There is an ongoing refrain in economic reporting that the European welfare state is an outmoded relic that is dragging Europe into an economic abyss. It's a very compelling tune, since it gets repeated endlessly by "experts" who pretend to know what they are talking about.
The only problem is that there isn't really any evidence to support the story. By most standard economic measures Europe is doing about as well as the United States. On the most basic measure of economic prowess, productivity, Western Europe is pretty comparable to the United States with some countries, like France, actually reporting somewhat higher levels of productivity.
But that story rarely finds its way into media coverage of Europe. That is why it is amusing to see a major NYT story complaining that Germany exports too much. Yes, that would be Germany, the country with a generous welfare state, 5 weeks of paid vacation every year, strong unions, and all those pesky regulations that are supposed to make it impossible to do business. Oh well, no doubt we will have another story in the near future pointing out how the welfare state is ruining Germany's economy.
Btw, the chart accompanying the article would be much more informative to readers if it expressed the trade deficits or surpluses as a share of GDP.