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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Monday, October 21, 2002



In Which I Salute The Swedish Troll


I want to salute the Swedish Troll. Paul Krugman, in his NY Times magazine piece, picks up a discussion Glenn Reynolds launched back in May with this post. I resisted manfully, until my man Nathan pushed me over the edge.

Now, I believe the notion that a serious economist is discussing the relative economic strength of Sweden and Mississippi in a major publication is a triumph of something or other. Something very funny.

Two thoughts, ladies first: if you are having a serious argument about whether your man is better looking than Tom Cruise... you've already won! And guys, if you are having a serious discussion about whether your lady is not as ugly as RoseAnne Barr... you've lost!

Hello, Sweden is not as poor as Mississippi? Who cares? What kind of an advertisement is that for Swedish syle socialism - hey, we're not even as lame as Mississippi! Its the Absolut Truth! I can't keep a straight face.

Oh, second point - instead of looking at 1998 snapshots, run the film from, I don't know, 1970. I haven't even looked this up, but I promise you - Sweden was way ahead of Mississippi then. No serious debate about who was Numero Uno would have been imaginable.

Put it another way - South Korea and Taiwan are considered two great success stories of the last thirty years - I am sure that they are not richer than the US, but they are making great progress. It is the trend, not the current position, that is important. And with Sweden, the trend is not a friend.

Really. You could look it up.

UPDATE: I am taking on water here. A keen-eyed observer points out that Krugman mentions Mississippi briefly, then segues into a US-Sweden comparison. Hmm. My man Nathan does the same thing. Let's check out Prof. Krugman:

"A few months ago the conservative cyberpundit Glenn Reynolds made a splash when he pointed out that Sweden's G.D.P. per capita is roughly comparable with that of Mississippi -- see, those foolish believers in the welfare state have impoverished themselves! Presumably he assumed that this means that the typical Swede is as poor as the typical resident of Mississippi, and therefore much worse off than the typical American.

But life expectancy in Sweden is about three years higher than that of the U.S. Infant mortality is half the U.S. level, and less than a third the rate in Mississippi. Functional illiteracy is much less common than in the U.S.

How is this possible? One answer is that G.D.P. per capita is in some ways a misleading measure. Swedes take longer vacations than Americans, so they work fewer hours per year. That's a choice, not a failure of economic performance. Real G.D.P. per hour worked is 16 percent lower than in the United States, which makes Swedish productivity about the same as Canada's.... "


OK, so Krugman can't stay on topic. Nathan can't stay on topic. Glenn has lost focus, too. Hmm, this has turned into any ordinary cocktail party. Just as I am entering my eleventh minute on the subtleties of the Montana Senate race, folks suddenly take a desperate interest in their daughter's college application process, or their son's football game, or some darn thing of no possible general concern.

Well, at a cocktail party I know how to handle this sort of insurrection. With careful use of the interior walls, some potted plants, and perhaps a sofa, an audience is assured! A small, helpless, whining audience, but hey! What to do in the blogosphere is less clear, but I will say this - the topic is Mississippi, people - check the very first post!

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