to time made mistakes in this regard (e.g. Chrysler bailout), their actions are nothing compared to the total support that French and German corporations get.  In many industries, the government has gone so far as to fix current business models in place by law, effectively outlawing alternative business approaches (e.g. discounting is illegal in German retailing).  In addition, these countries make entrepreneurship extraordinarily difficult, helping to prevent competition from new upstarts.  For example, Gersemann points out that the cost of organizing a new business entity in the US costs an entrepreneur about a week's pay;  In France and Germany, it costs 4 months pay or over 20x more.

In my article "60 Second Refutation of Socialism, While Sitting on a Beach", I pointed out that wealth is created when people are free to use their mind to envision new things, AND free to pursue this vision without undue barriers.  Europe, in killing entrepreneurship and dynamism, is killing this second criteria for wealth creation.  Propping up aging basic industries, four day work weeks, 8 week vacations, immense public sector employment, and unlimited unemployment benefits may feel good for a while, but they destroy wealth.  Old Europe is like a retired person spending their investment principle:  Quality of life may be good today, but future income and wealth is at risk.


Marginal Revolution has been running a series on some small steps Germany may be taking to change itself.