Thursday, October 4, 2007

Krugman Gets an A

On his blog, Paul Krugman takes on Europe-bashing. "Its a fixed idea among Americans that Europe - France, in particular - is an economic wasteland," he writes. Among the bits of evidence he musters against the Euro-bashers (not to be confused with Euro-trashers):
French productivity – output per hour – is about the same as ours...
Now, it’s true that French GDP per capita is lower than ours. That reflects three things: the French work shorter hours; French people under 25 are less likely to be employed than young Americans, and the French are much more likely than Americans to retire early.
That would have been a good answer to question 3 on last Thursday's Econ 202 midterm:
(3 pts) France and the US have almost identical GDP per hour worked, but French GDP per capita is 27% lower than the US. How is this possible? In what regard does this imply that the French are better off than Americans?
Krugman goes on to explain:
Short working hours are a choice – and it’s at least arguable that the French have made a better choice than America, the no-vacation nation.

Low employment among the young is a complicated story. To some extent it may represent lack of job openings. But a lot of it is the result of good things: young French are more likely to stay in school than young Americans, and fewer French students are forced by financial necessity to work while studying.

Finally, the French retire early. That’s a real problem: their pension system creates perverse incentives. We, of course, have this superb program called Social Security, which does a much better job.

He did also mention that:

What’s more, even during the period 1995-2005 – the years when we Americans were boasting about our productivity boom – French productivity grew only half a point slower than US productivity. And the US productivity boom now seems to be over.
If he was in Econ 202 - and doing the assigned reading!* - he would also be aware that, while France lagged the US in labor productivity, it has actually done slightly better than the US in total factor productivity. [which, of course is not the correct answer to problem 3].

So maybe we shouldn't say that French economic performance is worse than the US, but we can still call them cheese-eating surrender monkeys! (though some might now think they were right about the Iraq war...)

*"A Productivity Primer," The Economist, Nov. 6, 2004.

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