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.