I generally enjoy reading Tyler Cowen, because he is smart and entertaining, but then he writes something lazy and preposterous, reminding me why I no longer self-apply the libertarian label.
My alternative view is that Americans rate European life so highly (in part) because the buildings from previous eras are so striking and attractive. If all of the U.S. looked like U.S. postwar construction, the country would still impress more or less as it does. If all of Europe looked like its postwar construction, Americans would be less likely to admire European policies and political institutions. Yes I know about Lille, and contemporary Spanish architecture, but in reality most Americans would think of Europe as some kind of dump.On what level does this even make sense? America has some lovely post-war skylines. My own Pittsburgh, for instance, has the loveliest in the world, with a nice assist from Geography:
But all of the city's charming and sought-after residential neighborhoods are prewar. Pre-Great War in many cases.
The same is true of Manhattan, Chicago, San Francisco. Yes, the Transamerica building is iconic, but you wouldn't wanna live in it. America's storied small towns were all built before the war. Most of America's post-war suburban building consists of suburban housing stock that consciously imitates, if poorly, 18th-century construction styles, cf., "The Colonial," and the architecture of commerce, industry, and exercise outside of the urban core is execrable, cinderblock blockhouse construction.
Meanwhile it is true that Europe built some very ugly high-rise apartment blocks in the seventies. Unlike America, wherein the seventies were truly a flowering of subtle taste and excellent design.
Here, for instance, thanks to the brave souls at GoogleMaps, is the hellish Route d'Oberhausbergen just outside of Strasbourg, where I lived for a time in a state of unbearable, environmentally-provoked and -exacerbated depression:
Can you imagine?
Honestly, seriously: an ordinary, middle-class residential neighborhood. It has none of the memorable loveliness of Amsterdam city center or Haussmann's Paris, nor yet the astonishing medieval beauty of Strasbourg's own city center, which is one of the most stunning in all Europe, capped by a towering red sandstone cathedral. And yet . . . it is quite nice. It is also mostly post-war construction, with an architectural style that apes but simplifies the predominant, Franco-Germanic architecture of Alsace. Just ahead and to the left is a very nice bakery. Another block is a tram station. It's just a regular city.
A few skyscrapers aside, let us not forget that America's great buildings are likewise prewar, nor that the great tragedy in America's cities and towns was that so many wonderful prewar buildings were willfully destroyed in the sixties and seventies in failed, doomed efforts at slapdash urban renewal. Those European cities that escaped bombing and total devastation do benefit from conservation. Well, likewise Savannah!
The reason that Americans like Europe is that it is an old and marvelous place full of astonishing art, architecture, food, and culture that is nonetheless culturally similar enough to home that it is an easy visit.
The idea that Western Europe is a secret East Germany that has wallpapered over its socialist, totalitarian, Soviet decrepitude to fool American rubes into thinking that it is a vibrant and wealthy capitalist society is stupid and absurd. A marginally more robust public sector and better provision of certain public services does not a Bloc make.
UPDATE: Uh, okay. The Internet writes and says, "Dear IOZ, how about some links?" Cowen link added above. Also, found that via Edroso.