When the world's most powerful economies meet Wednesday in the earthquake-ravished town of L'Aquila, Italy, the leaders of the eight pillars of the world economy would be wise to compare and contrast their performances, to date. Here's a look at how four of the top European economies are faring:


In the likely case that you cannot read the terribly small font, the graph is comparing declines throughout Europe in industrial output during the Great Depression (in blue) and the Great Recession (in red). The countries are, clockwise from the top left, France, Germany, the UK and Italy. What does this tell us?

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The first, really shocking thing I see is that in the first ten-plus months of the this recession, Italy's industrial production has already declined by a higher percent than the UK did in the entire Great Depression. A 25 percent free fall in production in 12 months is astounding.

But in all likelihood, of course, there will be little to no substantive conversation over these numbers. The Europeans are (some might say rightfully) horrified by the deficits the Obama administration is running up to cushion the recession, while the Americans are (some might say rightfully) horrified by the sluggishness of the EU's response to the crisis, which some economists predict will extend Europe's recession deep into 2010, as its GDP has already contracted 50 percent more than the States'. What will ensue, as it always does, is a series of expensive dinners over which the G8 reminds the world why, as Simon Johnson argues today, it has no reason to meet in the first place.

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