The national comparisons game
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.