Stephen, my friend, Western Europe ain't no pushover like its eastern brethren. We're talking about the home of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy, each with a higher GDP than all of South America combined. And while you're talking about social dilemmas, why not focus on the burdens of high birth rates, poor education, and a lack of social safety nets that plague much of South America? A little respect, please, for some of the greatest production engines on Earth. In aggregate, Western Europe outstrips even the good old U.S. of A.

I'm not even sure that Stephen believes his own arguments. All the "mays" and "mights" in his piece sound like damning with faint praise. Hey, this time it "might" be different! (It usually isn't.)

Look, I like a great "story" as much as the next Fool does. But having optimism about the future is very different from investing in that future. Optimism takes time -- often too much time -- and nearly always takes far longer than the optimist expects. Investors must be exacting and ruthless in their reasoning. A stock that takes longer than expected to develop delivers its cash flows at a later date -- which makes those cash flows worth less today.

Characterizing Western Europe as stodgy and mature completely ignores the new, high-growth businesses it's generating, such as TomTom, PartyGaming, or Synthes. And it's hardly logical to extrapolate General Electric's (NYSE:GE) lack of 10-bagger opportunities to all of Western Europe. There will be 10-baggers in Western Europe and South America alike -- but the ones in Western Europe will be safer.

Of course, Western Europe's nations see South America as an important future growth driver. But let's realize who the big winners in such a transaction will be. Just like China, Western Europe gets cheap labor from South America to manufacture its goods. The jobs it creates in South America improve that region's standard of living, creating a greater appetite and a more affluent market for Western Europe's consumer goods. As the high profits generated in South America flow back to Western Europe, the New World buyers may benefit -- but the Old World sellers will benefit more.

Western Europe is facing South America in this Investing World Cup second-round match. Go back to the intro page to navigate your way to another part of this contest, and then vote for the region that you think should advance to the final round of the tournament!

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Fool contributor Jim Gillies owns no shares of any company mentioned. He is a member of the Motley Fool Hidden Gems newsletter team.

This article represents the opinion of one Fool and should in no way be taken as the opinion of either The Motley Fool, Inc., or the company in question, or as representative of anyone or anything other than that specific Fool's thoughts. So before buying, do your homework and review The Motley Fool's superbly sportsmanlike disclosure policy .