Europe is poor. That’s my impression after spending the day strolling Parisian streets, and then hopping on a train to London later in the evening. The observation isn’t an uncommon one, nor is it the first time I’ve made it. And by poor, I don’t mean that there are impoverished beggars stalking tourists–though the gypsies do a pretty good job of it–but that the houses are smaller, the roads are narrower, and that the infrastructure isn’t in the best shape. On the train in from Charles de Gaulle, I saw laundry drying on balconies–a sight unseen in North America, where most houses have energy-guzzling dryers.

The Atlantic‘s Megan McArdle once remarked on that difference between North America and Europe, critiquing Paul Krugman’s–and the American Left’s–fascination with European social democracy. “[T]he standard of living in any given profession is much lower. Preserving London’s dazzling antique architecture has meant that most of the people I knew had much longer and more expensive commutes than their American counterparts would,” wrote McArdle. I noticed that today. Paris and London are beautiful, but the cost of preserving the historic buildings has meant sacrificing on newness. With fewer new buildings, there are probably fewer jobs and less room for the kind of enterprise that the U.S. and Canada have. Paris’ Gare du Nord, a major train hub, for instance, was magnificently built in the mid-nineteenth century. But housing the station in a centuries-old building limits the quality of infrastructure. On a hot Saturday afternoon, a non-air-conditioned station was not the best place to wait for several hours. And for some reason, France’s glorious bureaucratic state has placed only a few benches in a station that sees 180 million visitors a year. (Suffice it to say, waiting there for hours was not fun.)

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