Christmas Gift Spending by Country

The Economist features an interesting chart this week, showing the correlation between a country's wealth, and the average amount its citizens spend on Christmas gifts. Note the two outliers, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Despite their considerable wealth, the Dutch have clearly maintained their minimalist austerity chic. Not the case in Luxembourg, which has the highest GDP per capita in the EU, and the third highest in the world.

Circling the Drain: Can the Euro Be Saved, Or Is It Doomed? A Freakonomics Quorum

On Jan. 1, 1999, the euro was launched in electronic form. A few years later, amidst much fanfare, 12 European countries began replacing beloved national currencies with the euro, and the currency rapidly became the tender of choice across Europe. Wim Duisenberg, the then-president of the European Central Bank applauded the new currency: "By using the euro notes and coins we give a clear signal of the confidence and hope we have in tomorrow's Europe."

Almost ten years later, things look a little different. The financial crisis that has brought much of the developed world to its knees looks poised to bring down Europe's single currency as well. The cover of this week's Economist reads "Is this really the end?" Inside, the magazine offers the following observation:

The chances of the euro zone being smashed apart have risen alarmingly, thanks to financial panic, a rapidly weakening economic outlook and pigheaded brinkmanship. The odds of a safe landing are dwindling fast.

Why Does the Worldwide Financial Crisis Fester So?

In today's Journal, David Wessel nails it. (If you ask me, Wessel nails it consistently.) First, he asks the question that needs to be asked:

It has been two years since the flames were first spotted in Greece, yet the blaze still hasn't been put out. Now it has spread to Italy.

It's been five years since the U.S. housing bubble burst. Housing remains among the biggest reasons the U.S. economy is doing so poorly.

On both continents, there is no longer any doubt about the severity of the threat or the urgent need for better policies. Yet the players seem spectacularly unable to act.

What's taking so long?

Artist Profit-Sharing: Another Example of How California Is Like Europe

How is California more like Europe than the United States? We can think of a few ways, but one of the most interesting involves the rights of artists. As this recent story in the New York Times points out, in 1976 California passed a law that guarantees artists 5 percent of the profits in a later sale of their artwork. In doing so, California copied France and a number of other nations, in which such profit-sharing with artists is required by law. In the rest of the United States, by contrast, artists have no right to the profits a collector might make when they resell their artwork.

From an economic point of view, the California rule is a little strange. As we discussed in a previous post, if I sell my house and in five years it rises substantially in value (an anachronistic example these days, we recognize), I don’t get a cut of the windfall. A deal is a deal.

Europe's Problem with Mental Illness

Along with a shaky currency, and fears of sovereign debt defaults, Europe has another problem on its hands: psychiatric disorders are now the biggest source of illness among Europeans.

A new study in European Neuropsychopharmacology shows that 38.2% of Europe’s population grapples with some kind of psychiatric problem. Depression, insomnia and anxiety top the list. Only one third of those afflicted receive treatment. Hans-Ulrich Wittchen from the Technical University of Dresden led the three-year study of mental health in 30 countries. Here’s part of the abstract:

No indications for increasing overall rates of mental disorders were found nor of improved care and treatment since 2005; less than one third of all cases receive any treatment, suggesting a considerable level of unmet needs. We conclude that the true size and burden of disorders of the brain in the EU was significantly underestimated in the past. Concerted priority action is needed at all levels, including substantially increased funding for basic, clinical and public health research in order to identify better strategies for improved prevention and treatment for disorders of the brain as the core health challenge of the 21st century.

FREAK-est Links

This week, the European debt crisis explained with lego, why American mobility causes uniformity, a new way of cheating in college, why we make drunken mistakes, an interactive map of the history of war, and why pro athletes are giving themselves frost bite.

Don't Call it a Comeback: Euro-Babies on the Rise

Along with its current sovereign debt issues, Europe has been facing a declining birthrate for the last couple decades- something that becomes a particular problem when welfare systems don't have enough young contributors to support the old. But according to a recent RAND research brief, European fertility rates appear to be bouncing back.

Many European governments have been concerned about falling fertility rates, due to the welfare implications of an aging population supported by a shrinking workforce. However, ‘doomsday’ scenarios of fertility spiraling downwards and European populations imploding have not materialized; indeed, recent snapshots of indicators for childbearing suggest some recovery in fertility.

European women are still waiting longer to have children, but they're having them at the same rate that they did a generation ago. The initial period in the 1970s and 1980s when women waited to have children left a data set that might be more of a hiccup than a permanent population change.

Europe's Stolen Goods Problem

Stealing a truckload of goods in Sweden is apparently as easy as waiting for the driver to go on his lunch break. Each year, billions of euros worth of goods are stolen while in transit across Europe, but no one seems to be doing much about it. Dr Luca Urciuoli, a researcher in engineering logistics at Lund University has studied the problem and finds a transportation system ripe for criminal exploitation. From Science Daily:

Luca Urciuoli's research shows that many haulage companies do not make any security investments at all, even though it is fairly easy to find security measures such as theft-proof doors or windows, truck alarms, track and trace systems and mechanical locks on the market.

Attitudes Towards Poverty

At a seminar in Germany last week, a statistical difference illustrated a crucial E.U.-U.S. difference in politico-economic attitudes. In the U.S., we define the poverty line as absolute: three times the income needed for a minimally nutritious food budget. In Europe, the poverty line is based on relative income, typically 50 percent of the median income.

"And They Invented Math!"

Michael Lewis, who expertly profiled Iceland's collapse last year, has now set his sights on Greece. Lewis chronicles a country accustomed to corruption, handouts, and "breathtaking inefficiency."