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The national comparisons game

March 14th, 2005

Tim Blair points to this exercise asserting that the EU is twenty years behind the USA. As Tim subtly points out, it’s absurd to suggest that the EU today (home of Nokia and Airbus, and birthplace of Linux and the World Wide Web) is comparable to the US when Atari boxes were the state of the art. Unfortunately, Tim’s irony is lost on his commenters, who assume the report deserves to be taken seriously.

To ram the point home to his slower readers, Tim might do well to point to the fact that, in terms of output per hour, several European countries are ahead of the US. Of course, when hours worked are taken into account, the US regains the lead, but on that criterion, Britain during the Industrial Revolution was ahead of any modern country.

The real point is that productivity differences between modern economies are so small that, by selecting the right criterion, any developed country can be made to look better, or worse, than any other. The report is explicitly described by its promoters as a “wake-up call” designed to scare Europeans into adopting the policies favored by its promoters. Having seen this kind of thing going on since the 80s, when Australians were terrified with the prospect of becoming the “poor white trash of Asia”, I find such reports more soporific than alarming.

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  1. March 18th, 2005 at 03:32 | #1

    Robert: by “an existing mark-up language” I assume you mean SGML, not HTML, which Berners-Lee invented. As the “existing network” was in Europe, I believe that it was written in Europe by Europeans (the military protocols which formed the backbone of the net in the US weren’t public property).
    “What credit do the actual inventors of Linux, and the armies of Americans who contributed to Linux ?” I think you mean the inventors of Unix here, but it’s hard to tell.
    Nice to know that digital computing is an American invention, BTW. On this side of the pond, we always thought it was Alan Turing.

  2. junius ponds
    March 19th, 2005 at 18:05 | #2

    Uh, Robert Blair, Linux isn’t a port; Linux is a kernel that was written from scratch. What we know as the “Linux” operating system is the Linux kernel plus the GNU OS tools. Of course, the FSF’s Richard M. Stallman is American, but something tells me you’re not likely to credit someone pejoratively nicknamed “Richard M. Stalin.”

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