20 November 2012

The Economist on France

The Economist on 17 November included a special report on France, So much to do, so little time, which on the cover of all its editions turned into the more sensational, The time-bomb at the heart of Europe. Not surprisingly it didn’t go down too well in France but a few days later appeared well-timed when the country was downgraded by Moody’s from Aaa to Aa1, outlook continuing negative.

The author of the report, John Peet, acknowledges the help and insights from 28 people and there are signs of autant de têtes, autant d'avis. For example on page 9 we are told:
There is so much more to France than Paris. Cities like Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Nice and Toulouse count for a lot both economically and politically.
and on page 10:
Paris dominates France, politically and economically.
The point to be appreciated by a British reader is that Paris and the Ile-de-France have nothing like the dominance of London and the South East in the UK. There is a real howler on page 6:
Even French vineyards are investing in expensive machines to replace human grape pickers.
Whoever wrote that should take a look at the entry on mechanical harvesting in Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine. Machines were introduced in France in the 1980s and are used in all but the most prestigious vineyards.  Elsewhere the vines are spaced and kept to a height to allow the machines to traverse them (see this blog’s Background and below).

Otherwise The Economist can be expected to get its economic facts right and the report makes a good case for there currently being too much government spending and too heavy a burden of social costs on employers, even for France. On the other hand, as the survey admits, the country has superb infrastructure, a substantial part of it owned by the government, an economic fact of life the survey ignores. Also, as it points out, none of the large French banks had to be bailed out by the state. I sometimes think that the UK’s circumstances would be much more like those of France if Mrs Thatcher had lost the election in 1983 (or 1984), as could well have been the case if the Falklands War had not happened or had ended differently.  Perhaps whether this was for better or for worse in the long term is still to be discovered.

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