I read an interesting book this weekend, which I heartily recommend to anyone who wants to know more about what many Europeans believe about the U.S. economy and the inconvenient facts that make those beliefs ridiculous to anyone with an IQ above room temperature. The book, Cowboy Capitalism (Cato Institute 2004) by German economist/reporter Olaf Gersemann, is a good read. It is also chocked full of interesting statistics.
Here's one example I found particuarly interesting.
"Adjusted for purchasing power parities, per capita income in the United States was at 140 percent of the European Union average in 2002 (not counting the 2004 accession countries). If productivity growth in the United States had been one percentage point lower annually since World War II, America's per capita income would now be at 80 percent of the European level. The United States would not be richer than every European country (with the exemption of tiny Luxembourg) but instead would be poorer than Spain." (p. 29-30).
This shows the power of incremental change, and the risks attendant to policies that dampen prospects for growth. Even a small dampening effect can have long-term negative effects through the powers of compounding. Policymakers in the U.S. - take note.
(Thanks goes to my colleague and pal Ralph Whitten for recommending this book to me. His judgment was right on -- as usual.)