I've just sent this to the folks at Powerline for this particular post and thought I'd make some amends for not having written much in the last several weeks...
I've been living in Europe now for almost 20 years (did my graduate degree here, then worked in Switzerland for 6 years and have been working in Germany now for the last 7 years for Europe's biggest private economic and financial research institute as econometrician, industrial forecaster and rater of closed real estate investment funds in Germany). Hence I feel somewhat qualified to speak out on these matters... :-)
I've seen those books you mentioned yesterday. I'm intimately familiar with the European economies, especially on the supply side of economic development (GDP is created by the supply side; most economists only pay attention to the demand components of GDP, since it's a *lot* easier to understand where the value added is spent, instead of where it is created!), and there huge problems with the European economies that make me simply shake my head in wonder when anyone speaks of "European superiority".
Let's put some of this in perspective: indeed, perspective is the operative word here. The European economies we see today have evolved according to careful planning and with a clear view of where they want to go. It's a world-view based on the events of the 20th century, the destruction that accompanied these events, and a fervent desire to avoid the social dissensions and tensions that ultimately led to WW2. Hence the development of the social state in Europe, of cradle-to-grave government control and the abdication of personal responsibility for social responsibility. The thinkers of Europe that were behind the development of Europe as we understand it were convinced that poverty, social "injustice" and above all societal dislocation were the cause of fascism and, to a lesser extent, communism. The thinking of Marx and his failed and degenerate followers is part and parcel of the European identity (I'm generalizing, of course: but I don't think I'm overdoing it), and the idea that the state is ultimately responsible for ordering society ***and*** ensuring that there are no societal dislocations that destroy the existing structures of political stability and economic wealth cannot be avoided in virtually all aspects of European political life.
I've placed the emphasis on the "***and***" deliberately: it is where the Europeans have dealt with their trauma of the destruction of European society in first WW1 and then more totally so in WW2. In WW1 European society was bled white, with an entire generation lost to the trenches; in WW2 came the collapse of civil society, replacing it with the barbarities of fascism, communism, socialism and the Final Solution.
This is the specter that haunts Europe: that there will be again such an upheaval.
Now, an astute reader of history and current events will realize that this is exactly what Europe is facing: it is teetering along a dangerous, treacherous path in its history, one of its own making: it has both succeeded beyond its wildest dreams yet at the same time failed miserabley. It's success is European peace and prosperity, going far beyond what anyone conceived of even 15 years ago. It's failure is the failure to integrate indigestible portions of it's population, deliberately ignored and belittled over the last 30+ years: the foreign ghettos and colonies that spot and spatter Europe with cultural confrontation and a new barbarity that the Europeans are, collectively, unable to deal with.
So why the books on European superiority? I see it as simple compensation, coupled with a mistaken belief that the positive developments in European society will compensate for the failures.
Put simply: if your goal is to avoid societal conflict in your base society, of ensuring that there is no repeat of history such that Europeans revert to barbarity and yet another World War, then Europe has largely achieved these goals and should rightly be proud of these accomplishments. Hence the feeling that Europe is oh-so-superior than the US: European societies don't have many of the strains and tensions that we have in the US (more often than not as the result of *successful* integration of minorities, but that's another story...), and life in Europe as someone living here is in many ways "carefree": I've got adequate health care, I don't have to deal with HMOs and the like to get it, and if I feel like I need to, I go to the doctor and get taken care of. Like I would if I were working for a major US company with a really nice benefits package, but with the employer picking up all my costs. This is largely universal in Europe and every expects it: it is a common entitlement, and for the political body here an important one.
But does this make it better? Of course not. It's different priorities and goals, and the idea that Europeans are somehow "superior" is deeply, deeply ingrained in European society, especially that of the European elites, who, after all, run things in Europe in ways that are sometimes really, really hard to comprehend.
I don't want to bore you with all the details, but let this suffice: Europe is run the way that the blue-blood Democrats in the US would dearly, dearly love to run the US. A relatively small elite, intermarried and sharing common roots, experiences and goals, runs the European economy and runs European societies. We're not talking a few hundred people here, but rather a few hundred thousand that accord themselves the elite of Europe. This is the core of European state-ism (and statism as well!): there are vested interests in maintaining the status quo that have no real challengers. Everyone within the political system has a vested interest that the system as such doesn't change.
But lack of change and lack of the ability to even contemplate change is destructive, especially in the face of the challenges that Europe is facing, facing from within and without.
Europe is not a future that works: it is a past that has realized its dreams. It is not a present that can react to challenges, but structurally bound not to be capable of structural changes, since exactly these kinds of structural changes are societally disruptive.