Finding the Keys to National Prosperity

NEW YORK – In many of history’s most successful economic reforms, clever countries have learned from the policy successes of others, adapting them to local conditions. In the long history of economic development, eighteenth-century Britain learned from Holland; early nineteenth-century Prussia learned from Britain and France; mid-nineteenth-century Meiji Japan learned from Germany; post-World War II Europe learned from the United States; and Deng Xiaoping’s China learned from Japan.

Through a process of institutional borrowing and creative adaptation, successful economic institutions and cutting-edge technologies spread around the world, and thereby boost global growth. Today, too, there are some great opportunities for this kind of “policy arbitrage,” if more countries would only take the time to learn from other countries’ successes.

For example, while many countries are facing a jobs crisis, one part of the capitalist world is doing just fine: northern Europe, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. Germany’s unemployment rate this past summer was around 5.5%, and its youth unemployment rate was around 8% – remarkably low compared with many other high-income economies.

How do northern Europeans do it? All of them use active labor market policies, including flex time, school-to-work apprenticeships (especially Germany), and extensive job training and matching.