France In Decline

The Economist has an interesting piece on how France is realizing its own decline that echoes a similar article in the International Herald Tribune.

Nicolas Baverez reads like a man in a rage. A conspiracy of interests, he argues, between France’s political class, its bureaucrats and its union leaders is working to defend a state-heavy economic model that has long outlived its usefulness. A system that served France well in the past, in an era of big infrastructure and industrial projects, has never been overhauled in ways that could have helped the country to adapt to the changing world economy. In brief, job-creating enterprise has been suffocated: too many bureaucrats, enforcing too many rules, imposing too many taxes. The result, as he points out, is that the French, whose GDP was 25% higher than Britain’s during the 1970s, have been impoverished: today, it is 9% lower, and the French rank only 19th in the OECD wealth-per-head table.

The author’s catalogue of complaints is relentless. He seethes at the "autism" of the political class, the "atomisation of French society", the "spread of social nihilism", the "anaemia" of French democracy. In foreign policy, he argues, the French have piled error upon error. They have concealed the deterioration of French military capacity, misread the consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall, such as the rise of the central and eastern European democracies, and clung to a sense of global importance long diminished

Sound familiar, doesn’t it? Indeed, I’ve argued for months now that these factors are responsible for the current decline of the French economy despite the triumphalism of the Paris intelligentsia. Baverez’s book La France qui tombe (France In Decline) blames France’s decline on an ossified political and social culture that is simply incapable of acknowledging its own faults and refuses to embrace reform. As The Economist notes, the French response to their own problems have been to find a scapegoat rather than confronting their problems in an honest manner. Previously it had been the unification of Germany and globalization that was blamed for France’s lack of growth, and today the United States has become the object of French animosity, an animosity that prevents the French people from focusing against the people actually responsible for France’s anemic economy and loss of worldwide prestige.

Baverez points out that this opportunistic xenophobia is resulting in a backlash. The 2002 rise of the Front National and Jean-Marie Le Pen was the result of a population that is clamoring for reform in the face of a government that stubbornly refuses to even admit that a problem exists. The idea of the “French exception” is being used a shield to defend the decaying status quo against calls for reform.

Indeed, even a supposed moderate like Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin have been unable to enact even small-scale reforms despite a looming pension crisis that could drag the French economy into even deeper troubles. (Some in France have nicknamed Raffarin Ra-fera-rien, a play on his name and the French phrase for "does nothing").

It is clear that some in France are starting to realize that the Chirac government are leading the French directly into the dustbin of history. Unfortunately, it appears that much of the country would rather cling to their illusions of grandeur and importance than do what is necessary to reverse France’s disastrous course.

12 thoughts on “France In Decline

  1. OK Jay, to show you that sloth isn’t equating to Frogness, here’s a glimpse of an argument:

    US share in World GDP
    1945 – 50%
    today – 20%
    tomorrow – 10%

    If that isn’t an abyssal decline, then what is it?

  2. As Twain once said, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. In 1945 the United States would obviously have a massive share of the US economy because nearly everyone else had just gone through the most destructive war in human history. Germany was a smoking ruin, France had been occupied, a good chunk of Russia’s labor force was dead, Japan was utterly defeated, China was in tatters, and England had barely survived the Blitz.

    Furthermore, that statitic doesn’t prove a decline in the US economy, it shows that the rest of the world is growing and becoming more productive. (And a more productive and walthier world benefits everyone.) A statistic that would show any decline would be per-capita GDP or economic growth over time. However, both of those have been steadily increasing since 1945 for the US.

    Nice try though…

  3. Likewise, France’s economy is growing, but is losing its market share in the world economy–just like the U.S. Your foot must be covered in tooth marks as often as you put it in your mouth.

  4. He he !!!

    Seems I touched the chauvinistic nerve of both Jay (fair enough!) & Mark (in passing: congrats for the indiosyncratic phrase about the foot in the mouth >>> LOL).

    Well,the alarming rampant poverty cancerising US overall economical performance should worry you. Almost 45 million (!!!) US citizens are living without health insurance, a good 15 %, that is… Besides 35 millions (no less…) are under the poverty line! Notwithstanding the UK (a far worrisome failure in ensuring that all people benefit from propserity -if any), the USA is the only instance of massive impoverishment in the Western World (Bulgaria, Romania excluded, I reckon).

    General stats are fine. What the people actually get in their plates for their children is the real factor to be taken into account if you aim at specifying people’s wealth or happiness.

  5. Frank, poverty is viewed as an asset by the American entrepreneurial class who enjoy having a sizeable underclass fighting for low-wage jobs, which helps suppress wages to embarrassingly low levels. Not only are the American power brokers not interested in seeing current poverty rates decline, they would enjoy nothing more than to see it double because that would give them even more control in micromanaging wage levels to the lowest possible denominator. Most nations of the world don’t feel this way, but the celebration of poverty is as American as baseball and apple pie.

  6. Mark: I’m voiceless… I didn’t know sharpsightedness could be possible in the USA. My esteem for your country has suddenly redoubled. I only feel sorry for you: you must be a microscopic minority of intelligence in that ocean of vulgarity & brainwashing.

    Courage! Cheer up! Truth always wins!

  7. US’s GDP is decreasing in proportion to the world’s is solely the sign that the world is becoming richer. That should be a reason to rejoyce, not to lament. As for the French, being French myself, I see the popularity of “la France qui tombe” is a sign of hope… we’ll see if it translates into anything constructive…


  8. Poverty is not viewed by the “american entrepreneurial class” as a good thing because without the citizens of the USA being as comparitively wealthy as they are, we won’t be buying any Jaguars and SUV’s.

    “Most nations of the world don’t feel this way, but the celebration of poverty is as American as baseball and apple pie.”…
    Mark, your arrogance does not fool the educated reader. Likewise, your ignorant depiction of American society reeks of xenophobia.

    It’s so easy to bash the US and it’s policies and the intelligence of Americans from your little PC, but the argument fails when you think about how the US, for more than 50 years, has been one of the most productive, inventive, and emulated society’s on this planet. Right now in France at the Micheline headquarters they are using US-styled management and team-building techniques, right now in outer space the Russians and Americans are working together to explore the galaxy and how it works, and right now in 95% of the rest of the world you will see what real POVERTY looks like. Then you can bust out your little statistics and say that the US doesn’t give as much as other countries, or that we create that poverty by our evil, consumer-driver SUV-driving way…….keep talking…

    Sounds like “playa-hating” to me and my US friends. Little girls can sit on the sidelines and protest for their fanciful, naive reasons. They can say we are wrong, and that they feel shame for being an American. But they didn’t watch the news and protest when Saddam murdered Kurds. They are all hypocritical little wimps, too afriad to think straight, too pliable to have real convictions, and too brainwashed themselves to understand the reality of life, war, and what must be done to stay on top.

    Meanwhile, in my country, the US, which is above referred to “that ocean of vulgarity & brainwashing”, we are enjoying economic growth and tax cuts, we have toppled two regimes in as many years, and all while we ignored the French and their selfish “advice” and hypocrisy and sidelined the global debating society that is the UN.

    The foolish insults hurled at America and Americans are the words of jealous, angry people disenchated with their own immobile, ineffective governments. While they sit and watch US influence expand, their country just complains and feeds them anti-US news…it is gobbled up by the anti-war, anti-Bush crybabies as they hope for the US to fail, so that they can have one thing: they can say “I was right! Although I have accomplished little in my life, I have done a lot of armchair politicking, and gosh darnit I was right!”

    I hope you wanan be intellectuals find something else to complain about one day, good luck!

    From a happy New Yorker sick of hearing how bad we all are

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